As I was taking some time to update my titleholders tabs under the “Miss America Organization” option on my home menu, I got to thinking about my experiences, where my ideas, growth and advice came from.
It reminded me of this summer when I was at an appearance in Madison and ran into a young lady interested in competing in the Miss America Organization. She was becoming of age to compete in the teen pageant and had participated in pageants in different programs before. I had the pleasure of taking some time to talk with her and her parents that afternoon and I gave them some of my over-arching basic tips in regards to the MAO. The one thing that stood out to me was when they asked me about pageant coaches…if I used one, what I recommended, and to be perfectly honest I couldn’t give them any input on that topic because I’ve never used a pageant coach. Yes, investing your time, money, and energy in a coach may be a viable option for some.
However, I strongly believe the greatest asset a woman competing in the Miss America Organization can attain is exposing herself to the experiences, knowledge, and guidance from the women that have come before her. As cliché as it is, this program isn’t about competing against but empowering one another. Those skill sets and experiences that titleholders gain during their year of service is truly priceless.
Many of my accomplishments within The Miss America Organization are a result of the pageant role models in my life. It all began with my desire to compete in my hometown title, Miss Wisconsin Rapids Area in 2011 in October, 2010. For years, I watched girls participate in this program their senior year of high school, one woman being Katie (Williams) Tomsyck, who competed for years in the Miss Wisconsin Program, holding numerous titles. Katie helped guide me from the beginning and she still continues to support me on my journey; I can honestly say I would not be in the position I am today without her guidance. When I began competing I saw it as a way to perform my talent that I’m extremely passionate about and I’m not shy and I never was, so I saw it as an opportunity to perform and form new relationships. At that time I also saw Miss Wisconsin Rapids as almost a rite of passage and didn’t see the larger picture or impact the MAO would have on my life.
That spring of 2011 I competed in Miss Fox River Valley in Appleton, it was my first open and boy did I feel like a small fish in a big sea; at least that’s how I felt and that’s okay. I was young with no direction and it’s those experiences when you immerse yourself into an environment that you’re not maybe completely comfortable that you truly grow and you aspire to be the woman you want to be. Maybe you don’t know who you ultimately want to be and the image you want to portray and that’s okay. As a young woman in this organization, you’ll get there and you’ll understand it and the path that you go down will all make sense in the end. I watched experienced women compete that day, one being Amanda (Garrity) Gay and I gained a lot of insight just from competing amongst them.
In the fall of 2011, I moved to La Crosse, Wisconsin to attend The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse for school. I knew I wanted to compete for Miss La Crosse/Oktoberfest at some point but I also knew that I didn’t want to do so right away. I wanted to gain a background sense and knowledge about the area itself before I dove into that position. Instead in January of 2012, I ran for the title of Miss Seven Rivers (my second open). I remember being overwhelmed by the presence Elizabeth (Kramer) Smaby gave off as soon as she walked into the dressing room that morning. I knew she was polished, experienced, and was ready to compete for her final year before “aging out.” She ended up winning the title of Miss Seven Rivers that night, but I didn’t walk away empty handed. I gained lifelong friendships and knowledge. That day was the first time Madeline Anderson (who went on to win Miss Onalaska that August prior to me winning Miss La Crosse/Oktoberfest in September) and I met and the first time I connected with Miss La Crosse/Oktoberfest 2011 and director of the Miss Seven Rivers program, Abby Ryan.
I remember watching Elizabeth give up her title the following year as Miss Seven Rivers because I was sitting in the audience as Miss La Crosse/Oktoberfest 2012. A position I might not have captured if it weren’t for her guidance during rehearsals that fall, advice about my walk, and allowing me to borrow a pair of her swimsuit shoes (note-Elizabeth was Miss La Crosse/Oktoberfest 2012). I also have to thank Raeanna Johnson (Miss La Crosse/Oktoberfest 2009 and Miss Wisconsin 2011, 2014) for helping me improve the choreography for my talent selection that year. I still vividly remember getting a message from Katie Tomsyck an evening leading up to the pageant telling me she had heard good things about rehearsals that week and was so excited for me. It’s a simple helping hand, allowing another contestant to borrow a wardrobe item of yours, or a little positive encouragement that can make all the difference.
After giving up my title as Miss La Crosse/Oktoberfest 2012, I competed for Miss Seven Rivers (for the second time) on January 18, 2014. The night before the pageant I invited Annie Skogen over to my apartment for final interview preparations and dinner, not knowing in just over 24 hours we would become actual pageant sisters. During the course of the pageant day I felt so much love from the outgoing titleholder, Miss Jenna Mills. A woman I personally look up to for her determination and passion she possesses for this program and the people within it. I met Jenna when I competed for Miss La Crosse/Oktoberfest, her energy for life and the MAO was and still is extremely contagious. She ended up placing as 1st Runner-Up that day, but went on to win Miss Seven Rivers that winter; allowing us to enjoy our first Miss Wisconsin experience together.
Another true sisterhood moment happened at Miss Madison-Capital City 2015, when I realized I forgot all of my make-up in a different bag which I had left back at the hotel because I didn’t need that bag. Thankfully a dear friend of mine, Tara Pizer, another contestant that day who just so happened to be my Miss Wisconsin 2014 roommate, let me borrow her make-up. You are the best!
As I prepared for Miss Wisconsin 2013, 2014, and 2015 there were countless women who helped me along the way. From Kristina (Smaby) Schoh (Miss La Crosse/Oktoberfest 2006 and Miss Wisconsin 2009) and Elizabeth Smaby helping me with mock interviews to providing me with wardrobe advice. I owe a thank you to Katie Marti for sharing her own experiences and outlook with me, Kate (Gorman) Sweasy for passionately exuding the true characteristics of this program, and Paula Kuiper, for always being authentic and never losing sight the bigger picture. I also don’t know where I would be without Miss Annie Skogen. Although she’s younger than me, I look up to her in so many ways. She’s a remarkably poised young lady, an outstanding dancer, and the most amazing younger sister I never had. Thank you Annie for always giving me constructive criticism when I ask for it, helping me choreograph my talent routines, and supporting me as I continue to reach for my dream of serving the state as Miss Wisconsin. There are so many women that have entered my life thanks to my involvement with The Miss America Organization and it would be nearly impossible to give credit to each and every one of them because this blog post would be pages upon pages long. In the simplest terms, thank you to all of YOU; the past titleholders, present titleholders (the Miss Wisconsin classes of 2013, 2014, and 2015), and woman I have had the pleasure of competing with and meeting throughout my journey thus far. Each of you have helped to influence my experience for the better and for that, I am forever grateful.
Bottom line is that The Miss America Organization is a sisterhood, use your resources. I can guarantee that if you reach out the women involved in this program they will be more than willing to help you in any way possible. Whether you are a past titleholder, current titleholder, or maybe you are passionately pursuing your first title within the MAO; take the time to learn from and help the women around you. This program is incredible but it’s the relationships you form with your “sisters” that make it a truly life-changing experience.