TOWNSEND -- Mrs. Massachusetts International 2018 has a simple message she wants to share: Set a goal and reach it. Don't just try.
Sandi Holloway, 51, knows from experience. She regained her health and strength despite years of serious illnesses.
Her doctors did not think she would live to see 30. Instead she is flourishing and wears a pageant crown.
Obese after a pregnancy, she had a gastric bypass go wrong. It was reversed. The weight she lost was regained and then some. The now tiny woman weighed in over 350 pounds.
Chemotherapy and finally a stem cell transplant sent her reoccurring cancer into remission, but at a cost.
The chemotherapy left her heart weakened. A heart attack left her in a wheelchair on oxygen barely able to walk across the living room.
When her son Zachary Jozokos, now 22, left for boot camp, she could not be there.
Instead of sitting back, angry and waiting to die, she took charge. "I just wanted my son and daughter to understand I would be OK," she said.
Her journey to fitness had its perils. A simple thing, such as a walk outside, could send her to the hospital.
Later, she surprised her son at Ft. Hood when she joined the soldiers in physical training. Holloway tapped Jozokos on the shoulder during a drill. He did not know she was coming and did not recognize her at first because she had changed so much.
Holloway slashed the number of medications she has to take daily for her heart.
She could now do something most people take for granted. "I was able to be outside with the kids at Christmas for the first time," she said.
Her older child, Kayleigh Brashears-Jozokos is 27.
For Holloway, being Mrs. Massachusetts International is not about beauty. It is an opportunity for her to empower women in all aspects of their lives to be the best versions of themselves.
"It's a platform for women's accomplishments," she said. The contest is open to married women between the ages of 21 and 56.
"It's not that hard to take care of yourself once you decide to do it," she said.
Her first suggestion with any new training client is to ask what she would like to do each day. Then, the client should spend ten minutes doing that everyday.
It might be something as simple as sitting with a cup of coffee, Holloway said.
Family support made her journey possible, she said.
Jozokos recently returned to Ft. Hood from his first deployment overseas in his specialty. He and his mom will not visit until about a month from now when he returns to Massachusetts for a visit.
He told her to gain a little weight back when he saw her picture, Holloway said.
Her husband Howard Holloway, 10 years younger than her, was there every step of the way. When they married nine years ago, she was obese and her cancer was spreading.
"He told me he'd rather have the one year than the 20 with somebody else," she said. "He always just believed in me."
Now she lifts weights and body builds, keeping her skin taut. Despite loosing well over 200 pounds, she has very little loose skin.
As part of her Mrs. Massachusetts duties, she will speak to school and community groups about bullying and to support Go for Red, an American Heart Association outreach for women.
Holloway will not receive compensation for these appearances. In July, she plans to compete in the international competition in Charleston, West Virginia.
Follow Anne O'Connor on Twitter @a1oconnor.