Jennifer Lynn Robinson’s road to Mrs. Classic Universe, an international pageant that crowns women over 40 beauty queens, started 14 years ago when she was hit by a truck.
Robinson, a trial lawyer for AAA Mid-Atlantic, was headed to a routine doctor’s appointment in May 2008, when she hit the ground. “I tried to get up, but I couldn’t,” said Robinson. “I saw flashes of my life.”
Robinson suffered several broken bones in her face, eight broken ribs, and a collapsed lung. Her left eye hemorrhaged, and she lost her peripheral vision. She tore her Achilles tendon and needed four surgeries to repair it. Robinson spent a week in the University of Pennsylvania’s intensive care trauma unit and more than a year in physical, cognitive and speech therapy. She lost her balance and suffered a mild, traumatic brain injury.
Six months after the accident — and despite doctors’ warnings — Robinson went back to work part-time, but she never returned to trial law.
In 2012, she started her first business as a fundraising and events consultant. That business evolved into Purposeful Networking, where she teaches business professionals and corporate leaders how to turn on the charm in social settings. Three years later she decided to try her hand at public speaking because she missed connecting with people. She landed hundreds of corporate gigs and gave a virtual TEDx talk at the University of Arkansas at Monticello in 2020.
In 2021, she decided to enter the Mrs. Classic Universe pageant, and last summer she won.
“Her story and her willingness to share it is what makes Jennifer a wonderful Mrs. Classic Universe,” said Lynda Samuels, executive director of the Arizona-based Classic Universe franchise. “She didn’t look at herself and think, ‘I don’t have what it takes.’”
These days Robinson is a regular on Philadelphia red carpets and at swanky style parties in her crown and gold-trimmed sash. We recently chatted over lunch and discussed survival, life’s unexpected pivots, and Robinson’s pageant near-meltdown.
Answers have been edited for clarity.
Q: Why would a woman with no beauty pageant experience want to do one in her 40s?
A: I’m about to turn 50. Participating in this beauty pageant that doesn’t traditionally just celebrate a 5-foot 10-inch woman with blond hair, who is young and skinny, appealed to me.
Q: What was your platform?
A: Helping people with invisible injuries. After I healed physically, my brain injury wasn’t noticeable to people and they would say things like, “Well, you look fine.” If a person can’t do something, you never want to turn say, “You look OK, why can’t you?’’ I want people to know they are not alone.
Q: What was it like to be so far out of your element?
A: I knew evening gown and resort wear were going to be a part of the pageant. That all sounded good. But when I got there, there were a lot of women who clearly had a lot of pageant experience. And then they told me I had to do a group dance. If I had known that, I would have quit on the spot. But then I had this revelation: Quitting is not who I am. I am committed to this. I decided to finish what I started even though at the time I didn’t feel poised and I didn’t even have a walk.
Q: Wait, you were a pageant girl without a walk?
A: We had a walking coach. When I practiced, she told me, “Put your shoulders back, your chest out, look confident. Smile. You are forgetting to smile.” I just put it all together.
Q: How did you feel during the swimsuit competition?
A: We had a choice to either wear a swimsuit or resort wear. I was the only one of the contestants who chose not to wear a bathing suit. I didn’t feel comfortable wearing just a bathing suit and high heels on stage. I wore this really short, Lilly [Pulitzer] caftan. All of the other women were in bikinis and thongs and they were oiling themselves up and I was like, what are these judges going to think of me?
Q: What did you learn from this experience?
A: It was a life-changing situation that made me believe in myself again.
Q: Do you feel beautiful?
Q: Is that crown heavy?
A: The crown is heavy, and I love it.
Q: What’s the best perk?
A: My family always jokes that I am a diva, that I am a queen and that I’m extra. Now everyone has a reason to call me a queen and treat me like a queen.
Q: Would you recommend that other women over 40 compete?
A: Yes. I learned so much about myself. And I know this: Whatever you think your boundaries are there is always a way to move past them. That is something we all need to ask ourselves: What can we all do to challenge our boundaries?