I first began competing within the Miss America Organization as an avenue to perform. I knew the talent portion provided me with an outlet to dance in a different capacity, something I had grown to love over my 12 years of studio training at the age of seventeen as a senior in high school. With that being said, I did not compete when I was little. People often ask, “Have you done this your entire life? Is it like Toddlers in Tiaras?” No. While the organization as an entity does have a teen and Miss program, I was not exposed to the teen pageant when I was eligible as it was still relatively new and there wasn’t an opportunity to compete for a local title near my hometown. Instead, I grew up watching the Miss Wisconsin Rapids Area program year after year. I sat in the audience as I spectated, seeing young women from my dance studio, Dance With Pam, whom I had idolized for years grace that stage in all phases of competition. In my mindset, I saw the local pageant as a right of passage and a milestone I was not going to pass up. I placed as 3rd Runner-Up at Miss Wisconsin Rapids Area 2011, but my drive to participate didn’t stop there (clearly).
It took four attempts for me to win my first local title. I competed in Miss Fox River Valley in Appleton, spring of 2011 which marked my very first open pageant and I truly felt like a fish out of water. I remember anxiously being surrounded with women like Mary Bonack and Amanda Garrity who had clearly competed many more times than myself, but I didn’t let that intimidate me. I knew I wasn’t likely to win a title that day, but I ceased the day as a chance to learn and grow from the women who had once been in my place. The following winter, I competed for the title of Miss Seven Rivers and vividly remember Elizabeth Kramer walking into the dressing room that morning with her hair in rollers, rolling rack of dresses in hand, and undeniably presence exuding from her — she won later that day. Despite not ultimately receiving the honor of serving as Miss Seven Rivers that day, at that same competition, I met Madeline Anderson and April Haldeman for the first time, both women I would go on to compete on the Miss Wisconsin stage along side multiple times. Later that year, in September of 2012 I was crowned Miss La Crosse/Oktoberfest 2012 and everything seemed to fall into place as cliché as it sounds.
Fast forward eight and a half years since the very first Miss America Organization local pageant I competed in and I can reflect on an incredible journey and a rather empowering one at that. Although my motives have evolved over the years, my desire to push myself outside of my comfort zone while making an impact remains the same. So, why MAO? Each and every time someone asks me how and where I learned to speak so eloquently without nerves, I take pride in saying, “My experience within the Miss America Organization.” As I attempt to pull myself out of debt as a result of furthering my education, I find ease in logging into my loan servicing company to find that a payment isn’t due for an extended period of time as a result of the scholarship dollars I’ve gained through this program. And at times when I feel emotionally distraught in some capacity, I know I have support and comfort with the friendships I’ve fostered throughout my eight years of involvement with this incredibly enriching program. Whether that’s volunteers within the MAO, other local titleholders (both present and past), or community members it’s a large spectrum of connections I would not have had it not been for my involvement.This past fall of 2017, I made the conscious decision to compete again in hopes of solidifying a sixth opportunity at my dream of becoming Miss Wisconsin. This was a result of the age change extension, which was announced just about five months after I competed on the Miss Wisconsin stage in Oshkosh for what I thought was my final time. I had a number of people tell me to “move on with your life,” expressing that I should be content with finishing as 1st Runner-Up to Miss Wisconsin 2017. I found it puzzling that someone could be so quick to voice their opinions on someone else’s dream. I thought, “Was this their dream they had worked tireless toward for years? No. Did they ever want something so badly it consumed much of their time, focus, and years of preparation? Perhaps, if so, they certainly weren’t putting themselves in my shoes.” Nonetheless, the passion, desire to make a difference through service, and the possibilities of God’s timing (coupled with my sassy, stubborn personality) prevailed and I was all in from the moment I saw it in writing from the national board. So, why the MAO after all this time? Because I have yet to find something so overpowering within my lifetime thus far that in turn provides so many benefits to both me personally and the communities in which I live and serve. Through Miss America Organization, I have gained thousands of dollars of scholarship that I have in turned used to alleviate debt. The MAO has provided me with a platform to speak up and speak out about causes I feel strongly about and truly make a difference in the lives’ of others. And it has helped me grow as a person by guiding me on an exploration process to define my values, goals, and strengthen my self identity.I’m extremely grateful for all of the twists and turns along this journey, the struggles that became lessons, and the constant love and encouragement I’ve felt along the way; specifically from my pageant family and biological family. With each local director, I’ve learned something new and been pushed a step further out of my comfort zone. In addition, with each new title, my parents and siblings have been right by my side – taking photos, cheering loudly, driving me to appearances, and praying so deeply that I achieve my goals. Thank you doesn’t even begin to describe the level of appreciation I feel for you all.