URI junior, newly crowned Miss Rhode Island gets to heart of the matter

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KINGSTON, R.I. – June 22, 2011 – When you meet Miss Rhode Island, you don’t expect women’s cardiac care to come up as a major talking point.

Yet, University of Rhode Island junior and recently-crowned 2011 Miss Rhode Island Robin Bonner will be talking about the issue as a major platform over the next several months, leading up to the Miss America pageant in Las Vegas next January. Bonner wants to help educate women about heart disease, the largest single cause for death among all women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Bonner, who was crowned Miss Rhode Island in May, has dealt with heart disease personally. As an eighth grader, the Long Island, N.Y. native started suffering chest pains as a result of mitral valve prolapse, a heart condition in which the valve that separates the upper and lower chambers of the left side of the heart does not close properly. It causes poor blood circulation and can lead to other complications.

Bonner has a mild case that does not have much of an impact her everyday life, but she feels strongly about educating others.

“It really opened my eyes, because I didn’t think something like that could happen to a kid in eighth grade,” Bonner said. “Heart disease kills more women than the next top four diseases combined, but people don’t realize it. “

According to the Women’s Heart Foundation, 8.6 million women worldwide die from heart disease each year, accounting for one-third of all female deaths. Among women who suffered a heart attack, 42 percent die within one year, compared to 24 percent of men.

“The vast majority of women who die from cardiovascular disease showed no previous symptoms,” Bonner said. “This is why education on this issue is so important, and why I am making it my platform for the Miss American pageant.”

Bonner chose to join the Alpha Phi sorority at URI because of its focus on philanthropic work. Last February, the sisters of Alpha Phi raised more than $6,000 for women’s cardiac care through their Red Dress Gala.

Bonner, a textiles, fashion merchandising and design major, will spend the year promoting her platform and performing other duties that come with wearing the crown of Miss Rhode Island. She earned a spot in the state’s pageant after winning the Miss URI competition last March.

Amazingly, the Miss Rhode Island pageant was just the fourth pageant she’d ever entered.

“I did a couple of pageants through National American Miss Teen New York because my mom said, ‘Just try it and see if you like it,’” Bonner said. “It was fun and exciting, but I didn’t have a ton of experience.”

Still she finished fourth out of 135 girls in the Miss Teen New York, and that experience was enough for her sisters at URI’s Alpha Phi sorority to nominate her for the Miss URI competition. The decision to come to URI clearly was paying dividends for Bonner.

“When I was looking at schools for fashion design, I looked at schools in New York City that were design schools, but I wanted a variety in my education,” Bonner said. “I looked at Penn State and Boston University, but URI had the programs I was interested in. URI had the beaches and the Quad. Being from Long Island, I love the water. URI gave me all those opportunities I was looking for.”

The win at the Miss URI competition led to the Miss Rhode Island pageant, where Bonner was chosen from a field of 11 women.

“The way they did it, they announced the fourth runner up, then the third runner-up, the second and first runners-up,” Bonner said. “So I was standing there with six other girls, and it was either you won, or you didn’t place at all.

“When they said my name, I didn’t know how to react. My mom asked me why I didn’t cry, but I was just in shock.”

Being a New York native and with spring semester done, Bonner did not have a large contingent on hand for the Miss Rhode Island pageant. Her mother, Sandy, her boyfriend, URI football player Chris Mancuso, and her roommate Brooke Saccoccio, a marketing major from Greenville formed her cheering section.

“My dad was in New York with my brother and sister, because they had school and their own activities going on,” Bonner said. “When my mom called, my dad, who is the prankster in the family, just said, ‘You’re joking, right?’”

It was no joke, and now Bonner will train for her run at the Miss American crown, where her family will get to see her on stage in the country’s most famous pageant.

Pictured above

URI junior Robin Bonner is crowned as Miss Rhode Island 2011 by the 2010 winner, Deborah Saint-Vil. (Photo by Daniel Gagnon)

Miss Rhode Island 2011 Robin Bonner stopped by the Alumni Center earlier this month to talk about her experiences since winning the crown (Photo by Kerri Hicks).