RICHMOND, Va. -- Teresa Jackson is walking down a path in life she never expected.
Two years ago the woman from Stephens City noticed she was shaking uncontrollably.
"So my very first symptom was a tremor. And it started in my left hand," Jackson said. "When the neurologist diagnosed me I was in a complete state of shock."
The diagnosis? Parkinson's Disease. A brain disorder that affects walking and balance. The condition is one that worsens over time.
The married mother of two is slowing her symptoms by working out feverishly.
"I probably exercise 14 to 16 hours a week," she said. "What we know is that aggressive exercise slows down the progression of Parkinson's."
Teresa stays fit on the inside and out. Friends at Destination Church in Prince George nourish her soul.
"Faith is very important to me. If I didn't have my faith I don't think I would have the drive to get up every day," she said.
Teresa isn't solely focused on herself. She is becoming a highly visible advocate for those living with Parkinson's. Teresa stepped into an unfamiliar role in the spotlight.
On July 11, encouraged by her family, the 57-year-old entered the Mrs. Virginia Pageant in South Hill, competing with women 20 years her junior.
"It took a while. I think at first you're like, 'Have you lost your mind? Have you seen the women who compete in Mrs. Virginia? They're talented. They're beautiful and they're young," she said.
Nerves nearly took home the crown even before the competition.
"The day before I thought, 'what have I done?' I thought if I didn't have sponsors I think I would bail," she said.
In the evening gown, swimsuit, and interview categories Teresa held her own.
"Surprising. Because I went in with no expectations because I had never done it before," she said.
The pageant wasn't about vanity.
"I'm sure I had a bewildered look on my face because it was so new to me because it wasn't my world," she said.
For Teresa, this was an opportunity to share her message of Parkinson's awareness and overcoming obstacles.
"I want women to know that they are enough exactly like they are," she said.
Teresa encourages others to step outside their comfort zone.
"You just got to jump in with both feet. And you got to trust what happens is meant to happen," she said.
This first-time pageant goer would reach the top ten during Mrs. Virginia. A moment she will always cherish.
"It is really more than a title and a sash. It is really an opportunity for intelligent, educated, and articulate women to step out and talk about things that are important to them," she said.
As she moves across the stage of life, Teresa Jackson isn't allowing fear or disease to win in the end.
"I think I had a lot of personal growth," she said. "I plan to fight and slide into home base saying I gave everything I had."
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