Redoubt Elementary second-grade teacher Kersten Gomez, 37, reacts to winning the Mrs. Alaska America competition May 13 in Anchorage, Alaska. Gomez is the second woman in two years from the central Kenai Peninsula to claim first place in the event. (Photo courtesy Rita Corwin)

Soldotna teacher takes first place at Mrs. Alaska America

A Soldotna woman has been crowned this year’s Mrs. Alaska America, establishing a recent tradition of victory on the central Kenai Peninsula.

Kersten Gomez, a second-grade teacher at Redoubt Elementary and 37-year-old mother of five, claimed first place at the competition held at Bartlett High School in Anchorage on May 13.

This marks the second year in a row a woman from the central peninsula has climbed to the top of the group and claimed first place in the competition. The honor last year went to Tesa Sturman of Kenai. In fact, Mrs. Alaska America Director Rita Corwin said the peninsula in general had a strong showing at the pageant.

“Of our top six, three of them were from the peninsula,” Corwin said.

Gomez, who also won the people’s choice award and awards for most tickets sold to the show, most photogenic and most children, said this was her first-ever foray into the world of pageantry.

“I have never done a pageant in my life,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to ever since I was little.”

Gomez got plenty of help and advice along the way, and said the entire experience was “tremendous.”

“We had been asked to come up with a word that described us and our life in general, and my hashtag was ‘blessed,’” she said. “And I would just say I just feel even more so after the pageant.”

Gomez will now spend the year on tour around the area and state and will represent Alaska at the Mrs. America Pageant in Las Vegas. Gomez said she’s excited to use the opportunity to get out in front of people and do some public speaking.

“I do that every day in the classroom, but not as much as I would like in the community,” she said.

Gomez will focus on her platform, which was anti-bullying. As someone who experienced bullying as a child, she said she hopes to be able to work in particular with the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District on the issue during her year as Mrs. Alaska.

“It breaks my heart to see that happening to kids today,” Gomez said.

Gomez just finished her 12th year at Redoubt Elementary, and said her students were almost as excited about her victory as the approximately 42 friends and family members who made the trek to Anchorage to cheer her on. She said she promised the students she would come to school in her sash if she won, and with the exception of one student who mistook the garb to mean it was her birthday, they were all excited and supportive, she said. So were the pageant contestants.

“When I got there, it just really felt like a big family,” she said.

Sturman made herself available for help and advice in her role as last year’s winner, Gomez said. The entire group of 28 contestants was friendly and supportive of each other, she said.

“The caliber of the women was outstanding, with their professions being anywhere from stay-at-home moms to business owners,” Corwin said.

This year’s competition saw everything from scientists and teachers to members of the military and even a four-time Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race musher, Corwin said.

The variety of professions held by the accomplished, intelligent women Gomez said she shared the stage with while balancing families is part of what makes it important to specifically highlight married women through the Mrs. Alaska American competition, she said.

“I would say it’s something to celebrate, that you are a woman and married and holding together a family and being able to juggle all these things that you juggle, especially living here in the state of Alaska,” Gomez said.

Gomez will travel to Las Vegas to compete in the Mrs. America pageant in August — she double checked before she even entered the competition that she’d be able to take time off during the first week of the new school year. The district and her school principal have been not only supportive but excited, she said. Two Mrs. America winners have been from Alaska, Corwin said, with the last one coming from Homer.

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