SE: Former VB Player Overcomes Career-Ending Injury to Become Mrs. Kansas

Charissa Cederberg (Dugan) was living her dream. A member of Kansas State’s volleyball team, she felt strong and healthy as an athlete — invincible, even. 

Life, as she would learn, had other plans for her. 

While lifting one day, Cederberg felt a pain in her lower back. Initially, it didn’t deter her. If she could tolerate the pain, she could play, “so I definitely played,” Cederberg said. “That was the athlete in me.” 

The athlete is still in Cederberg — whose back injury eventually forced her to give up volleyball — it’s just being used in a different field of competition. 

On May 1, Cederberg won the title of Mrs. Kansas to earn the honor of representing the state at the Mrs. United States Pageant in Las Vegas, Nevada. The moment was years in the making with plenty of heartache along the way, all of it molding her into her current self. 

“I went through a lot of ups and downs,” she said, now married and working as an accountant for Koch Industries in Wichita. “(The injury) took a toll on me mentally, emotionally, and physically it was pretty painful. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody, but I’m glad it was me.”

Now, Cederberg looks back on those pain-filled days, the sleepless nights and the volleyball matches she could only watch from the sidelines, and eventually the stands, with a smile. 

“It was an experience for me to learn that not everything goes your way, but you can overcome it, and it’s all about your mindset. You have to have a positive mindset that things are going to get better,” she said. “It just builds your character to get through whatever is next. God wouldn’t give you anything you can’t handle.”

Despite being forced to give up her dream after two seasons, the former defensive specialist credits her time with the program for developing many traits — namely humility, perseverance and commitment — she benefits from now. 

“Everything I learned playing at K-State built character. It helps prepare you for whatever it is you go and do after college,” said Cederberg, who met her husband watching a K-State volleyball match. “It takes a lot of effort and commitment to prepare for a competition and win it. It also takes commitment to make the most of my reign (as Mrs. Kansas) and do as much as I can to inspire others to be hopeful and also go after their dreams.”

Cederberg, born and raised in Wichita as the middle child with four brothers, said she is also thankful for K-State head coach Suzie Fritz’s mentorship.  

“She’s not just a coach, she’s a life coach. When I got injured, I didn’t want to stop playing, but she was the one that reminded of what lies ahead,” Cederberg said, crediting her former coach for “bringing me back to reality and reminding what’s most important in life.”

Still, the competitive side of Cederberg never left. 

After her back surgery in 2010, she set out for a longtime goal of competing in a pageant. With it came a few incentives. First, it opened another avenue to compete. Secondly, it created motivation to heal. 

“When I first started doing pageants, I realized I’m going to have to walk in heels and one of the biggest muscles I need for walking in heels is my core, which is going to help strengthen my back,” she said. “It was a win-win for me.”

Cederberg’s first pageant competition was in 2013, starting another chapter in her life that’s opened the door to share her story with many people. Hopefully, she said, it can inspire others to “overcome adversity” as well.  

“I’m using my experiences as an inspiration to help others,” said Cederberg, who also wants to bring more support to the Special Olympics, an event dear to her, as one of her brothers has Down syndrome. “If I were to win (Mrs. United States), that’s something I would want to encourage more people to get involved in, either as a volunteer or a participant, because I’ve seen how it’s helped my brother and how it’s helped a lot of other people.”

As Mrs. Kansas, Cederberg said her favorite experience so far has been crowning the king and queen at Holy Family Camp, a spiritual camp held for people with developmental disabilities. 

“Talk about a special and exciting crowning moment I will never forget,” she said. 

The Mrs. United States competition, being streamed on, begins Wednesday for prelims while Thursday will be the finals. For Cederberg, she hopes to simply enjoy the experience. 

“I just want to be in the moment and enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I will be able to share with my kids someday,” she said. “Hopefully, I will also be able to bring home the crown.”

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