Why I Feel Like a Winner – Even Without the Crown

This weekend, I competed in my first ever Outstanding Teen pageant at the state level. It was so incredible to showcase all that I have prepared for on a stage in front of hundreds of awesome Nebraskans. I placed in the top 3, but I have never felt more content with anything in my life. I didn’t walk away with the crown and state title this weekend, but I did walk away with things more meaningful than I could’ve imagined. 

I left this weekend with hundreds of dollars in scholarship money from being named the 2nd runner-up, Miss Congeniality, and receiving the Community Service award. But still, those aren’t the reasons I feel like I accomplished something. 


I came out of my shell this week. If you have known me growing up, you’ve seen how hard it was to get me to talk to people. Even just a few years ago, I was very shy and timid for almost everything. But now, I was voted Miss Congeniality of the pageant by the other contestants. Now, I call these girls my friends. And now, I know that we will have lifelong friendships because of the time we spent together.

Because these girls are not just pretty faces on stage. They are dedicated, determined, thoughtful, kind, charismatic, and admirable away from the bright lights. They all know how to form a hug circle when the day just got a little rough. They know how to make you smile and laugh when your nerves are weighing you down. And they know how to drop a beat for you to rap “Ice Ice Baby” to on multiple occasions. (Thanks again for this)

But even more importantly, they know how to make you feel loved at any moment. For a lot of us, we went from being acquaintances at the beginning of the week to not being able to pull ourselves away from hugs when we had to say goodbye at the end of the week. We vowed to meet in the middle sometime, or to keep our Snapchat streaks alive. 

I love these girls so dearly; each and every one of them has incredible qualities that will take them so far in life. I am honored to have won Miss Congeniality, thanks to their votes. 

I also gained an even stronger appreciation for all the people who volunteer for the pageant. I knew they worked hard during the week, but I didn’t know it was that hard. The men and women behind the scenes at the pageant throughout the entire week are so amazing and will literally do anything to make sure that we are comfortable. 

To the backstage crew, the hostesses, the lunch committee, the board of directors, the production crew, the emcees, and everyone else – thank you so much for the time and energy you have given to us girls. It is truly fabulous and I’m so grateful for all you do. 

I know now how far a simple “thank you” can go, especially after crying happy tears with some devoted volunteers for the organization. I know how far a “congratulations” can go after a girl poured their heart and soul onto the stage. I know how far an “I love you” can go after you have to say goodbye to a girl who you became best friends with. 

I know the importance of a helping hand, a shoulder to cry on, a quick joke, and a fun story. I’ve seen how great some double-sided tape or scissors come in handy. I’ve felt the power of a warm smile from a contestant and the chills from a talent on stage. 

I know the excitement a little girl gets when a princess walks in the room, and how she will stare down your crown. I know how easy it is to smile at her and make her day. 

The list goes on and on of why I’m so grateful for this opportunity. They say that you win some and you lose some, and in this case, while I didn’t walk away with the title, I walked away with much more than I dreamed. 

Here’s to all the people that I have supported me on this journey or even gave me kind words after I competed – thank you. 

To the winner of Miss Nebraska’s Oustanding Teen 2016, Hannah Miller – I am so happy for you!! You are going to represent Nebraska so well at Nationals and throughout your year. I am so glad that I’ve had the opportunity to get to know you over the last several months. It was your time to shine and you truly did. You will be a fabulous role model for young girls and will promote the organization and your platform so well. Don’t forget all of us when you’re famous 😉 


Now, I will continue to represent the Tri-Cities with my title, and I will continue to work on my platform issue. I will prepare for the next phase of my life as I go into my senior year of high school. I go back to normal life now, but this experience will always be pegged as extraordinary. 

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Why I Chose Pageantry

I grew up spending twenty hours a week in a chalk-filled gymnastics gym with my closest teammates and coaches. Don’t get me wrong, those eleven years gave me amazing memories and great life-lessons, but I just didn’t have the “normal” adolescent experiences. I never was able to go to my middle school dances or football games, I rarely had time to hang out with anyone outside of school, and I spent so much time focusing on gymnastics that I never tried anything new. It was many years of long nights trying to get my homework done and ice my sore muscles at the same time. 
And then I got hurt. I tore the labrum in my hip. For months, I tried rehabbing it back to full strength but nothing ever worked. I had to make the most difficult decision of my life; do I cross my fingers and push through the pain? Or do I leave everything I had been working for behind? The recruitment offers, the friendships, the skills, and the pride would be gone. Telling my coach that I was going to leave the gym was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I cried that entire night, because I honestly didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. 

