The Stunning Transformation Of Sarah Palin

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Correction 3/23/22: A previous version of this article said Sarah Palin was born in Ohio. She was born in Idaho, not Ohio.

So many of us know the name Sarah Palin. Whether you're a political guru or not, the former governor of Alaska was once one of the most prominent women in politics, and her influence on the female trajectory within the field is not to be underrated. But ever since her time on the national stage came to a close — as Barack Obama and Joe Biden won the 2008 presidential race over her and presidential candidate John McCain — Palin has been shrouded with drama and controversy. From her high-profile divorce to her connection to Donald Trump, Palin hasn't kept a squeaky clean record, and so many of us now want to know what she's up to.

You might think that because we have a female vice president in Kamala Harris, Palin might be looking for a way back into politics. But one of the last places that we saw her publicly was as a contestant on "The Masked Singer," so we're not sure if a jump to the White House is in her future. Nevertheless, while ruminating on her potential return to politics, we can't help but wonder where she's been. Here's the stunning transformation of Sarah Palin.

Sarah Palin was born in Idaho

While many know Sarah Palin to be synonymous with Alaska, it might come as a surprise for you to learn that she was born not in the "Last Frontier" state, but in the continental United States. As noted by Biography, Palin — born Sarah Louise Heath — was welcomed by her parents on February 11, 1964 in Sandpoint, Idaho. Palin, however, was only in Idaho for about three months. When she was still a baby, her parents packed up and moved to Wasilla, Alaska. And, of course, the rest is history.

Here's a little bit about Palin's parents. She was born to Charles and Sally Heath, who relocated their family to Alaska due to an employment opportunity in Skagway. Charles worked as both a track coach and a science teacher, and Sally had a job as a secretary at a school. As Sarah was growing up, she engaged in all things Alaska as a kid — hunting and driving around on snowmobiles. She was also well known in high school for her basketball skills.

The politician was a beauty queen in the '80s

While it might shock you to learn that Sarah Palin ate moose in the Alaskan frontier as a kid, it might surprise you even more to learn that she transformed from a wilderness kid into a beauty pageant contestant. That's right — in 1984, Palin competed in the Miss Alaska competition, and, as noted by HuffPost, you can still see the footage of her in the swimsuit competition online. Over the loudspeaker, the announcer at the pageant described Palin by saying the following: "Sarah says she wants to prepare for a career in television broadcasting by majoring in telecommunications and political science. It is no wonder that she has also been recognized by 'Who's Who?' since she has displayed her leadership in all areas."

Palin didn't take home the title, but apparently she was close to snagging the crown. The winner, Maryline Blackburn, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (via People) that the competition was fierce between her and Palin, and that the future politician did not come to play games. "She had this look about her, this look in her eyes that tells you she's calculating, figuring out, 'how am I going to win this competition?'" Blackburn said.

Sarah Palin had a very unique college experience

A lot of us know what it's like not to subscribe to the traditional four-year college experience. Some of us go to community college for two years and transfer, others prefer a trade school, and some of us have even transferred between four-year institutions to find the right fit. Sarah Palin falls into this last category, but as noted by U.S. News & World Report, her college experience was fraught with change. Palin went to — brace yourselves — four colleges over a period of six years, and she eventually earned a degree from the University of Idaho.

Here's what happened. Palin started college at Hawaii Pacific University, pursuing a degree in business administration. From there, she transferred to North Idaho College — which is a two-year school — and became a general studies major. After two semesters, she transferred to the University of Idaho, but had moved on to Matanuska-Susitna College in Alaska the next year. She then ultimately went back to the University of Idaho where she eventually finished her degree in journalism. Phew. She left school in 1987, and she went on to pursue a career in sports news.

The VP nominee worked in sportscasting in her early career

While many of us only know Sarah Palin for her political career, she actually started her professional path in journalism — sportscasting, to be exact. As noted by People, she worked for the Anchorage NBC affiliate station KTUU in 1988 and covered a variety of sports from baseball to basketball. She even made her debut on Super Bowl Sunday. We're all here for women in sports journalism, and Palin's 1980s hair and enthusiasm are fun to see on screen. While at the station, Palin still went by her maiden name, Heath, and her later name change led to a funny interaction with her former boss.

When Palin was announced on the John McCain ticket, she was, of course, known by her married name. But to John Hernandez, the KTUU sports director when Palin was on the team, was under the impression that Palin and Heath were two entirely different people. As reported by the Los Angeles Times, a friend "connected the dots" for the sports director, who was shocked to learn that his former intern was a governor seeking the second-highest office in the country.

