By Sarah Goff
Union news office
JACKSON — For Union alumni couple Ben and Juliana Wilson, 2019 has been a year of unexpected opportunities, from Ben competing on the “American Ninja Warrior” TV show to Juliana winning the Mrs. Tennessee United States crown and earning a top 10 finish in the recent 2019 Mrs. United States National Pageant in Las Vegas.
“This has been a crazy year, to kind of sum it all up,” Juliana said. “A year ago, neither one of us expected to be doing the things that we’re doing right now. It’s just cool that God’s just given us this opportunity, and we want to try to make the most if it, however long it lasts.”
Ben, 29, grew up in Jackson, and Juliana, 30, is from Lawrenceburg. They met at Union in 2010 while Ben was studying chemistry and Juliana (whose maiden name is Robbins) was studying broadcast journalism. Ben proposed a month after they graduated in the spring of 2012, and they were married in June 2013.
The Wilsons now live in an apartment in downtown Nashville. Ben graduated in May from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Pharmacy in Nashville and is studying for his licensing examinations. Once he gains his licensure, he plans to work as a pharmacist. Juliana works for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board in Franklin as the communications and childhood missions specialist with Tennessee Woman’s Missionary Union.
For both Ben and Juliana, their time at Union helped shape who and where they are today. Juliana was a freshman when the EF-4 tornado hit Union’s campus on Feb. 5, 2008. She said she struggled for a year after the tornado, but was surrounded by people at Union who encouraged her to rely on Christ.
“I grew in my faith tremendously during that time at Union,” she said. “I went from being a pastor’s kid in the Southern Baptist Convention (her dad, Jerry Robbins, is pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in West Point) going to Union to that faith really being my own and taking ownership in it, and realizing I wanted to take a direction in my life that could further the gospel somehow, someway.”
Ben agreed that his time at Union, both inside and outside the classroom, was life-changing. Not only did he meet his wife, but he found role models in the faculty and staff and learned to be independent and pursue his own goals.
“I think that it is hard to go to Union and not come away transformed,” he said.
In mid-February this year, Ben received a call from the producers of NBC telling him that he was selected to participate on “American Ninja Warrior,” an obstacle course competition series. Being on the show had been a longtime goal of his.
“I’ve always really been into fitness, and always loved ‘American Ninja Warrior’ since I was a kid,” he said. He liked the idea of being an all-around athlete. “I was always like, ‘I could do these obstacles. I could totally do that.’ ”
Ben had submitted an audition video four years ago, but did not make it onto the show. He decided to stop pursuing it while he focused on pharmacy school, but during his last semester, he thought, “might as well give this another shot.” He submitted another audition video and to his surprise was invited to the Atlanta qualifiers in March of 2018.
Seeing Ben pursue his goal inspired Juliana to do the same: “I decided that I wanted to go after one of my lifelong dreams, and that was to have the opportunity to represent my home state at a national pageant.”
had just one month to prepare for the state pageant — other contestants had spent nine to 10 months preparing, she said. Before she and Ben were married, Juliana had competed in Miss Tennessee in Jackson and Miss Tennessee USA, but “it had been seven years since I had been on a stage in that capacity.”
She was crowned Mrs. Tennessee United States on March 17. Since then, Juliana has been doing community service, speaking at events, keeping physically fit, preparing for the National Pageant and promoting her personal platform, “Look Up,” which raises awareness about social media safety and its impact on mental health.
At the Mrs. United States national pageant, held Aug. 1-4, Juliana was a semi-finalist and finished in the top 10. “I was grateful to have the opportunity to share my faith and pray with women from across the country,” she said.
The weekend after Juliana was crowned, the Wilsons traveled to Atlanta to film Ben’s ANW competition. He ran two courses: he made it through the Atlanta qualifiers, which aired June 4 on NBC, and also ran in the finals, but his clip did not make it into the aired show. Although he did not make it through to the ANW Las Vegas Finals, he plans to keep training and audition again next year.
“It’s never guaranteed that you’re going to be invited back again, but I’m hopeful that I did well enough this year that I’d be back,” he said.
Through their journey together and this unexpected year of opportunities, Juliana said she and Ben want to “use the glories and gifts that God’s given us to bring glory and honor to Him,” and to continue trusting the Lord to guide them.
“That is easy to say, but hard to do,” Juliana said. “Trust the Lord with your future, and He’ll guide your steps. That’s just what we’re trying to do.” B&R