NEWBURYPORT — Woodman Way resident Jessica Plante has had trouble sleeping this week.
"I'm tired but I can't sleep, I'm so excited," Plante said. "I'm like a little kid. I keep getting up and looking at my crown."
Plante, who has been competing in beauty pageants since her teens, won her biggest title to date this week — Mrs. Massachusetts International.
She competed against 10 other women in Winthrop, Maine.
But the win meant more than a crown for the 29-year-old. The road to the title has been marked by a traumatizing health scare and a long recovery.
Last year, Plante was diagnosed with Ventricular Tachycardia, a rapid heartbeat, after a routine visit to the dentist.
After undergoing heart surgery to correct the problem, Plante has been acting as an American Heart Association Go Red For Women ambassador, telling her story to inspire others to learn more about heart disease.
After her diagnosis, Plante thought her pageant days were over. She became a certified pageant judge in New Hampshire as well as a mentor to young contestants in order to stay involved in pageant life.
While judging a recent competition, her ideas changed. Plante felt an urge to get back on the stage again and use her experiences to her benefit.
"I thought, 'what a great opportunity to use a title to promote the Go Red Campaign and the American Heart Association,'" Plante said, noting heart disease is her pageant platform.
The pageant, a worldwide competition for married women ages 21 to 56, chooses delegates from each state and other countries to compete in the annual competition.
While in the past Massachusetts has sent a representative via an application process, Plante is the first woman to be crowned Mrs. Massachusetts.
"She's a crowd favorite. We are very excited. She will be representing all of the married women as Mrs. Massachusetts at Mrs. America International," state director Rebecca Poushard said.
During the competition, women compete in an interview portion of the competition, which counts for 50 percent of scoring, before going on to active wear and Plante's favorite, evening wear.
In addition to the crown and sash, Plante won ski passes and hotel stays in Maine, a gift certificate for the evening gown she will need for the national competition, and a pearl necklace.
The pageant also incorporates the women's husbands, allowing them to escort the women out onto the stage and crown the winner. Plante's husband, Jeff, was awarded the "Mr. Massachusetts husband award" after Plante wrote a letter detailing his support of her while she was undergoing her heart surgery.
"I feel so fortunate I have a husband who doesn't think pageants are silly, he is so respectful of it," Plante said.
In addition to her title win, Plante was awarded the Mrs. Congeniality award by her peers.
Competing for more than 10 years, Plante is no stranger to pageant wins, having been crowned Mrs. New Hampshire two years ago while she was living in the Dover, N.H., area with her husband. The two moved to Newburyport after taking jobs with Putnam Investments in Andover.
"My friends joke, what state is next? Connecticut? Rhode Island?"
Though a self-described "pageant queen," Plante says the Mrs. Massachusetts title has a special significance.
"This means the world to me because I really thought I was done competing after I gave up the title of Mrs. New Hampshire," Plante said. "I see the title as an opportunity to use what I went through as a positive."
Now ready to start her reign, Plante is poised to campaign to raise awareness about heart conditions in state schools while continuing her work with the American Heart Association.
"I want to reach out to children and adults," Plante said. "I want to educate about the risk of heart disease and urge people to change their habits and live a heart-healthy lifestyle."
Plante hopes to make appearances in Newburyport to urge schools and community organizations to be well versed in how to cope with someone who has gone into sudden cardiac arrest.
Plante is already preparing for the national competition in Chicago in July. The competition will require Plante to find a new evening gown, take new head shots and prepare for any number of questions that could be asked during the interview portion of the contest.
"The pageant has been therapeutic for me," Plante said. "It has taken away a lot of the negative stuff that came along with my diagnosis."