Sulema Barajas at the age of 12 was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a chronic muscle disorder.
The disease nearly left the 15-year-old disabled and some doctors doubted she would ever walk again or do regular physical activities such as playing sports.
“It was just a very tough time for me,” Sulema said.
She said she blames the vaccination for her disease.
She proved her doctors wrong and now walks and was on the volleyball team last year as a freshman for Chula Vista High School.
However, she said at times it is still hard for her to walk and sometimes she wakes up with muscle pains.
But when judges at the Miss Teen California Latina competition last November asked her what are some qualities she would be able to bring to the table as Miss Teen California Latina, Sulema turned her illness from a negative into a positive.
“Right away I definitely saw it as an opportunity to talk about my disease in front of the judges, in front of the audience,” she said.
“I told them how my main goal and quality I would want to bring is to show teens that an obstacle doesn’t have to stop you from reaching your dreams, and I talked about my disease a little bit and I guess that kind of won them over.”
Sulema beat out 18 other contestants to be crowned Miss Teen California Latina.
She said she became the youngest person to have been named Miss Teen California Latina.
“It’s pretty cool, you know, for me to be this young because all of the former winners have been 18 years old or 17 or 16,” she said. “It just means the absolute world to me to have won.”
The high school sophomore said she enjoys competing in pageants but said her academics come first.
She said when she gets older she wants to be a lawyer.
But her struggle with fibromyalgia will continue to be with her.
“I still have the disease with me,” she said. “It doesn’t ever go away.”
While Sulema had experience competing in pageants, Karina Heredia, Miss California Latina, never had pageant experience.
Despite the fact she was inexperienced, the Otay Ranch High School alumna was named Miss California Latina, which is for ages 19 and up.
Heredia, 23, had no aspirations of competing in pageants until her mother and her mother’s friend convinced her last year to compete in the Miss California Latina pageant.
“I never had pictured myself competing in a pageant,” Heredia said.
She said she had her doubts about competing but her family knew she could win.
“My family sees things in me that I don’t see in myself,” she said.
She knew nothing about technique, form or any of the skills needed to win a pageant, yet she won the state title.
Just don’t tell her it was beginner’s luck because it was a lot of countless hours and hard work spent studying pageant contestants on YouTube.
“I was looking on YouTube and trying to practice the (runway) walk,” she said.
She beat 36 competitors, most of them with tons of pageant experience who had highly skilled trainers.
Heredia, a half Mexican and half Cuban Latina, said her next goal is to compete in the Miss U.S. Latina pageant in August where she will ditch the YouTube videos and actually be trained by a professional.
The psychology junior at UC Santa Barbara said she likes the pageant life but ultimately wants to have a career in the dental field.
Heredia and Sulema are able to share a special bond being that they both hail from Chula Vista.
“We hit it off great, I remember when we were at the pageant during rehearsals and we didn’t know each other but we were both like ‘you’re from Chula Vista!” Heredia said.