Miss Kenosha, Jenna Zeihen ’22, shares her story of resilience
Jenna Zeihen ’22 never considered herself a “pageant girl,” but in 2019, a desire to “do something crazy” inspired her to enter her first Miss Kenosha competition.
That spontaneous move led to her becoming first runner-up — something she never imagined possible, and it gave her the motivation to enter again the following year.
However, the new year brought new challenges for Jenna, who is in her last semester at Carthage studying communication and women’s and gender studies. After years of suffering from health issues — mysterious symptoms, enduring hundreds of tests, on and off psychosis, and a misdiagnosis — things took a drastic and severe turn. Jenna was diagnosed with a rare disease called Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS) — a diagnosis that forced her to put her plans for another Miss Kenosha competition on hold.
Feeling defeated, Jenna needed something to look forward to. That’s when she created Soul Space. Soul Space brings people together who are facing challenges and gives them a safe space to share stories, meeting at places like Common Grounds and the Kenosha Creative Space a few times each week. “It was terrifying and exciting at the same time,” says Jenna. “What happens when such a massive part of you is simultaneously the best and worst thing about life?”
As Soul Space grew, Jenna was able to focus less on her symptoms and more on spreading positivity. “It became my reason to continue to fight,” she says.
Last month, when Jenna returned to the Miss Kenosha pageant, Soul Space was her social impact and platform for the competition. She says the trajectory for Soul Space is unknown and limitless, but she hopes to bring it into classrooms and other parts of the community. “Genuine connection is always the goal,” says Jenna. “As long as we’re connecting, Soul Space will continue to be whatever it is.”
The night of the pageant, as she was about to go on stage, Jenna was met with yet another challenge. Just five minutes before the pageant began, a liquid was sprayed onto her face to set her makeup in place — she immediately had a severe reaction caused by her illness. She broke out in hives, and her throat began to swell. Jenna was terrified.
“Who knew the very thing that got me here — my illness — would end up being the reason that I don’t go out and compete?”
With her resilience and some encouragement from her mom, she persevered. Dazzling the judges with her vocals, stunning dresses — and her story, Jenna was crowned Miss Kenosha.
To learn more about Soul Space, visit them on Instagram (@welcometosoulspace).