Surviving and thriving: St. George cancer survivor is Ms. Senior Universe 2022

Marianne Hamilton, of St. George, is a 70-year-old cancer survivor who is the current Ms. Senior Universe.

Marianne Hamilton, of St. George, is a 70-year-old cancer survivor who is the current Ms. Senior Universe. (Marianne Hamilton)


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Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

ST. GEORGE — Marianne Hamilton may look like a beauty queen. Looks, however, can be deceiving, and "beauty queen" doesn't give the whole picture of the 70-year-old who is the current Ms. Senior Universe.

The St. George woman, who described herself as a once "pudgy, pimply, bookworm," said that she never saw herself as anything to be considered pageant-worthy. Hamilton is a writer and journalist by trade who began oddly enough working for the DMV in Sacramento, California, writing the occasional department newsletter.

"I worked in Sacramento and I was working for the DMV as one of the first women examiners," Hamilton said. "My office manager noticed I liked to write, and let me write the department newsletter. I was able to parlay that into the next thing and the next thing and the next thing, and finally went to work for a PR firm where I could do a lot of writing. Before I knew it, in the '80s I had a byline published. I was working in the film and television industry by that time, and I was writing a lot about what was going on in production in the Bay area. I've worked pretty solidly as a freelance writer ever since."

Parlaying little things into the next big thing became a way of life for Hamilton, as she moved on to other endeavors.

"I don't really know how to do something halfway," Hamilton admitted. "I find something that I like, or that I feel comfortable doing, and I want to do as much as I can in the best possible way."

Hamilton's endeavors have included a lot of volunteer work, which she says brings her the most joy.

"I'm involved with volunteer work with a couple of nonprofits," Hamilton said. "We have a group called 'Art Around the Corner,' which installs public art around town. I've been on the board for about six years. My husband and I also run the Southern Utah Wine Guild, which is a nonprofit that holds events and fundraisers that support art and education. I'm more than happy to do something that can serve someone in a good way."

One thing that has served Hamilton and the community well is race walking in the Huntsman World Senior Games in St. George. After an injury that required surgery in her neck, Hamilton took up speed walking in 2011, and eventually, along with her husband, became the race directors for the race walking section of the Huntsman World Senior Games.

It was her role as the race director that catapulted Hamilton into her next big thing.

From race directing to pageantry

While at the Senior Games in 2019, Hamilton said there was a lady standing with a sash and a gown who she found out was Ms. Senior Utah. This meeting, she said, intrigued her.

"I had never heard about a pageant like this, and I went up and spoke to the woman briefly, and she told me a little bit about it," Hamilton recalled. "She said, 'If you're interested, you have to be at least 60,' and I said that that ship had sailed a long time ago."

One thing led to another, and Hamilton signed up for the pageant, saying that it was something she was embarrassed to tell her husband about.

"This was nothing that was even remotely on my radar," Hamilton said. "That was something that skinny, pretty girls did, and I was none of those things growing up. I was super pudgy and had glasses and acne. I was a good student who got good grades."

"I didn't tell my husband because I thought he was going to think I was insane because it was so unlike anything I had ever done. I finally did, and he said, 'Is this something you want to do?' And I said 'Yeah,' so he said 'Just do it!'"

Failure followed by devastating news

That first pageant in 2019 didn't go as planned. In fact, Hamilton said it was "pretty horrible."

"I had never been to a pageant before," Hamilton said. "I didn't know what to expect, and I didn't do well. I was really inspired by the women at the event, and I thought that I'd like to be a part of that, and maybe sometime I'd do that again."

That next year did come, but it also came with a diagnosis of breast cancer.

"In 2020, I found out I had breast cancer," Hamilton said. "I went through all that in 2020, and COVID hit, and wasn't able to compete at the Ms. Senior Universe Pageant."

Turning tragedy into triumph

"When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I made two very conscious decisions: the first one was that I was going to do everything I could to fight my cancer, and the second one was to never ever be a victim. ... I didn't just want to be a survivor; I wanted to be a thriver," Hamilton said.

"Every morning, I'd go out and do my miles, and then come home and put on a sparkly running skirt, and I had a number on my shoulder of how many treatments I had left. I thought, 'Let's make it like a marathon!' Two weeks after treatment, I did a half marathon to celebrate."

As she started to heal, Hamilton looked forward to reaching her next goal of competing in the Ms. Senior Universe pageant. And, as the story goes, she won.

According to Hamilton, it was less about winning, but more about overcoming insecurities and coming into herself.

"I spent my entire life being completely paralyzed to be in front of people," Hamilton said. "I decided to embrace the possibility that I could be successful and have a good time doing this. I like the idea of presenting what 70 can look like. You can still be actively involved in your community."

"You have all this experience over the years that you can use in a positive way and serve others in whatever way that makes sense to you and feeds your soul, and that's what I want to convey to people. The number on your driver's license is just a number, and it doesn't define who you are. You can still do all kinds of wonderful things in whatever time you have available to you."

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Arianne Brown is a breaking news reporter for KSL.com. She also enjoys finding and sharing stories of everyday Utahns, a talent she developed over several years of freelance writing for various Utah news outlets.

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