My mom told me that I had to choose a new activity, because she wouldn’t allow me to sit at home every day after school. So, I tried out for my high school’s cheer team. I had about 5 awesome months with that, and then my Achilles’ tendon began acting up. 3 surgeries and over a year of physical therapy later, I had to walk away from the second sport I had loved. I was so upset because I felt connected to my school with cheer, and I had just started to make some incredible friends. 

So, during my junior year of high school, I needed to find something to do. I was sort of at a dead end; I had a part-time job and I was taking a full class schedule, but I wanted something more fulfilling. I wanted to change my life, and help others while I was at it. And then, a lightbulb lit in my mind. I had grown up around the Miss Nebraska pageant every summer, and I had always admired the girls up on that stage. As a junior, I was only eligible for one year of competition in the Outstanding Teen division of the Nebraska pageant. I took a huge leap of faith and told myself that I would give it a try. 

I had no idea what I was doing, so I found coaches for talent and my stage presence. I picked out my gowns, and did several mock interviews. For several months, I was completely pageant focused. I wanted to be ready when I walked out on that stage, and I fell in love with pageants before I even actually competed. I was beginning to feel happy again with my activity. 

My first local pageant was indescribable. I felt confident in all areas of competition, and I ended up getting 1st runner up. I wasn’t even the slightest bit upset about it; I was just glad I had made it through my first pageant without freaking out. But even better than that, I fell absolutely in love with being on the stage in front of the judges and audience. 

  
I wanted to try again. I competed again two weeks later, and took home the crown of Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen. I was completely ecstatic, and when I say that, I mean I couldn’t sleep the entire night after because I was mentally planning out what I was going to do during my year of service. 

People ask me now why I decided to do pageants. They ask if it’s because I get to wear a sparkly crown and do photoshoots. They ask if it’s because I get my hair and makeup done or if I get paid for it. 

The crown might in fact be my favorite accessory, but it’s not the single reason I enjoy pageants so much. The four points on the crown aren’t just a fancy design; they stand for scholarship, service, style, and success. And that’s why I do pageants. Wearing the crown and sash gives me an opportunity to reach people and speak to them. I speak about my platform, “The Positive Power of Inclusion,” the national platform, Children’s Miracle Network, and the Outstanding Teen organization itself. 

  
All of the girls you see wearing crowns aren’t doing it for fame and fortune. We’re doing it because we are so passionate about our platforms and making an impact on today’s society. We are active volunteers in our communities, achieving students in our classrooms, and kind spirits for our peers. We lift each other up, and find ourselves in the process.

I have met some of the most incredible girls through pageants, and they’ve all became some of my very best friends. They have talent, brains, and courage. They aren’t just faces that stand there and look pretty. Of course, everyone is gorgeous, but no one is focused on appearance over anything else. Pageant girls live to improve their lives in the aspects of the crown. 

We make notable differences in the community. We plan fundraisers, attend community events, and visit schools. Our free time is spent volunteering and figuring out how we can make a change. Each girl has a platform they are connected to, and they live to help others become informed about the issue. 

  
I chose pageantry because I knew that I would find life-long friends and find myself at the same time. And I was right. I have learned so much about myself, my state, the organization, and all the fantastic girls that live in these borders. I live for the times that a child gazes up at you with a smile on their face. I live for the warmth I feel in my heart when I know I’ve made an impact on someone’s life. Those feelings will keep me going until the day I die, and it’s all thanks to pageants.

The next time you see a pageant girl, no matter what system they’re a part of or what they’re wearing, I encourage you to look past the crown and see the real person behind it. Look into their eyes and get a glimpse of the passion they have for what they’re dedicating themselves to, and wish them the best of luck with their endeavor.  

  

UNITED We Stand

Where there is unity, there is ALWAYS victory.

Over the past several months, the other West Friends student leaders – Claire, Maddie, and Kaylee – and myself had the responsibility of organizing and promoting the 1st annual “Q Street Classic” unified basketball game. Today, hundreds of students gathered to watch the unified teams play, and all I can say is wow. 

In my years of high school, I’ve been really involved and focused on the West Friends special needs club, but being a part of that game was definitely the best thing that I have ever done. Everyone was there – students, staff, families, pep band, cheerleaders, journalism, you name it. Even the representatives from Special Olympics made an appearance and set up warm-up drills for the teams. I cannot even explain the emotions I felt when seeing the sheer amount of people there and hearing them cheer every single time either team scored.   

 The crowd literally erupted every time something good happened, and they still yelled encouragements when someone missed. It was like there was no opposing team – everyone clapped for everyone. 

