Every year, we help run a “boot camp” for women competing for Miss USA and Miss Teen USA with the fabulous Hernan Rivera and Michelle Holmes. We work with contestants on all phases of competition. There are photo shoots (naturally). There are makeup lessons, walking lessons, and interview practice. And it’s in this interview practice that we see what truly matters to these young women. There are ALWAYS tears. Not because we’re mean interviewers. But because in this brief moment, we see and understand just how badly these young ladies want to win. And it’s in this brief window of time that everyone understands that not everyone is going to.
Imagine this: You’re an ice skater, taking the ice for your long program at the Olympics. You perform with near perfection, but it’s only “near” perfection. You stumble just the smallest bit on your triple axel and you bobbled a bit on a spin. You still performed a solid routine, and you’re still in the hunt for that gold medal. Then, the next girl takes the ice, performs without error, and to add insult to your bobble of an injury, she adds an extra toe loop combo that pushes her score over the top for technical merit. She wins. You don’t. You take your silver medal graciously. And, even though it stings, you know that you have nationals and worlds in a few months, and, if you are young enough, there will be another Olympics. For these Miss USA/Teen USA competitors, there are no more world championships, no next Olympics. It’s a one shot deal. You can’t go back and compete in another state and take the stage again. It’s the end of the USA road.
So, sweet girls, you train. You work out until your body is at the peak of health. Sports Illustrated would be lucky to have you on their swimsuit cover. You have a gown that makes you feel like a queen. No, not just a queen. A queen that is on the red carpet to accept her Academy Award. Your hair is to die for. Your smile could blind. Your interview was stellar. The judges laughed, then cried, then laughed again. They loved you. You answer your on stage question with such eloquence and authority that the audience gives you a standing ovation. You did your absolute best. You are undoubtedly the winner. Only, you don’t win. They call your name as 1st runner up. Or fourth. Or even worse, they never call your name, and you are resigned to cheer for the final five from the back of the stage.
There’s no bobble that can account for you not getting a crown. No misstep. You didn’t fall or falter. They just didn’t call your name as the winner. They just picked someone else. And you have to accept that without explanation. That doesn’t mean you lost. You just weren’t the one they picked using a less than scientific point system that allows for personal preference. And you have to accept that with grace.
When you left boot camp, I feel like a mother bird pushing her little ones out of the nest. I always wish that I could do more. But my role is a limited one and and my time with you was fleeting. Its up to you to fly on your own. I can only squawk at you from a distance. I secretly wish that someone would pick you up and set you back in the nest, so that I could have a little more time. If only…
So to “our” young women competing this year, here is my unsolicited advice:
Be gracious to everyone. Not just the big wigs. Be kind to the hostesses, the guy holding the light, the photographers, the press, the hotel housekeeper that brings you your towels. If you see someone drop something, pick it up for them. Be quiet and respectful when it’s time to be quiet and respectful. Be on time. Say thank you and please and you’re welcome. Hold doors. Have a grateful heart. When you live with grace, you will find that it is natural to be thankful for the good stuff and easier when things don’t pan out.
Drink it all in. Put your phones down occasionally and look around. Get to know the other girls. Not in a shallow Miss Congeniality kind of way. In the most real way. Find something about each girl that you love or respect. Enjoy each other’s company. Make true friendships. Take deep breaths and look around, and remember everything. Write it all down in a journal. One day your phone may go missing, and with it, your photos. And, one day your memory will slip. You won’t remember who was in that selfie with you unless she’s wearing a sash… if you never took the time to get to know her.
Even when it’s not ok, it’s still going to be ok. Hurt and disappointment fade. The sun comes up every day, so live like it’s going to rise until you look out the window and see otherwise. Love your time at Miss USA (or Teen USA). Maybe it’s about a crown, but maybe it’s more. You have to be present in the moment to find that “more,” and I suspect there is a “more.” Smile. Be open to the possibilities.
Start each day like we started day one of Boot Camp. You know what I’m talking about. Shh… Trade secret.
You are all wonderful women. I’m proud to know each of you. I will be cheering you on from row 1,037. Or maybe from our son’s high school gym, should graduation fall on the same day as the pageant. Either way, I am with you in thought and prayer. Lots of prayers. I love you all.