LOS ANGELES—There are two ways to carry yourself when tragedy strikes, you can wallow in your sorrows, or utilize them to become the person you’ve always envisioned for yourself. That’s exactly what twenty-four-year-old Sasha Crossman faced earlier this year, when she unexpectedly lost her father after one of the most memorable holiday celebrations she had with her family and longtime girlfriend, Kat. “She had just met my family, and we were celebrating our anniversary in Costa Rica. It was supposed to be one of the happiest times of our lives, but it turned out to be one of the most devastating.”

Sasha’s father, Ivan Crossman, had sustained permanent nerve paralysis from having two strokes; the first being when Sasha was a Junior at SUNY Albany in 2012, the second stroke being this past Valentine’s Day, and ultimately contributing to his death. Sasha recalls how difficult it was seeing her father become a shell of who he had been prior to the stroke. A beloved husband, father, family man, and talented jazz musician; Crossman worked as an auditor for the I.R.S., and loved playing the saxophone. He was known for his jovial character and lending a helping hand to his family around tax season.

After the stroke, “half of his face was paralyzed, he was also unable to move his his fingers and toes,” says Sasha. Sasha’s mother, Alegre, was devastated, and began working hard to get the man she loved back. “He was hospitalized for some time, and eventually came home for physical therapy, but he couldn’t do anything for himself. He was a changed man.” Eventually, Crossman was able to walk again, but he was still unable to communicate and live as he used to, “it was as if his spirit was trapped in confinement of a broken body,” Sasha recalls.

At the time of Crossman’s second stroke, Sasha was in Los Angeles, where she is getting her master’s degree at USC to become a teacher. “My mom called me the day after Valentine’s Day and told me he had another stroke and fell into a coma,” Sasha recalls, “I was in a panic, but she told me not to book a flight home yet, and to wait out the week.”

After five excruciating days of waiting, Crossman awoke from his coma, but was in bad condition. “He couldn’t breathe on his own,” says Sasha. The doctors recommended a tracheotomy to alleviate the difficulty with his breathing, which Crossman underwent. However, when Crossman’s wife left for the evening, he passed away from suffocation.

Sasha fell into a state of depression after her father’s passing, and didn’t know how to manage her emotions. Looking back, she recalls it was one of the darkest times of her life. “You have to work every day to not be there again, you have to put in effort.” Sasha says “eventually I was tired of mourning, and feeling like I wasn’t living up to my potential of what my dad knew I was capable of.”

That’s when Sasha decided to look into the Miss California USA Pageant, “I thought to myself, what is one thing that will pull me out of this slump, and allow me to take care of my mind and body?” As Sasha looks back on the past year, she learned that “when you lose someone important to you, you stop caring about what you look like, and how to take care of yourself. I signed up for the pageant so that I could feel empowered after going through such a tragedy, and I knew that if I gave myself purpose and a way to connect to my passion, I would begin to utilize my time to serve a greater cause.”

Sasha has always been passionate about helping underprivileged youth organizations in low income areas. In 2014, Sasha created the nonprofit organization, Yoga Forward, and began volunteering her time at local L.A. County middle schools to teach yoga to low income populations. Sasha discussed the perception of self-care, fitness, and yoga with students of all ages in low income areas; she was curious about what their opinion was, and whether they had tried yoga. Time and time again, Sasha would hear their reasons of being unable to commit to a healthy lifestyle due to financial reasons. “The two reasons I heard the most were from students saying they couldn’t afford Lululemon, much less a yoga mat.” That’s when Sasha knew she had to make a difference.

This summer, Sasha was accepted to represent the City of Los Angeles in the Miss California U.S.A. Pageant with the goal of using her time to help students in low-income areas live healthier and be proud of who they are. “The process of being a contestant has been so empowering,” says Sasha, “I’ve always wanted to participate in something big, in front of people while actively fighting for a cause I am passionate about. It has been so difficult to stay disciplined, but I know I am supposed to be doing this for my community and for myself. No matter what the outcome is, I am proud for having the courage to challenge myself, and I know that my dad is supporting me every step of the way.”

Sasha will be one of 125 girls competing for the crown on Sunday, December 6 at the Long Beach Terrace Theater. The event will be streamed online at 4:00 p.m., Pacific Standard Time.

Miss Sasha Crossman, 24, competes at the Miss California, USA pageant, in Long Beach, California.
Miss Sasha Crossman, 24, competes at the Miss California, USA pageant, in Long Beach, California.
Miss Sasha Crossman, 24, competes at the Miss California, USA pageant, in Long Beach, California.
Miss Sasha Crossman, 24, competes in the swim suit portion of the Miss California, USA pageant, in Long Beach, California.
Miss Sasha Crossman, 24, competes at the Miss California, USA pageant, in Long Beach, California.
Miss Sasha Crossman, 24, prepares for the evening gown portion of the Miss California, USA pageant, in Long Beach, California.