What amazes me the most was that all of the fans yelled louder at this game than for any other regular game. After being a cheerleader for several years, I know that it sometimes takes a lot to get the crowd pumped up, but at this game, they came in ready to yell. Some even made signs for their favorite players, making the game that much closer to a legitimate game atmosphere.  

The courage of the players was outstanding. No one got discouraged when they missed, but they tried again until eventually, they made it. 

No one was really paying attention to the score until the game was over, and even then it ended up perfectly as a tie! Both schools scored 31 points, leaving everyone with the title of champions.  

  This game was seriously the EPITOME of my platform, the “Positive Power of Inclusion.” There was nothing negative about this game, and even with opposing teams, everyone was welcomed. Inclusion isn’t just something that has to be encorporated into a classroom to help students learn better. Inclusion is a way of life that should cover anything from befriending someone with a disability to literally playing on a sports team with them. 

I still cannot think of the right words to explain my emotions during that game, but I will admit that I cried many happy tears. Before the game even started and I saw the hundreds of students flowing in, I had to fight to hold my tears back. I get chills over and over again when I watch videos from the game, and I definitely felt them stronger in person when it happened live.  

 What I can say is thank you! Thank you to all the students who spent their class time at the game, thank you to the teachers who came to watch, thanks to the parents and the players and the news team, and literally everyone. I know that no matter how many times I say thank you, it still wouldn’t be enough to cover the gratitude I have in my heart. 

The last few months organizing this event with my peers and the special education teachers were definitely worth the excitement. The hours spent contacting businesses, selling t-shirts, promoting the event, and making posters were not wasted.  

 I absolutely cannot wait for this event to happen again next year, and I hope that more people can witness the amazing things this game did for everyone involved.

My goal after this is to spread more of that joy of inclusion to other schools and organizations and be able to share with them firsthand just how incredible this game was. After all of this, I hope that other schools see how breathtaking it is to have everyone cheering for inclusion, and I hope that they organize their own unified event.   

 The one thing I can proudly say after this event is that inclusion really is such a positive power, and I am extremely humbled to have all of the support with my platform issue from schools and organizations across the community. 

I know I can believe that other people will follow the message that you have to play unified to live unified.

 
  

New Beginnings

Hello!! I’m Ashly, and this is my first post on my blog! I have always wanted to start a blog to share my love for writing with others, but I finally just got to it after years of making it my new year’s resolution. So here’s to yet another new beginning in my life throughout the past year.

It definitely has been a crazy year! Junior year in high school is no easy job, and with cheerleading, working, and pageantry, I’ve had a lot to balance lately. Even though it might be scary or hectic at some points, I know it’s all worth it because I’ve found where I want to be in life. I may not know exactly what I want to do when I grow up (which is actually pretty soon), but I do know what I want to do while I figure it all out.

This may sound super cheesy, but I really found my niche this year. In all honesty, I would have never pegged myself as a “pageant girl.” If you’ve known me growing up, you would know that I used to be a huge tomboy, not afraid to get in the dirt or go hunting or run around with all the boys. In gymnastics, I didn’t ever care if there was chalk under my nails or if I was sweaty when I laid in bed. I was totally that awkward girl growing up who you weren’t really sure what was going on in her mind, or why she decided to dress that way in public.

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Example A (from my middle school yearbook) I guess everyone has “those” days, but mine seemed to last a really long time.
No, I don’t still dress like that, especially in public, and yes, I am slightly embarrassed that photos of me looking like that exist. I’m not really sure when my brain switched gears, but it definitely did, because now I am a girl who gets freaked out by worms on the sidewalk and always has manicured hands. One slow step at a time, I shed my outer shell of being that shy girl and started participating in activities that made me happy. After quitting gymnastics and permanently scrubbing chalk dust off my hands, I decided to try out for cheerleading before my freshman year, and I made it. I was still a little more quiet than the other girls on my team, but I was able to make my very first friends in high school. I loved cheering at games and sporting my uniform around school on gamedays, because I felt like I was an important part of the team. I competed for my school team as well, and that was the year that we won Nationals.

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Nationals champions in 2014
With a new-found confidence that came with freshman year, I started participating in even more new activities, like pole vault, yearbook, and the special needs club. I made more friends by spending every day after school on the track, writing and taking pictures for my yearbook spreads, and hanging out with the disabled students at my school. I felt like I was making an impact on my life for the better, but I still didn’t feel completely complete. I longed for something else to make me feel like those pieces were falling together, but I just couldn’t find it.


