Local teacher uses pageant win to raise awareness of disease

By Kevin Callahan

Northeast native Sarah Campbell was recently crowned Mrs. New Jersey International 2021, an honor she said “has been a longtime goal that I’ve finally accomplished.”

The coveted achievement comes with acknowledgment of what Campbell has overcome, including Crohn’s disease. The 35-year-old Palmyra resident is an advocate for the Irritable Bowel Syndrome community, which includes Crohn’s patients and others with intestinal issues. She herself had emergency surgery last September that required 13 days in the hospital and resulted in a 35-pound weight loss.

“I was very sick for two years,” Campbell said. “The doctors told my husband if I did not come to the hospital when I did, it could have killed me.

“I founded my social-media platform, IBD Heroes, shortly after coming home from the hospital,” she added of a site where she and others share stories of Crohn’s and Colitis patients and attempt to empower and connect IBS sufferers.

“I’ve been competing in pageants for 22 years; my goal was always to go to nationals,” Campbell explained. “This is my first time competing in New Jersey.

“It’s very platform based,” she said of the Mrs. International competition. “Fifty percent of the overall score is the interview. You don’t do bathing suits, you do sporting wear and evening gowns.

“I won the interview and overall evening gown,” Campbell added. “I worked really hard on the interview, and it is nice to know my hard work paid off. In this pageant system, they appreciate people who are authentic.”

Campbell, a teacher at Edwin Forrest Elementary School, 7300 Cottage St., works out at Planet Fitness in Cinnaminson, but she does much more than train physically.

“When I returned from the hospital, I felt isolated,” she remembered. “I had lost over 35 pounds. I really want to bring light to the community. I had created IBS Heroes on Instagram and featured over 50 people from all over the world, and that is another part of it, doing international work.”

Campbell won Mrs. Burlington County International this year to qualify for the nationals. She got support from her husband and their 7-year-old daughter as well as her mother.

“My mom has been to every pageant,” she said.

Campbell wants her pageant win to help her connect with other IBS patients.

“It’s shocking how people know someone with Crohn’s or Colitis, so I want to spread awareness,” she said. “Another reason why I advocate is, it can turn into a life-threatening situation if not paid attention to.

“Many people are suffering from these awful diseases and our voices need to be heard.”

Campbell has another wish tied to her pageant title.

“I want to make New Jersey proud,” she said.