Danette Haag, 48, suffered burns over nearly 70 percent of her face and body after a gas leak caught fire in her home as a child. Haag was only 10 years old. But now, 38 years down the line, the wife, mom, and motivational speaker has competed in the Mrs. Colorado America beauty pageant.
In doing so, she has fulfilled the ambition of a lifetime.
Haag and her sister were hosting a 4-H youth club meeting at the family home in Iowa in 1981. Unbeknownst to the family and all 27 attendees, an odorless, undetectable gas leak was filling the farmhouse. Haag’s mother turned on the stove to make coffee, and the ignition sparked the gas fumes.
“In one horrific instance my life was turned upside down,” Haag shared at a recent motivational speaking event, titled “Flawless.”
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The Denver Center of Performing Arts played host to the Mrs. Colorado America beauty pageant on Saturday, March 30, 2019. Nobody in the audience was cheering louder than Haag’s family and friends. The pageant marked the culmination of over three decades of pain and perseverance, and the dream that had accompanied Haag’s recovery since day one.
Haag competed as Mrs. Windsor, Colorado, as one of 34 women in the competition. The hopeful pageant contender didn’t win the crown, but Haag truly felt like a winner for taking part. Able to stun the judges with both her accomplishments and her appearance, Haag finally received the validation she had been craving since she dreamed of the stage as a young girl of 10.
In the audience, and on the edges of their seats, were Haag’s sister, her father (who also survived the fire), and her devoted husband and children. “We came here as a family,” husband Michael told CBS, “to support her as much as we can.”
Haag’s sister DeeAnn Cheney has stood by her sister through the many milestones of recovery, and shared what it meant to Haag to compete in the pageant. “It was a big deal in our family to watch the Miss America pageant every year,” Cheney shared. “So, when she first watched it after the fire happened, she remembers feeling like a little girl who was crushed.”
Thirty-eight years after the fire that ravaged her features, Haag exemplifies strength, recovery, and true beauty. Walking onto the boldly lit stage of the Denver Center of Performing Arts, Haag was not only accepted and revered by her peers, but was applauded by the judges.
She was a contender to be reckoned with.
Today, Haag gives motivational speeches in which she draws upon the experiences of a lifetime to encourage others to embrace their perceived flaws and find inner strength. “We are all flawed,” Haag shared at a talk in February of 2019. “We are all devalued. We are all imperfect.” Haag has even branded her inspirational message under the name Soul on Fire … Beauty From Ashes.
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“She wants everybody to know that beauty comes from within,” Cheney continued, “not from the outside.”
The Mrs. Colorado crown was awarded to Mrs. Denver County, Rachael Preslar, but nothing could take the feeling of winning away from one of the pageant’s most deserving contestants: the woman who had endured 38 years of painful recovery to realize a lifelong dream.
“If I can take what I’ve learned along the way, and possibly inspire someone so that their journey can be better, it just doesn’t get any better than that for me,” Haag shared, speaking to CBS a month before the pageant.
“It brings purpose to my pain.”