Sarah Palin married her high school sweetheart in 1988

Sarah Palin had quite the reputation in high school. As per Biography, her basketball skills were unmatched, and she was even known as "Sarah Barracuda" because of her fierce approach on the court. High school didn't just bring Sarah an athletic reputation, however; it also brought her romance. Sarah met Todd Palin all the way back in the high school halls, and the two were apparently smitten with one another. As noted by Entertainment Tonight, Sarah and Todd tied the knot in an elopement ceremony in August 1988, and the future governor went on to assist Todd in his commercial fishing business.

Years later, while she was on the trail with John McCain, Sarah opened up about her marriage to Todd and the experiences that they had together. According to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, the campaign altered everything for the couple. But in a shout-out during her speech at the Republican National Convention, Sarah did not mince her words: "We met in high school, and two decades and five children later, he's still my guy."

She became a mom for the first time in 1989

When Sarah Palin was projected onto the national stage, some questions about the timing of her first pregnancy were brought up. As reported by Slate, Sarah gave birth to her first child with Todd Palin, Track Palin, on April 20, 1989. The date was a bit suspicious to some, as it was just about eight months after she and Todd had tied the knot. Was Sarah already pregnant when she and Todd eloped? Some people think so, but she's never commented on the matter. 

Outside of the timing, Sarah has opened up about why she and Todd chose such a unique name for their firstborn child. As noted by ThoughtCo., both Sarah and Todd were dedicated athletes in high school — Sarah a basketball player and runner, and Todd a well-rounded athlete and sports fan. Additionally, both of Sarah's parents worked as coaches, giving her ample interest in the athletic world. Plus, Sarah gave birth to her son Track during the track season in 1989 — so there you have it. 

Sarah Palin got her political start in the town of Wasilla, Alaska

So how did Sarah Palin jump into politics? We have to go all the way back to the early 1990s to start tracking her political career. After serving as a sportscaster, which no doubt expanded her public profile, Palin ran for a seat on the Wasilla City Council. As we're sure you guessed, she won the 1992 race and was reelected to the same seat in 1995. While a council member, Palin weighed in on issues regarding city budgeting, sexual assault and the ways in which victims were treated, censored books, and more. Her work propelled her onto a larger scene, and she successfully ran for mayor in 1996.

Palin was still a very young woman at the time, and winning a mayoral race is no easy feat. She took office in 1996, and served out her first term until 1999. Clearly a popular politician, Palin ran for mayor for a second time and once again won, serving in the same post until 2002. Due to term limits, Palin was unable to run for mayor for a third consecutive term, but clearly she had done what she could to make a name for herself in politics.

Sarah Palin aimed her sights higher in the 2000s

Sarah Palin led successful mayoral terms in Wasilla, Alaska, and when her term limit was up, she set her sights higher. According to the Archives of Women's Political Communication, Palin turned her attention to statewide politics and launched a campaign for the lieutenant governor's office. While she did not win her 2002 race, Palin pivoted to a position that still allowed her to weigh in on important political issues. Then-Governor Frank Murkowski appointed Palin to the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, where she served as a commissioner. Her tenure was not without controversy, however, and she resigned due to on-goings with another commission member.

What happened, you might ask? Palin found herself investigating another commission member, state Republican Party chair Randy Ruedrich, after he had resigned from his position. As per the Anchorage Daily News, Palin and a technician working for the commission reportedly found Ruedrich's computer, bypassed the password, and found that he had worked hand-in-hand with oil companies he was meant to be regulating. Unhappy with how events played out, she resigned from the role.

Sarah Palin became governor of Alaska in 2006

Sarah Palin surprised everyone when she ran — and won — her race for Alaska's governorship in 2006. She was an extremely popular candidate and governor, earning a high approval rating of 93% in 2007, per PolitiFact. Her time in the governor's position was not without controversy, as most politicians' careers aren't, but she was still considered one of the forefront Republican politicians of her time.

What were some of her accomplishments, you might be asking. As per Newsweek, one of her biggest claims to governor fame was her approval of a natural gas pipeline that was designed to run through Canada. The plan required $500 million of taxpayer money, and it landed Palin in hot water with native tribes in the area. 

Another defining aspect of Palin's time in office was the investigation that was conducted into her administration, as she had been accused of having a hand in the firing of a state trooper (who just happened to be her former brother-in-law). Despite the familial drama, the Alaska Personnel Board did not find any wrongdoing, per The New York Times.

