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Nicole Kato

Here She Is, Hawaii’s Mrs. America

The newly crowned Mrs. America had never entered a pageant before running for Mrs. Hawaii. Now she’s taking her platform of raising fit and healthy children national

While world peace is a noble cause, Lara Leimana Fonoimoana brings her platform closer to home as the newly named Mrs. America.

Fonoimoana took over the title of Mrs. America and was officially crowned Jan. 6 after April Lufriu of Florida went on to win the Mrs. World title this past December. Prior to her new role as Mrs. America, Fonoimoana held the title of Mrs. Hawaii.

Upon learning she was going to be the next Mrs. America, she knew her life would never be the same.

“I felt extremely grateful to have this wonderful and rare opportunity, and knew that it would help me really bring more awareness to my platform,” she says.

It’s hard to believe that the Mrs. Hawaii pageant was the first for Fonoimoana, who says husband Vance always has been supportive.

“I’ve never done a pageant in my life,” she admits. “But my husband pushed me to do it, and he supports me and helps me as much as he can.”

Fonoimoana, whose maiden name is Frank, married Vance in 2006. “It was instantaneous,” she says, laughing.

The two officially met through a mutual friend, but Fonoimoana says she had met Vance years before and didn’t realize it. She explains that she used to be a flight attendant for Aloha Airlines, and he was a bouncer in Vegas when they first met. Fonoimoana is now a professional dancer at Polynesian Cultural Center and an independent stylist for San Franciscobased Stella & Dot, and her husband works at Matson as a warehouseman.

While Fonoimoana was raised on the Windward side, she says she married into Laie, where she and her family reside. She attended Castle High School and graduated from Sacred Hearts Academy in 1999.

Family is everything to Fonoimoana, and she says they have been her biggest supporters. Ensuring her family is healthy is one of utmost importance to her.

Her platform as Mrs. Hawaii was all about health and fitness, with a special focus on childhood obesity.

One in three American children is obese, and this statistic is higher in Hawaii. Fonoimoana has two children, Athena (4) and Titus (1), and she hopes that with her new title she can do even more to ensure all children, as well as her own, grow up with healthy eating and exercise habits.

The turning point that made Fonoimoana passionate about healthy eating and exercise was when she became a mother. She was a high-risk patient during both her pregnancies, and she knew that taking the initiative to eat healthy would benefit her children more than herself.

“It was a work in progress and still is to this day, but I have really altered my lifestyle to make sure that my family eats foods that feed us life and energy, and not empty calories,” she explains. “Exercise is a big deal in our family, and we try our best to always do stuff even if it’s jumping on a trampoline in front of the TV while watching our favorite shows.”

“Shake it Up” is her way of incorporating Polynesian dance as a form of exercise, and using raw fruit and veggie shakes as a form of healthy eating.

“We shake our hips and we do our shakes,” Fonoimoana says.

This campaign will launch in the fall, and the state Department of Health is partnering with Fonoimoana to make it happen. Fonoimoana’s daughter Athena, who takes dance classes at Polynesian Cultural Center, will be part of the “Shake it Up” program.

Fonoimoana’s children love the raw shakes, and she says it’s a fun way to help them recognize their fruits and vegetables while still meeting their nutritional needs. Packaged baby foods have preservatives in them, so making raw shakes is a healthier alternative. Making shakes at home is also beneficial in teaching children how to incorporate healthy foods in their diets.

Fonoimoana is a living testimony of how a nutritious diet and exercise can change a person’s life. She competed at Mrs. Hawaii five-and-ahalf months after giving birth to her son Titus, and she left for nationals at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia two weeks after.

“I could not believe that I finally entered a pageant, let alone do it five-and-ahalf months after giving birth to my second child,” Fonoimoana says. “I was more worried about having to get in front of family, friends and strangers in a bathing suit and walking down the ramp.”

Even though once the pageant had started she wasn’t at her perfect weight, Fonoimoana felt accomplished that she did it in a healthy way without crash dieting and without hiring a trainer.

“Once I saw my husband and kids in the audience, I knew that this was for them, and I wanted to make them proud,” she says.

As Mrs. America, Fonoimoana works with various nonprofit organizations and does a lot of charity work anything from feeding the homeless, helping with beach cleanups and acting as a spokeswoman against child abuse to making appearances on behalf of the organizations.

“Those are my obligations since Mrs. Hawaii, but since I took on the Mrs. America title, it’s increased a lot,” she explains.

Although her schedule keeps her busy, Fonoimoana says so many doors have opened for her. She has partnered with the Department of Health and speaks on behalf of it, as well as Goodwill Industries of Hawaii and the Junior League of Honolulu, which has a program called “Kids in the Kitchen.” This program teaches kids healthy and friendly recipes by celebrities.

Fonoimoana went to Colorado at the end of February to attend the Mrs. Colorado 2012 pageant, in which Courtney Graham was crowned Feb. 25, as well as to make appearances as the newly crowned Mrs. America.

“I’m fortunate enough that they are going to be setting me up with organizations that fall within my platform,” she says. “It’s nice to bring that aloha message to the Mainland.”

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