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Heart sick? Freeh wants to end that

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Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

This isn't the county fair anymore, Toto.

Since Siri Freeh started competing in pageants years ago, just for fun, at the Junior Miss Becker County, she has come to embrace the crown and what it can do for getting out her message.

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When she walks into the room with a crown on -- right now that crown would be as Miss Northwest -- people take notice. And not just the young girls either.

"There's something about when you walk in with a crown," she said.

The kids, both boys and girls, take notice and not only listen to what she has to say, but are excited that she's there to talk to them, not the adults.

"Someone they see as important (that somebody) actually wants to talk to them," she said of the attention she gets while visiting with young students. She speaks mainly to elementary and early middle school aged kids.

Working with those students is the main focus of her platform: Strengthening the Heart of America: Education and Awareness Redefines Tomorrow.

Getting to that platform actually started years ago at the county fair.

She joined the Junior Miss Becker County Fair "just for fun because I love the fair," she said. She won and went for the Miss Becker County Fair title as well. She was asked to compete in the Miss America system, and at the time she thought, "no way."

"That's not your local fair," she said with a laugh.

But, she was persuaded. She competed in several other pageants around the area before becoming Miss Northwest 2011. Since then, she's realized the benefits the pageant circuit has had on her schooling, ambitions, leadership, community service and scholarships.

"My biggest goal has been to be involved in the community," she said. "It's been so worth it, definitely."

So, she decided to run with the platform of volunteerism, which she believes in a great deal. But, her plans changed at the last minute.

"My dad had a serious cardiac event right before Miss Northwest."

Before that, she said, she didn't know much about cardiac-related issues, but that was the "jolt" she needed.

So she changed her platform from volunteering to heart health, which she said is a lifestyle change that begins with kids.

She not only speaks to students about the importance of eating healthy and staying active, but she participates with them as well.

During the Jump Rope for Heart event, which she's done with students at Frazee-Vergas School and Lake Park-Audubon School, she said the kids get a kick out of her jumping rope in her crown.

She will also be participating in the American Heart Walk in Detroit Lakes in May, and she volunteers as a camp counselor at Camp Odayin, a camp for kids with heart disease.

When she talks to students, she said she's learned to "keep it simple." She promotes education from the Mayo Clinic regarding Eat 5 (servings of fruit and veggies a day), Move 10 (more minutes; many kids don't even get the recommended 30 minutes a day of activity) and Sleep 8 (hours each night, and even more for younger children).

Freeh said these small changes are "more within kids' control."

She also talks about avoiding tobacco.

Freeh, who grew up in Lake Park and was home-schooled until she went to Park Christian School her senior year in Fargo, said she's been working mainly with students around the Frazee-Detroit Lakes-Lake Park area because as Miss Northwest, "this is the area I represent." But, she is doing some community work in the Cities area as well since she is going to college there.

Not only does the issue of heart health affect her and her family, it's also an issue close to her career goal as well: Freeh is working on her education at the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities to become a nurse.

After some experience under her wings, she then plans to get her PhD in cardiovascular research in relation to stress in women.

In nursing school, she said, they are taught "upstream thinking," or prevention. With her platform, she can help to instill good health and activity ideas and skills in kids to hopefully prevent future heart problems.

Speaking and educating people through her platform is also "in line with my career ambitions. They complement each other so well."

In the Cities, she is the co-host for the Women's Only Cardiac Support Group at Abbott Northwestern in Minneapolis and works closely with the Minneapolis Heart Institute in research projects focused on women's health.

"The U of M just awarded me the 2012 Hartford Center Emerging Scientist Award this past year for my work in women's cardiovascular research," she said.

"Coming up, I will be speaking with the legislature at the Capitol about the importance of heart health education and programs for kids, a very exciting opportunity," she added.

She has also been doing a lot of work with the Gillette Children's Hospital and Children's Miracle Network, the official charity of the Miss Minnesota pageant.

June 14-16 is the Miss Minnesota competition, where Freeh will be hitting the stage for the second time. She competed for the title as Miss West Metro in 2010 and earned first runner-up. Detroit Lakes native Kathryn Knuttila took the Miss Minnesota crown that year. Freeh also received the overall talent award.

She said this time around she is more prepared for her second trip across the stage.

"You know what you want and what you don't want," she said. "You're more secure in who you are."

Anyone interested in following Freeh and what she's doing to prepare for the Miss Minnesota pageant can visit her blog at www.sirifreeh.weebly.com.

To schedule appearances, contact Cindy Moore at Cindy.Moore@minnesota.edu.

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