Tyler seniors Carol Swanson and JoAnne McMeans aren't spending their golden years in recliners, watching game shows and swapping impressions about arthritis medications.

Far from it.

These women are shedding senior stereotypes to try something different, something fun and out of the ordinary: Competing in pageants.

Both entered the most recent Ms. Texas Senior Classic Pageant in Plano and walked away from the August competition with five awards between them.

Mrs. Swanson, 67, was selected to be in the top five and won fourth runner up, as well as awards for Most Entertaining Talent and Volunteer Service Award; Ms. McMeans, 69, claimed first runner up and a first place for Philosophy of Life.

Snagging one honor is considered significant, but multiples, by two women from the same town?

"I'm most proud of the talent award," Mrs. Swanson, grandmother of 16, said with a grin. "I got it for tap-dancing to ‘Born to Be Wild' and riding a scooter around on stage."

All those high scores aren't coincidental — the pair has been competing in pageants for several years, amassing a collection of trophies and awards that continues to grow.

Their adventure-filled journeys to pageants far and near seem to keep them engaged in life and the continuing journey of self-discovery.

It's not about polished beauty and tiny waistlines, they said, it's about recognizing your gifts and sharing them to brighten the lives of others.

"We are redefining senior moments," Mrs. McMeans said. "I've learned it's not always about winning, but setting goals. … And it's ok to be 60-plus."

The women believe the Lord brought them together. They are friends, competitors and confidants, through good times and annoying ones … sort of like Lucy and Ethyl in sparkly formals.

They've learned to support and lean on each other, especially when the chips are down: Family illnesses, deaths and health scares.

"I was hesitant to enter at first, honestly because of my size," Mrs. Swanson said. "I'm not a Barbie Doll. This is about redefining who we are at this age. I'm already getting ready for next year. … I'm learning to play the drums."

Mrs. Swanson said she's contributed to schools and nonprofits throughout her career, but believes her roles as a chapter director for the March of Dimes and outreach coordinator for the East Texas Crisis Center, cured her of stage fright.

She said a heart attack suffered a few years ago helped jumpstart her performing career. Her physician told her to get active so she started taking tap dancing lessons.

One thing led to another, and soon she was taping her way onto the big stage, entering pageants and performing for local crowds, including a chance occasion to join Gregory Hines when he wowed audiences during a production at The University of Texas at Tyler R. Don Cowan Fine and Performing Arts Center.

"There were 32 of us who tapped on stage with him," Mrs. Swanson said. "It was so fun. … I'll never forget it."

For Mrs. McMeans, who serves as community liaison for Prestige Estates, the interest in performing is rooted in childhood.

"I can remember as a child my mother would march my sisters and me into the living room to watch the Miss American Pageant. Mom would say, ‘Let's root for Miss Texas,'" Mrs. McMeans said. "As a girl, I daydreamed about being in a pageant."

She grew up instead to be a wife, mother, secretary and many things to many people, just never a pageant contestant — until 2010 when an event promoter spotted her at Harvey Hall and encouraged her to give it a shot.

After much soul-searching, prayer and contemplation, the shy, reserved Mrs. McMeans decided to enter and see what happened. She opted to choreograph and perform a musical routine to Donna Summer's "Last Dance," even though she had no formal dance education.

But first, she had to tell her four grown children, who were incredulous but supportive of her efforts.

When the big night arrived, Mrs. McMeans, a grandmother of 12, was comforted by the small cheering section of family and friends who gathered to cheer her on.

"My heart was beating wildly," she said. "I was praying very hard, thinking, ‘I've lost my mind.' I had always wanted to be in the spotlight, but once I got there I wasn't sure I liked it. … It seemed very lonely."

When the music started, the rookie contestant floated through the selection, delighting in the cheers of the crowd.

Four years later, those memories still produce a twinkle in her eye.

"Growing up, I was afraid of doing things because I was afraid of failure," Mrs. McMeans said. "What I realized was, we're all winners, whether we win or not. I don't have to be afraid to try."

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