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Bridget Baker,Miss I-500 Pageant

Woman with Direction

Military vet Bridget Baker continues her legacy with the Miss I-500 Pageant.

By Keri Guten Cohen, Contributing Writer

After high school, Bridget Baker had planned on going to Michigan State University for veterinarian school. She was very involved in 4H, FFA and had worked as a vet assistant for two years. Then, her immune system changed, and she became allergic to all animals except for sheep and dogs with hair.

“I was completely lost,” she admits. “Then military recruiters came to school and I went to a workout session and kept going. I thought, ‘OK, I’m doing this. This is awesome.’ It was way better than going to college without any direction.

“If wanted to do it, I wanted to do it all the way,” says the 24-year-old Twining resident. “The Marines have the hardest, longest training in boot camp. It is hard to get in and they have the highest physical requirements. It’s the best and I wanted to be part of the best. I wanted a challenge, to travel and to get the experience. It’s a big honor to earn that title — once a Marine, always a Marine.”

She also has high standards for herself as a volunteer. Since childhood, she, her brother Zach and parents, Randy and Kelly, have attended the International 500 Snowmobile Race in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, the sport’s ultimate event. And since age 15, she has been involved with the Miss I-500 Pageant, a charity-based program that also promotes the annual race throughout the year. The program raises money for breast cancer via the Pink Ribbon Riders and also for childhood cancer.

Bridget Baker,Miss I-500 Pageant

Her first year, the program theme was snowmobile safety. “I totaled a snowmobile at age 12, so I could talk about that,” she recalls. Since then, she’s been hooked and loves being a race volunteer and part of the pageant, which will mark its 10th anniversary Feb. 4 during the race. The program attracts girls ages 4-21, but Bridget and others who are older became Lifetime Queens so they could continue their volunteer work. Bridget serves as marketing director for the pageant program year-round.

And this year, two of Bridget’s passions will be combined as she gets to wave the green flag to start the I-500 — an honor given each year to a disabled military veteran. She later will receive the flag signed by all the racers. Bridget chose to share this honor with her grandfather Jim Abram, also a military veteran.

“Usually it’s someone a lot older who served for a long time or went overseas,” she says. “It’s different, but they want to show that vets come in all sizes and ages.”

TRAINING INJURY

Bridget broke her right leg and right foot during Marine combat training in North Carolina. Believing her injury was healed, she went to Virginia for ammo tech training. But her leg broke again. Accidentally, she was sent to Okinawa, Japan, to work as an ammo tech — with a boot on her right foot.

“I had just slipped through the cracks,” she says. “They tried to send me back; it was a long medical process. I stayed for almost two full years, working in the ammo warehouse. I experienced everything on the island, and also explored Tokyo and Hiroshima.”

In 2019, Bridget took leave while in Japan and came home to participate in the pageant. She ended up winning the top title of queen. Contestants must submit a resume, do onstage interviews and model formal gowns as well as fashions that match their hobbies or future career. Each court has three princesses, but “everyone gets a crown courtesy of Woody’s Traction, a Michigan parts supplier that also sponsors racers,” she says.

Bridget Baker,Miss I-500 Pageant

Bridget Baker,Miss I-500 Pageant

“The I-500 is a family, a tight-knit group,” Bridget says. “Charity work is important to me. I definitely see myself as a lifelong volunteer.”

Bridget was medically separated from the Marine Corps., with six different conditions affecting her back.

“I have permanent damage and have to work around those disabilities,” she says, adding that she has done vocational rehab at the VA and has a counselor helping her find a career that won’t aggravate her injuries. “I am in a lot of pain and can’t lift a lot. I can’t do things I used to do.”

But that’s not stopping her.

“It’s unfortunate what happened, but I still had that experience in the Marines, and I don’t regret it,” Bridget says. “It gave me broader views of the world and I have a different set of tools to accomplish what I have on my bucket list. And, the best friends I ever made are females in the military. I talk to them every day.”

She and her Golden Doodle named Tank share an apartment. She went to beauty school during the gap year after high school and before the Marines, so she works as a hair stylist part time. She also goes to Delta College in Saginaw, having used a $500 scholarship won through the I-500 pageant from the Disabled American Veterans of the Upper Pensinula. Another $500 scholarship is given annually at the pageant by the American Legion.

And next fall, she’ll enter MSU’s livestock industries program to get her closer to her life goals.

“I want to have my own sheep farm and convert a grain bin into a salon,” she says. “I plan to be alone with my sheep and my dog. And I like to travel a lot; ever since I was in the military, I was bitten by the travel bug.”

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