Carrie Neer Rieger remembers that special moment in her life that prompted her to become a voice for those enslaved in human trafficking and to bring visibility to them.
Listening to Christian radio last November en route to Hallmark Cards, where she is an information technology project management office leader, Carrie fumed with indignation upon hearing the owners of a Kansas City massage parlor had been charged with sex trafficking.
That moment, Carrie says, was when everything came together, and she knew in her heart it was time to leave her comfort zone.
Sitting in her car in the Hallmark parking lot, Carrie cried out to the Lord: “I don’t know what You would have me to do, because I know nothing about this. I don’t know anyone who has been through it. I have a career. I have children. I am so busy. Relieve me.”
Says Carrie: “It was that moment last November that I knew I needed to focus my energy on something,” and that something was human trafficking – a worldwide issue she had thoroughly researched long before that moment in the parking lot.
“I felt that way and I prayed about it,” she says, adding: “I felt it was time for me to do something more.”
In her research, much useful information came from Veronica’s Voice, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing sex trafficking and restoring its victims.
As winner of the 2013 Mrs. Missouri America Pageant, Carrie will spend her year promoting her human-trafficking platform at community and statewide charity events. She also will serve as a role model, while striving to enrich the lives of others and living up to the Mrs. Missouri America motto: “Making a Difference.”
Carrie, though, might never have entered the state pageant had not her husband, Dan Rieger, told his 37-year-old wife she would “do great” in the March 2 pageant on the stage of the Lawrence Welk Theater in Branson.
“Are you kidding?” Carrie remembers asking her husband.
“No,” he replies. “I think you should at least stop and think about it.”
And she did.
After meeting in the Lee’s Summit home of Tina York, last year’s Mrs. Missouri America, “I learned that it isn’t really about the pageant. It’s about the opportunity to talk about the things that matter most to you … and to do philanthropic work and to do it in a way that is representative of my heart and my beliefs,” says Carrie, also a Lee’s Summit resident.
Page 2 of 4 - “Tina educated me and really helped me open my eyes as to what pageants are about and what Mrs. Missouri was kinda about.”
The clincher, Carrie recalls, was that after much prayer, she realized winning the title would help her bring more awareness to human trafficking, more specifically, sex trafficking, “because there needs to be more voices saying this is wrong.”
Carrie first heard about the pageant from a CrossFit athlete in a Lee’s Summit gym where she works out.
“A couple of times he told me I should run for the Mrs. Missouri title,” she says, recalling that “in the beginning, it just kinda made me laugh because I just didn’t think of myself in that way. ... I have never done pageants or anything like that.”
Says Carrie: “My history has been that I have been an athlete all my life. I still play a lot of sports. I have a career. And I am a mom. So it was really outside of my personality to do something like this. It was kind of a shock to my family.”
To compete in the pageant, contestants must be married, at least 18, an American citizen and a resident of the state they choose to represent. Competition categories are interview, evening gown and swimsuit.
This being her first ever pageant, Carrie acknowledged she had a lot to learn.
“I did my best. I didn’t take myself too seriously either. … I tried to be myself through the whole thing.”
And she did.
Although she doesn’t know what marks the three judges gave her, Carrie believes she scored well in the interview portion of the event.
“I had to sit down with the judges one by one and let them know what I was about and what I would do if I was chosen Mrs. Missouri,” she recalls.
There was a scary moment or two in the pageant, Carrie recalls, but the interview wasn’t one of them. No fear at all, because “this was me, you know.”
Getting on stage, though, was another story. Even though Carrie competes before people in the sport of CrossFit – a physical fitness competition – and her work brings her before people, competing in a state pageant was entirely different, she says, explaining that on stage she could not use her own strength or skills.
“In fact, as I was getting ready to walk out on stage, I felt a little shaky, Carrie says, while telling herself, “I can do this.”
Page 3 of 4 - As the pageant grew closer, the 1994 graduate of Grain Valley High School wondered if she should hire a pageant coach to instruct her how to model, walk and stand.
Says Carrie: “I decided no. I am going to be myself. I am just going to be me. I’ll practice walking in the (gown) on my own, (because) I think I should be the genuine person I am. After all, I am what I am.”
And she did. She walked nervously onto the stage for the first time. But let Carrie tell you what happened next in her own words:
“We are doing an opening number, and I remember walking out on the stage to my first position where I was going to stop. Then I looked out into the audience and saw my two little boys (Max, 6, and Isaac, 5) waving. And then I was fine.”
With everything fine now, the daughter of Jere and Sue Neer of Grain Valley composed herself and accomplished what she came to Branson to do: win the Mrs. Missouri America Pageant and represent the state of Missouri in the Mrs. America Pageant this September in Tuscon, Ariz. Mrs. America will advance to the Mrs. World Pageant in China.
What were her expectations?
“I didn’t know what to think. I guess I would say not until the moment I heard my name – and then repeated it in my head – did I think I would win. I just didn’t.”
By the time she heard her name proclaimed as Mrs. Missouri America, Carrie says Kristy Kelly, the first runner-up from Fredericktown, was hugging and congratulating her.
“Then I remember feeling sad because I had had grown to like her.”
Despite the mixed emotions, Carrie says winning the pageant was a happy and exciting experience. One she will never forget.
Nor will she ever forget what happened following the pageant.
“It was a special moment,” she says, “when my boys came up on stage, and you look in their eyes as they (looked) at their mother wearing a tiara and an evening gown. I felt like I was princess of the world.”
As Mrs. Missouri America, Carrie is passionate about representing Missouri well by being a good role model for women and girls.
“And I want to – no matter where I am – to dedicate myself to being as open as I can and being able to be as involved in the community as much as I can during my year,” she says.
After her one-year reign ends next year, Carrie plans to continue her human-trafficking platform in the community.
Page 4 of 4 - “I started it before the pageant and I will continue with nonprofits in the area,” she says, adding: “I will always speak out every opportunity I can.”