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People On The Move - Catherine Zalewski
10/31/2011 - By Chad A. Safran
Catherine Zalewski : Mrs. New Jersey United States perseveresTo become Mrs. New Jersey United States takes more than looks. The winner must show confidence, display intelligence, and be successful. Catherine Zalewski, the 2011 titleholder, brings another attribute to the crown: perseverance. Catherine has overcome two significant events in the past two years to become a symbol of married women throughout the Garden State. In December 2009, while seven months pregnant, she was diagnosed with preeclampsia during a routine doctor’s visit. She immediately went from the check-up to the hospital and was placed on hospital bed rest for 10 days, with the goal of keeping her and the baby as healthy as possible. However, as each day passed she was getting sicker, and eventually on December 17th gave birth to Ava, who weighed 2 pounds, 7 ounces, as a result of being born two months premature. Within one day of her birth, Ava developed pneumonia and was placed on an oscillator.
“The first week all I did was cry,” says Catherine, who moved to Marlboro with her husband Mark in August 2010. “It was all I could do. I didn’t touch her until Christmas. I remember holding her and the tears just flowed.” Following a 64-day stay in the hospital and weighing a bit over five pounds, Ava came home in February. Now almost two, Ava is a happy, healthy, active little girl.
Catherine was helped greatly by the March of Dimes during Ava’s time in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). The organization’s assistance in helping Catherine and Ava get through a difficult time is why as Mrs. New Jersey United States she works as an advocate and champion for the March of Dimes and the charity’s March for Babies fundraising events. Additionally, her family is the Middlesex County Ambassador for the March of Dimes.
Within three months of Ava’s birth, Catherine regained her health and the pre-pregnancy physique she had when she was competing in fitness competitions prior to her pregnancy. Then on the morning of June 18, 2010, Catherine woke up, experiencing dizziness and double vision. What she thought may have been a case of vertigo or just a matter of being overtired from taking care of Ava turned out to be something worse--a stroke.
She spent the following month in the hospital undergoing intense days of physical, speech, and occupational therapies as she worked to regain the use of her left side. She was in a wheelchair unable to walk and speaking was difficult as well. While Catherine was responding well to the therapies, she wanted to be home with Mark and Ava and was discharged. She continued her physical therapy at CentraState in Freehold, but being with her daughter was as big a help as anything she could do at the hospital. “Just taking care of Ava was therapy in itself, being able to change her diaper, do things for her, and be her mommy again,” says Catherine, who still experiences double vision on occasion.
None of these events, however, could stop her from entering the Mrs. New Jersey United States competition. Within three months of her stroke, she submitted the paperwork to compete in the pageant, which she had previously entered in 2008 when she finished as the second runner-up and won Mrs. Congeniality. “I said ‘what do I have to lose?’ It’s a celebration of life and it’s something to work toward,” says Catherine. “I said, ‘Why not?’ I love adventure and that was my adventure. So I decided to go for it.”
The competition is divided into three elements: swimsuit, evening gown with on-stage questions, and personal interview. The latter presented to be the most challenging segment for Catherine; but she watched videos of pageants, practiced with a coach, and rehearsed over and over. Her efforts paid off when she was awarded the title this past May at Monmouth University, which earned her a plethora of prizes including a trip to the national competition in Las Vegas, where she finished in the top 12.
As Mrs. New Jersey United States, Catherine is the face of married women of New Jersey and uses her title to reach others in a positive way. “I like telling my story and hopefully inspiring others, letting them know you really can do anything,” she says. “Look at what I have come from. You never know.”
Dirty dishes in the sink
THREE PEOPLE YOU WOULD LIKE TO HAVE DINNER WITH
Her birth mother
Jon Bon Jovi
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