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TLC’s ‘Crown Chasers:’ When older women compete to be pageant princesses

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    Deborah Cooke appears in TLC's "Crown Chasers."TLC/ DISCOVERY

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    Discovery Communications

Back in 2008, TLC introduced us to the world of kiddie pageants with “Toddlers & Tiaras.” Now, the same network is giving viewers an inside look at the lives of some slightly more mature pageant queens.

“Crown Chasers” tells the story of five women, all between the ages of 30 and 52, as they attempt to balance the demands of their families, marriages and careers while strutting for sashes in the adult pageantry arena.

“In 1998, I won the Mrs. California America title and a couple of years later I got divorced and thought I was done with pageantry. I got married again in 2009 and my now husband and I went to a reunion for the Mrs. Californias and when I came off stage he literally had a tear in his eye,” pageant pro Deborah Cooke, 52, told FOX411’s Pop Tarts column. “He said he had never seen me look so alive and it was obvious I had a burn to do this he pushed me to get back in to pageantry. So here I am back in, and I will be competing for the title of Mrs. International in Chicago in a few weeks.”

TLC’s new series pulls back the velvet curtains on the cutthroat world of Mrs. Pageants through the eyes of Cooke and four other women in the Denver area.

“We are competition for each other night and day,” one of the women states in the show’s teaser video, as she points out whom she has beaten for the coveted crown. Another breaks down as she tells the camera of all the cardio workouts and “not eating” she endures to get in shape for the pageants.  One other woman explains that she needs to take home the top spot to show others that she is “better than they are.”

But that’s not Cooke’s motivation, she said. When she first entered the pageantry world at the tender age of 20, vying for Miss America and Miss USA, she did so because she wanted to earn money to pay for college. These days her sole focus is philanthropy and giving back.

“The most rewarding thing with the Mrs. International system is that we are judged… [on] what we do to serve our platform. My platform is St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and I sit on the board locally in Las Vegas as well as for the Heart Association. I have been instrumental in helping these organizations raise millions of dollars in the past few years,” Cooke said.

But to raise those big bucks in the pageant circle, even in the Mrs. arena, having a toned bikini body is a crucial component.

“I’m 52 years old and I don’t mind telling people that. When I was younger, if I had a swimsuit shoot or a pageant I would diet for a week. Maybe lift a weight here or there, and be good and ready,” Cooke said. “Now it’s a full six months of every day, no days off, and I am down to mostly just protein and greens and a little bit of carbs just to keep my kidneys healthy. It’s tough, really tough. I want to be ready so if there is an appearance that is a dinner I will still be able to eat. It’s constant scheduling.”

But some get a little help for the local surgeon’s office when it comes to eliminating the lumps and bumps of age.

“It all boils down to what you feel makes your exterior match your interior. If you’re a tireless worker maybe you’ve got some sagging skin so you may want to nip and tuck,” Cooke explained. “It’s a personal choice.”

“Crown Chasers” debuts on TLC on July 10.

Danielle Jones-Wesley contributed to this report.

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