 

Until the one night during my sophomore year that my mom took my friend Brooke and I to the Miss Omaha pageant. I had always been around pageants, with my grandparents being a host family for Miss Nebraska every summer, but I never had seen the teen part of the pageant. I watched the competitors that night so intently, and left the pageant later with the idea of me being up on that stage stuck in my head. I constantly talked about the pageants to my friends and family, trying to see what others thought of the competition. After annoying my parents with the talk for several months, they agreed to help me get ready to compete. I was ecstatic, and I immediately started researching everything there was to know about pageants. I looked up dresses, hair, makeup, shoes, tips, tutorials, and so much more. I am one of those people that once I get an idea stuck in my head, I just keep talking and thinking about it until it happens, so you can imagine how obsessed I was with pageantry at that point.

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Brooke and I at Miss Omaha in 2014
 

I got coaching and found a piano teacher for my talent. I practiced so often that my family had to yell at me to stop playing the piano so they could have a couple minutes of silence. I had a countdown app on my phone to the first pageant and I checked it constantly. I bought my evening gown, my jewelry, my heels, and my interview dress, and I had them all neatly lined up in my closet just waiting for the day I would get to wear them. I competed in the Miss Omaha pageant nearly a year later, on the night of my school’s homecoming dance.

It was totally my first rodeo, and I was a nervous wreck before interview that morning. I had done a few mock interviews to get ready, but actually sitting in the chair outside of the judges’ room was so much different than what I expected. I was the first teen to compete that day, so I was even more nervous trying to set the example for the rest of the competitors. When they called my name to interview, I can swear that my heart stopped for a second. I smiled my biggest smile despite the nerves and walked in to the room to greet the judges. I thought my interview went pretty well for my first one, and I wasn’t really nervous for the rest of the day.

The true beginning of my pageant life wasn’t in that room, however. It was when I walked up to the microphone placed front and center of the stage that night in front of hundreds of people. The bright lights and loud music and the cheering of my family gave me chills the second that I started walking towards the crowd. I announced myself, and for the first time in my life, I felt like all of my fears and nerves had vanished. It was a quick moment, but for the rest of the pageant, I wanted to feel that same feeling again. Talent, fitness, on-stage question, and evening gown flew by, and each time I came out from behind the curtain I got the same chills I had earlier. I didn’t win that pageant, but I have never felt more proud of myself for second place in my life. I went home that night with not even the slightest bit of sadness that I hadn’t won. Instead, I was praising myself for the attempt. I finally felt like almost all of my pieces had fallen together. I had met some amazing girls, interviewed in front of strangers, and found the way to feel most confident in my own skin, something I wouldn’t have done earlier in my life.

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First runner up at Miss Omaha’s Outstanding Teen 2015
I went home that night feeling like a new person. I immediately emailed the directors of the next local pageant and starting planning out all my steps again. I met with my coaches again, and I kept practicing my talent piece. I couldn’t stop thinking about the thrill of being on that stage with my new friends, and no matter what I did to stop the thought, it always came back. Several weeks later, I traveled down to Kearney, where I competed in the next pageant. I could hardly sleep the night before because I was so excited to have the same exhilaration.

The pageant day went as well as it could – I met more awesome girls and had another great experience. All the areas of competition went well also, and before I knew it, it was time for awards. Standing up on stage with the other girls is a great feeling in of itself, but knowing that each girl is one of your good friends is such an amazing experience. I felt the chills more intensely that night than I had in Omaha, and I thought I felt more confident than before. My entire family was there, and I could hear their cheers erupt when I was called as the winner of the community service award. Several long minutes later, they announced the winner of the title of Miss Tri-Cities’ Outstanding Teen. I felt a hand on my shoulder, but I knew no one was there except for my Lord. When I felt that, I knew that it was the real thing – God had showed me that he was proud of me and was happy with what I had done. I ended up winning the crown that night in front of my whole family, but what made me the most humbled was that I had literally felt my life come together. I cannot express the exact feeling I had in words because it was just too powerful, but I will say that I know it will take a lot for me to feel the same thing again.

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Miss Tri-Cities’ Outstanding Teen 2016
I now am stronger than ever in so many aspects of my life; my faith, friendships, confidence, and service. I am trying so hard to keep up the positive feelings, and although it might be hard sometimes, I have never felt more excited for the future. I am so thankful for all of my new beginnings within the last several years and I know that I’m blessed with some fantastic people to help me along the way.

“God can restore what is broken and change it into something amazing. All you need is faith.” 

-Joel 2:25

Thank you SO much for reading!

With love,

Ashly