Kelsey Schmidt being crowned Miss Washington 2016 with Miss USA 2014 Nia Sanchez.
Kelsey Schmidt being crowned Miss Washington 2016 by Miss USA 2014 Nia Sanchez. • Jerry and Lois Photography

Kelsey Schmidt reflects on her recent crowning of Miss Washington USA 2016 while discussing the steps it took to achieve this life-long dream and how she will be using her year reign to make a difference in young women’s lives across the state.

HOW I GOT STARTED COMPETING IN PAGEANTS:

Being named Miss Washington USA 2016 is the culmination of a dream that started when I was 6 years old and received my first invitation to participate in a pageant. I was extremely shy as a child, so my parents saw this as an opportunity for me to break out of my shell. I wore a buttercup yellow gown (that my mom wore in the first grade when she was the class princess for raising the most money for UNICEF) and sang a Sunday school song for my talent. I didn’t walk away with the crown that weekend, but I had the time of my life. Needless to say, I was hooked!

HOW I LEARNED I RECEIVED A SECOND CHANCE:

Fast-forward 20 years, to October 2015, when I was named 1st runner up at the Miss Washington USA pageant. I thought my dream of representing Washington at Miss USA was over. I was proud of my performance at the pageant, no regrets, but definitely there was a bit of mourning. I worked to be at peace with the results and moved on. Then, out of the blue, I started to receive text messages sharing the news story that the current Miss Washington’s title might be in jeopardy. I watched the news unfold and waited. Then, just a week and a half ago, I received a call that has changed my life forever. In the hallways of the University of Washington Health Sciences Building, I answered my cell phone to Pageant’s NW directors David and Maureen announcing that I was the new Miss Washington USA. It’s hard to see your dream come true as a result of someone else’s mistakes. I wish Stormy Keffeler only the best and I am excited and humbled to step up to fulfill the job of representing Washington at the Miss USA competition later this year.

PROUD OF MY ETHNIC ROOTS:

I’ve set a new goal—to be the first Miss USA of Japanese American heritage. (As Miss Washington USA, you compete at Miss USA. The winner of Miss USA goes on to Miss Universe.) My mother is 3rd generation Japanese American. She has worked hard to keep my siblings and me connected to that part of our ancestry. Some of my fondest childhood memories include dressing up in a kimono my great grandmother brought with her from Japan and dancing at Bon Odori with all my cousins, aunts and uncles. My Japanese heritage is a big part of who I am.

WHAT I WILL DO DURING MY REIGN:

I also want to pay tribute to the incredible young women in the 2016 Miss Washington USA and Miss Washington Teen USA class. I believe that on another night, with a different set of judges, the results may have been different. Any one of these amazing young women could have been chosen to represent Washington. I will post contestant spotlights over the coming months on my various social media outlets to highlight their accomplishments.

During my year, I will focus on helping teens and young women develop a healthy body image and self-esteem. This platform stems from my own life experiences and personal health journey. As a child I was teased for being “chubby” and it took its toll on my self-esteem. Luckily I had an incredibly supportive family who consistently reinforced that who you are is so much more important than your physical appearance. Pageants also reinforced that positive message. My interest in nutrition evolved from my preparation for competing. I learned so much about the relationship between food and health/well being. This journey led me to focus on nutrition for my postgraduate studies and is how I ended up pursuing my PhD at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington.

As a pre-doctoral fellow in the field of Nutritional Science, it is important to me to prepare for Miss USA in a healthy way. I will share my journey with the intent to show that a woman can be physically “Miss Universe ready” by maintaining a healthy eating and exercise regimen. There is no need to resort to starvation diets, surgery, or harmful hormone therapies. My preparations will include working with a nutritionist and trainer, yoga, meditation, and staying grounded in my core beliefs.

IT’S OKAY TO SOAR TO NEW HEIGHTS:

It may seem a bit incongruous, a self-professed science nerd and an interest in pageants, but I’m an eclectic mix of talents and interests. I started studying dance at three and voice at six. I love country western music and flying on the trapeze! I’m a homebody but also love to travel. I’ve been to Russia, Italy, South Africa, Poland, Thailand, France, Spain, Cambodia, Peru, Mexico, and, of course, Canada. Most of those trips revolved around a service project or education. I received my scuba diving certification at 13. My favorite dive was a night dive with manta rays in Hawai‘i. I’ve rappelled down a 20-story building and my next adventure will be diving with the sharks at the Tacoma Aquarium!

THE JOURNEY AHEAD:

One of my anchors is my large extended family full of strong female role models. Both my grandmothers were instrumental in shaping me into the woman I am today. Their wisdom and guidance never let me down. My aunts are all strong, accomplished women with incredible spouses. I feel blessed to have them to turn to for advice. I love a challenge and always strive to be at the top of any endeavor I embark on. Preparing for Miss USA will be no different. Along the way I look forward to connecting with people across the state.

To follow my journey as Miss Washington USA, go to the Washington USA Facebook page, Twitter @RealMissWAusa, and Instagram at MissWAusa. (Any organization interested in having me make an appearance go to www.misswashingtonusa.com.)

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