Oksana Vovk lives the Ms. America dream
Oksana Vovk walks into Le Pain Quotidien looking like she just stepped off the pages of Vogue. Buttoned up in an Italian bouclé coat with a bright silk Ralph Lauren scarf around her neck and Chanel earrings, the Newport Beach attorney has recently been crowned Ms. America 2017.
She says it’s all her younger sister’s doing. “I came home one day from work, exhausted, and she said, ‘Are you ever going to do anything for yourself? You always do everything for everyone else. What about a beauty pageant?’ ” Vovk recalls.
Vovk is a 5-foot-8 fashion plate with eyebrows, nails and makeup that are on point, but she scoffed. “I’m 39. I’m old. I have a son,” she told Maria. “There are no pageants for people like me.”
Her sister disagreed and found the Ms. America Pageant online. It is for women 26 or older – single, married, divorced, or widowed, with or without children.
One thing that attracted Vovk – besides there being no swimsuit competition – was that winning could give her a chance to become an advocate. “I could really go out and make a difference. I could share my story.” And what a story it is – of strength and perseverance and family.
Vovk grew up with a professor father and engineer mother in Chernivtsi, Ukraine. “I had a beautiful life,” she says.
Then, at 19, she met an American man and, speaking only basic English, moved to Laguna Beach to marry him, applying to Western State College of Law when she arrived.
One year later, the marriage had turned sour and abusive. With a 2-month-old son on her hip, she fled and found an apartment and a job as a law clerk.
“I never had the life of a young woman. I never went to clubs. I never even dated. I had to grow up overnight. But I was happiest at my small apartment because I was calling the shots, striving for something bigger and better, trying to make something out of me.”
Vovk spent her free time in libraries with a dictionary to look up words she didn’t know. She earned her law degree at 23. Then life threw another punch: Her son, Stefan, was diagnosed with severe autism.
Her mother, Valentina, came to America to help her, and later she brought over her sister, Maria, who signed her up for the pageant. Today the three women live together, Vovk supporting the family as an attorney for an insurance defense law firm.
My neighborhood: Bonita Canyon.
Why I live there: It is clean. Beautiful. A family-oriented place. My son loves the Corona del Mar beach. And Newport-Mesa Unified School District has some of the best programs for special-needs kids. I am super thankful to all of my son’s teachers.
Favorite restaurants: I love Mastro’s. I’m a vegetarian so I eat the fish. I love Bayside. True Food is excellent. I love Vie de France in South Coast Plaza. It may be a shopping mall, but there is something about that place, the music they play. I love Quattro Caffé at South Coast Plaza. It has a very cozy feel. My maternal grandfather has Italian roots. I love Italy. Italy means quality, class, something that lasts forever.
My workout: In the privacy of my living room, I do workout videos, “Total Cardio Burn” with Caroline Pearce and yoga with Ganga White. And every weekend my son and I go to Irvine Lake for a walk or a jog. Stefan feeds the ducks. Or we just walk. Corona del Mar. The Back Bay. We love the Newport Coast trail.
Favorite designer: Ninety-five percent of my closet was made by my mom. We have seven sewing machines. She is amazing. She designed my evening gown for the pageant and I sewed in 5,000 Swarovski crystals on it.
Favorite designer other than my mom: Armani. He is simplicity. Very classy. Trend is a very scary word to me. I would never spend my money on something trending today. I love Ralph Lauren too. You will never see anything tacky. If you look at his lines, they are simple, easy, just like a human being should be.
Best pageant perk: I can take Stefan with me. We do a lot of fundraising walks – to fight breast cancer, autism, diabetes. He lights up because it’s new for him. He and I communicate largely through body language.
My pageant platform: Fighting autism and promoting organic living. I buy everything at Mother’s Market. I want to spend my money on organics, not on medical bills. Once you clean the body, your mind follows. Your stress goes away. It cleans your conscious. You feel inspired to do bigger things.
Favorite charities: The Los Angeles Mission, Autism Speaks and of course the Best Buddies program. My son was a part of Best Buddies at Corona del Mar High. They pair special needs teenagers with mainstream students. And they do activities. It’s excellent.
When I splurge: I love shoes. Manolo Blahnik. I have probably 50 pair of Manolo. Some of them are 20 years old. I wear them and nobody can believe those shoes are 20 years old.
On my nightstand: I have a teeny little picture of my family. Always a glass of alkaline water. It prevents the skin from aging, but also heart attacks in women. And now I have a Ms. America plaque. It reminds me this is a part of my life now.
What I want you to know: I am a single mom raising a severely autistic kid. If there are moms out there, if they feel like it’s the end of the world, I’m gonna tell them it’s not.