By DAYNA DRUM | Reporter
From overcoming illness to fighting cyber attackers—if anyone deserves to wear a crown, it’s Marjan Rajabi.
And this regal vision may be about to come true.
In just a few weeks, Rajabi will be standing in front of a national audience and a panel of judges to determine if she is fit to hold the title of Ms. America.
The Marquez Knolls resident has accomplished more than most could in multiple lifetimes, and she’s still aiming for more.
The wife and mother of two is campaigning for the Ms. America title under the banner “from struggle to strength,” and is the embodiment of overcoming both hardship and fear.
Rajabi was born in Iran just years before the start of the Iranian Revolution in 1979, which caused her family—among many others—to flee for their safety.
Rajabi was only 8 years old at the time, and in one night her world changed forever. When the time came, Rajabi’s mother woke her up and said they had to go—the family was going on a vacation she said. But on the dark car ride with only a doll and the clothes she was wearing, Rajabi recalled there was no excitement for this vacation. That was the last time she saw her childhood home.
After escaping the country, the family bounced from place to place across Europe. The young girl turned refugee was now learning the necessity of detachment. Just when she had founded new friendships, they were on the move again.
The cycle came to a stop in Los Angeles in 1984. The transition was hard, she explained, but she learned that geographical boundaries are “irrelevant.”
She came to view the planet itself as her home, rather than the location she happened to be living.
“It taught me not to see people as us versus them,” Rajabi told the Palisadian-Post.
This early exposure to the world and different cultures is where her desire to help others took root.
“I’ve always wanted to do community service and this is the perfect vehicle to do that,” Rajabi said, referring to the Ms. America crown she is competing for in early September.
But experiencing what the countries of the world had to offer wasn’t enough for a young Rajabi.
She wanted to go beyond the limits of Earth’s atmosphere and into space. So she set herself on a path to become an astronaut, and chose a degree course that would complement it.
In college, she joined the Air Force ROTC program because it was close to her passion of flying and exploration. She is parachute trained and has flown in military aircrafts as the navigator, but ironically is also afraid of heights.
Demanding more of herself and pushing above her limitations is a reoccurring practice. But there have been times that the tall, elegant and confident woman has needed a nudge.
In 2010, Rajabi was leaving work when she was T-boned by another driver. Her car rolled over from the impact, and when she regained consciousness she was trapped. Upside down in her vehicle, Rajabi could see nothing.
The car’s hood had scrunched up and was covering the windshield.
The airbags had deployed, covering each side window, and the doors were jammed. There was a black fume leaking into the confined space through the air vents and Rajabi knew the car was on fire. And she knew this was the moment she was going to die.
But an observer didn’t let that happen.
The Good Samaritan pried open the door, crawled inside and pulled her out. The car wasn’t on fire, and save for a concussion, she was going to be fine. In this moment Rajabi realized how temporary life was and was soon set on an introspective journey.
Yet again in 2013 Rajabi was faced with a scenario that made her question who she was and what her purpose was. She was diagnosed with kidney cancer. The doctors warned her that if not treated promptly, the disease would spread aggressively, attacking every organ in her body and effectively shutting it down.
“That kind of put a break in my tracks,” Rajabi said. “It was an opportunity for me to reexamine my life,” she said.
She had a three-month deadline before surgery was essential. So she turned to holistic medicine and sought answers in unconventional places. Rajabi calls the malignant tumor the “best thing” to happen to her.
Somehow she knew there was a lesson she had to learn while battling cancer—later she found it had to do with her ability to speak up for herself. She realized that she was living for others without much concern or focus on herself.
So she started saying what she wanted, whether it was travelling or learning martial arts. She knew she couldn’t wait to do the things that had always been on her list. She’s now a green belt in kickboxing and is speeding toward her black belt.
She was successfully treated for the disease and as part of her self-discovery quest, Rajabi looked up the Ms. America pageant, which is for women 26 years old or older, regardless of martial status. Rajabi explains that as a young girl she was often bullied and describes her juvenile self as overweight and unattractive.
Self-confidence and being in front of others were not her strong points.
Which is why she turned her focus to her education and her aspirations.
So if a young Rajabi was asked to do a pageant contest the answer would have been a firm no.
At first she didn’t think she would qualify, but soon she was ushered into interviews and was entered in the lineup, competing for the 2017 crown against 43 other women. She is now Ms. California Regional.
Pageants are often considered “vain,” Rajabi explained with a smile, but this one is different.
This is about accomplishment, worth and empowerment. The competing women are educated, professionals with many accomplishments in philanthropy and service.
While at 46 Rajabi isn’t an astronaut as she once dreamed, she still works on a wild frontier.
Every day, as the head of cybersecurity at Southern California Edison, she tackles online threats from pranksters, black-hat criminals and foreign powers.
She can never be off guard, and she never makes excuses. That negative state of mind she calls “excuse-itis” and regards as a worse fate than anything she has suffered.
It is a philosophy that sums up this pride of the Palisades.
Rajabi will be on stage at the Curtis Theater in Brea on Sept. 1-3. Online voting can be done at msamericapageant.com.
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