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Woman overcomes drug addiction to compete in pageant

Miss Maui USA Kailey Parker will compete for the Miss Hawaii USA title Sunday on Oahu. -- www.bkphotogallery.com / BK PHOTOGRAPHY photo

Kula resident Kailey Parker blew out her back and could barely walk at 18 years old.

A year later, she was addicted to pain medication and a year after that she lost her mother — a single parent of two.

“My world shattered,” Parker said Friday.

The 25-year-old has since overcome her trials and plans to share her story as a candidate in the Miss Hawaii USA pageant Sunday at the Hawaii Convention Center on Oahu. Parker was picked in August out of a handful of hopefuls to represent Maui at the competition formerly owned by President Donald Trump.

“It feels amazing. I’m absolutely honored,” Parker said. “I feel like I’ve been working hard, and I’m determined. I’ve done some heavy preparations in order to be prepared for this weekend. I honestly feel from the bottom of my heart I will take home the title.”

Born and raised on Maui, Parker moved to Washington state with her mother and younger brother for high school. After graduating, she worked as a cheerleader for a professional indoor football team until she fell 7 feet from a railing and landed hard on her tailbone during a game.

Parker blew two discs in her back in the fall and felt excruciating pain every time she walked. She said doctors put her on “heavy narcotics” to manage the pain for a year, but she realized she became physically and mentally addicted to the drugs.

“I was the normal hardworking girl who had to wean myself off of medication,” she said. “That was horrible. It’s lethal stuff.”

Parker underwent two back surgeries but continued to work a job to help her mom. She said doctors advised her to continue taking the medication, but she decided to stop “cold turkey.”

“It changed who I was as a person,” she said. “I’m usually a very happy outgoing person, but when you saw me I was intoxicated by the medicine. I was closed off. I was shut down.

“It doesn’t just numb physical pain; it numbs you entirely. You’re no longer you.”

Parker endured intense physical withdrawal symptoms for 40 days. She said she always felt on edge, shaking and “literally like you’re dying.”

“It’s like having the flu for 40 days,” she said. “Sometimes you can’t get up to go to the bathroom . . . It’s physically gut-wrenching pain.”

During her battle, her grandfather died and, a week later, her mother did too.

Parker said that she had just graduated from college and, without any support on the Mainland, she and her 12-year-old brother moved back to the island.

“She was my best friend,” she said of her mother. “She was my absolute support system. I lost everything.”

Her healing process began when she returned to Maui and she focused on her health and fitness. Parker works as a visual merchandising coordinator for Tommy Bahama, but tries to share her story at schools and with youth.

Parker recently spoke to students at Lahaina Intermediate School and recalled asking them if they had seen different forms of drugs.

“Almost every student raised their hands. It’s baffling,” she said. “Students were crying — it’s very sad, and I think it needs to be talked about.”

Opioid overdose deaths have more than doubled in Hawaii since 2005, according to the death certificate database of the state Department of Health. Total drug overdose deaths also have more than doubled over the same period.

Parker knows drug addiction is not a popular or easy topic to discuss, and she admitted that she was unsure about sharing her story. However, when she spoke about her experience to Miss Maui USA judges “a weight lifted off my shoulders.”

“I know it’s not the pageant thing to talk about, but we’re in 2017 and we need to talk about the real issues that are affecting the next generation,” she said. “With this title, it gives me the platform to share my story and help prevent anyone else from going through the issue or get in the same spot that I did.”

Parker said that she hopes Trump, who declared the opioid epidemic a “national health emergency” last month, produces policies against pain medication. Doctors also need to be held accountable for misuse of medication, she added.

“I know there’s doctors on Maui who give them out randomly, and I’ve talked to the Police Department about it,” she said. “It’s got to crack down everywhere because there’s a lot of people using it.”

Parker said that she is a stronger person today because of her mother and the obstacles she has overcome. She is confident of her chances to represent Hawaii in the Miss USA contest and hopes to be the first Maui County resident to ever win the 65-year-old national competition.

The interview portion of the state competition starts today.

The last Hawaii candidate to win the Miss USA crown was Brook Lee of Pearl City, Oahu, who went on to become Miss Universe in 1997.

“I wouldn’t be the person I am today without my mother,” Parker said.

Parker is one of six women representing the island in the Miss Hawaii USA and Miss Hawaii Teen USA pageants this weekend. Winners will move on to the Miss USA competition next year.

Competing for Miss Hawaii Teen USA are Miss Maui Teen USA Baldwin High School student Alex Splajt, Miss Valley Isle Teen USA Seabury Hall student Kaya Givensel and Miss Maunaleo Teen USA recent Baldwin grad Kawena Kan-Hai. Miss Wailea USA Joylene Tabon and Miss Valley Isle USA Brianna Zurlo will also compete for the Miss Hawaii USA crown.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@mauinews.com.

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