Five Things You Didn't Know About Sarah Palin

08/29/2008 at 03:45 PM EDT

Five Things You Didn't Know About Sarah Palin
Alaska Governor Sarah Palin
Chris Miller/AP
There's a lot to know about Sarah Palin, who is John McCain's surprise pick for his vice president. She's been governor of Alaska for 20 months and served two terms as mayor of her hometown of Wasilla, Alaska, all while raising five children. PEOPLE sat down with Palin, 44, recently to discuss her life, career and family.

Here are five things you may not know about her:

Her youngest son has Down syndrome. When Palin announced to friends after 4-month-old Trig's birth in April that he had been diagnosed with Down syndrome, she wrote them a private e-mail she shares with PEOPLE: "This new person in your life can help everyone put things in perspective and bind us together, and get everyone focused on what really matters ... Those who love him will think less about self and focus less on what the world tells [us] is 'normal' or 'perfect.' "

She has a son serving in the Army. Palin's son Track, 19, is expected to be deployed to Iraq this fall. "He's looking forward to it and we're proud of him," Palin's husband, Todd, tells PEOPLE. "He's grown up a lot in the past year." Says Palin: "I'm proud of him but I worry."

Her husband Todd is part Eskimo. Together 20 years, Todd, also 44, and Sarah "always wanted enough [kids] for a basketball team," she says. Todd is part Yupik Eskimo and helps run a family commercial fishing operation in addition to a full-time job as an oil company production operator. As a hobby, he races snowmobiles. He caught Sarah's eye in high school and they married in 1988. "He was the best basketball player I'd ever seen," she says.

She's a former beauty queen. The 1987 University of Idaho graduate tells PEOPLE: "I did the beauty pageants to earn money for college." Adding in a Vogue interview, "They made us line up in bathing suits and turn our backs so the male judges could look at our butts. I couldn't believe it." The former Miss Wasilla, however, prefers basketball and hunting and fishing to bathing suit and evening gown contests. "I love the outdoors," she tells PEOPLE.

She has her own style. Palin may be comfortable in a fisherman's vest or hunting fatigues, but on the job as governor she wears Kazuo Kawasaki designer glasses and black Franco Sarto boots!

1984: See the FIRST female Vice Presidential nominee on the cover of PEOPLE

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