She opened up about the struggles she faced during her fifth pregnancy

Throughout her marriage to Todd Palin, Sarah Palin had a number of children: Bristol Palin, Willow Palin, Piper Palin, and Track Palin. In 2007 — the year before she was announced as a vice presidential candidate — she found out that she was pregnant with her fifth child, and the experience was not an easy one. She sat down with Barbara Walters to discuss her journey (via ABC News), and shared vulnerable experiences that could not have been easy.

Sarah found out she was pregnant while at a conference in New Orleans. Still the governor of Alaska, she told Walters she was nervous about the process. "For a fleeting thought, I knew what women go through when they're facing what they believe at the time are less than ideal circumstances," she said. "I never thought, do I want another child? What I did think for that split second was, 'Gee, now, of all times?' And yeah, I'm no spring chicken." Her fifth child, Trig Palin, was born with Down syndrome, and in a move that surprised many for the Republican politician, Sarah discussed abortion and what her options were at the time.

The governor took the national stage as John McCain's running mate

When John McCain named Sarah Palin as his running mate during the 2008 presidential campaign, some people were shocked. Palin was the governor of a state that was fairly isolated, and she was the opposite of a Washington insider. But perhaps that's where she beat out the other candidates for the gig, and in an extensive piece for The New Yorker, Palin's prospects as a vice presidential nominee were discussed.

The New Yorker noted that as soon as Palin became governor, she formed bonds with Washington politicians who supported the decision to put her on McCain's ticket. "There's some political opportunism on her part," John Bitney, Palin's top policy adviser, said. He stated, "She's had D.C. in mind," noting, "She's not interested in being on the junior-varsity team." Palin also took advantage of political pundits traveling through Juneau, Alaska, often taking them to the governor's mansion to presumably discuss the future of her political career. By the time Adam Brickley, the man responsible for finding McCain's running mate, came across Palin and her impressive lobbying, it became clear that she was the woman for the job.

After losing the election, Sarah Palin turned her attention to a media career

As many of us know, John McCain and Sarah Palin lost the presidential race to Barack Obama and Joe Biden. Unlike McCain, who returned to politics, Palin all but rejected the field and returned to a life in Alaska. She also turned her attention to a media career, and given her background in journalism, her decision to pursue that line of work makes sense. As per IMDb, one of Palin's first ventures in the world of media came with her show "Sarah Palin's Alaska." It premiered on TLC in 2010, and followed Palin for nine episodes as she trekked through the frontier with her family. While the show was not picked up for a second season, it did mark the start of a number of media ventures for Palin.

Another foray into the world of post-political media came in the form of Palin's book, "Going Rogue: An American Life." Like many politicians who leave office or the political sphere at large, Palin released a memoir to an eager audience that wanted to get her inside thoughts on the campaign, her life, and the challenges she faced.

She returned to politics in 2016

With media ventures and book releases, Sarah Palin kept herself busy in the years following her vice presidential campaign. However, she returned to the political stage in 2016, as many then-hopeful Republican presidential candidates sought her endorsement. As reported by CNN, her support eventually went to Donald Trump, and the two joined each other on-stage for the announcement while in Iowa. "Looking around at all of you, you hardworking Iowa families, you farm families and teachers and teamsters and cops and cooks, you rock and rollers and holy rollers!" Palin said during her impassioned announcement. "You all make the world go around and now our cause is one."

During her stop in Iowa, Palin went on to say that she was "proud to endorse" Trump, and the candidate went on to sing her praises, too. Describing her as an "amazing" and "special" person, Trump said that he wanted her support from the moment he hit the trail. "This is a woman that, from Day 1, I said, 'If I ever do this, I have to get her support,'" Trump said.

The former governor's husband filed for divorce in 2019

Sarah Palin found herself once again in the headlines in 2019, as her husband of 31 years, Todd Palin, filed for divorce (on his 55th birthday, no less). As per CNN, Todd claimed "incompatibility of temperament" as the reason for the legal separation, noting that they found it "impossible to continue to live together as husband and wife." The news came as a shock to Sarah, who found out about Todd's decision via an attorney. "I thought I got shot," she said of the devastation that came with the personal curveball (via NBC News).

By July 2020, the divorce between Sarah and Todd Palin had been finalized, and the former married couple settled their case in a non-contested hearing, per People. Todd sought joint custody of the couple's youngest son, Trig Palin, and requested that their assets be split equally. Other details of their settlement were not released to the public, but it was noted that neither Sarah nor Todd demanded child support. Since then, Sarah has kept a relatively low profile, but she is said to be dating retired NHL player Ron Duguay, per Hollywood Life.