Finding Our Purpose

Westside Superintendent Dr. Blane McCann delivered a BRILLIANT speech at our District’s commencement ceremony last weekend. His theme: purpose. In front of thousands of graduates, parents, family members and educators, he said in part..

Purpose is the little flame that keeps you going. Your challenge after today is to find that flame: your purpose. It is something that your parents can’t find for you; you have to look for it. It’s not always easy to find. Every, single one of you has a unique purpose to fulfill.

Every single one of us is here for a reason.

Think about that.

My friend Lisa recently told me something that I have thought about off and on ever since. Her husband is Brian Duensing, a pitcher for the Chicago Cubs.

Brian and Lisa

Brian was one of the best pitchers the University of Nebraska – Lincoln has ever produced. He’s an Olympian, representing the United States on the 2008 US Baseball team in Beijing. He was a starter for the Minnesota Twins for years, and now plays for the World Champions in Chicago. He and Lisa could do anything, enjoying his success and living a life few only dream of. Instead, these happily married parents of three devote every, waking hour to their passions: family and doing everything in their power to ensure happiness for other families.

As Brian’s fame grew, he and Lisa started receiving T-shirts in the mail, asking him to share support for pediatric cancer patients across his popular social media accounts. The Duensings embraced the challenge; every day of every September, Brian sports a new shirt and shares information about that child and their cause. He and Lisa started the Brian Duensing Foundation, a non-profit organization taking these fundraising efforts to an even higher level. Every game, as players wives sit in the stands, Lisa sits in the family lounge and works for hours on Foundation plans and ideas, like their now annual fundraiser bringing baseball’s biggest names to Omaha to raise money for pediatric cancer-related causes.

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The Brian Duensing Foundation Event in 2015 at Ralston Arena. I was honored to emcee the fundraiser and VIP Q&A session with World Series Champion Alex Gordon, Duensing, future Hall of Famer Joe Mauer and the MLB’s first ambidextrous pitcher Pat Venditte.

The Duensings have raised HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS for Nebraska based causes that help families battling cancer. That text I mentioned that Lisa sent me?

“These are the reasons God made Brian a baseball player. I know it.”

This year, Brian and Lisa Duensing will focus their purpose on a little boy named Sammy.

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At four years old, Sammy Nahorny was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma, a solid tumor that begins on immature nerve cells, and is very difficult to treat. Many cases of Neuroblastoma begin in the abdomen, and commonly affect the adrenal glands. Within days of his diagnosis, Sammy had surgery; doctors told his parents his cancer was Stage 4 and high risk. His mom, Erin and dad, Chris, immediately started researching options.. and found few. Their quest for hope was far-reaching and relentless, not just for Sammy, but for every other child facing this terrible disease. Their community in Columbus rallied, drawing the support of not only the Duensings, but of Miss Nebraska USA 2014 Amanda Soltero, Olympic Gold Medalist Curt Tomasevicz, music superstar Jason Derulo and more. They all united to become Sammy’s Superheroes… and have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and counting for research, assistance and more. Just as importantly, they have become a voice, loud and clear, for all children and families regarding legislation, funding and awareness.

This superhero squad has grown yet again in recent months.

Miss Gering 2017 Alayna Wilson

“This is a great organization that started in my hometown!” Alayna told me recently. “Sammy’s Superheroes raises awareness to pediatric cancer and has helped many families who are affected by this. I’ve had many family members fight this hard battle and I’m happy that I am able to help this cause.”

Alayna Wilson is a recent graduate of Scotus Central Catholic, a cheerleader for both her school and her entire hometown of Columbus, Nebraska. A girl with a constant smile and self-described ‘bubbly and happy’ personality, she was looking for a way to make a bigger difference advocating for causes like Sammy’s Superheroes.

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She found it when crowned Miss Gering 2017 in February.

“I love the stage and helping others,” Alayna said. “I wanted to spread my platform and this was the best way possible. I perfected my paperwork, platform and talent and drove to North Platte for one of the best weekends of my life.”

And a BUSY one at that, much like every other weekend in Alayna’s jam-packed senior year. She’s a competitive dancer, and a member of the All-American team by the National Cheer Association. The same day she met her fellow titleholders at Miss Nebraska Orientation, she immediately left to head back to Columbus for a major competition.

Still, to Alayna, this new title meant responsibility; to serve others. She’s volunteered for fundraisers in Columbus, Lincoln and Omaha, even using her Senior Skip Day to travel to Children’s Hospital and Medical Center to deliver care packages for the Miss Nebraska Serves project.

“My favorite part of this organization is the volunteer work!” said Alayna. “I love how each contestant has multiple hours of volunteer work under their belt. It’s so humbling to be among the amazing Miss Nebraska Class of 2017! There’s nothing that makes me happier than helping others.”

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And meeting others is part of what has made this journey so memorable for Alayna.

“It is an honor to be part of this organization. I love every minute of it,” said Alayna. “I have 15 new sisters, a sister queen and a little sister. This is a family. We are a family that supports and encourages each other. This gives me motivation when I need that extra push.”

I’m guessing the Nahorny’s would say the same thing about their network of superheroes. The strangers and neighbors, the celebrities and friends, the Duensings and Alayna Wilson… they are all part of a supportive and encouraging squad of strength who love Sammy like family.

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Sammy IS a superhero. This fall, just months after passing the 5th anniversary of his diagnosis, he’ll join us own personal Justice League to fight the evil that threatens so many innocent children just like him. We will find a way to beat cancer, allowing Sammy to find his purpose, just like his Superheroes Brian and Lisa Duensing have.

Alayna Wilson hopes to follow in their footsteps.

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“Each day is a new day for laughter and spreading happiness,” said Alayna. “I obviously hope to be Miss Nebraska whether that time is this year, or the next, or the next. I know that that is somewhere along my path. Overall, I hope to do my best and meet and influence people along the journey. My mission is to spread the name of Sammy’s Superheroes and spread love, happiness and encouragement as well.”

CLICK HERE to learn more about Sammy’s Superheroes

CLICK HERE to learn more about the Brian Duensing Foundation

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Click here to follow Miss Gering 2017 Alayna Wilson on Facebook!

Alayna was crowned at Crowns & Gowns 2017, Nebraska’s largest annual prom/pageant showcase.  CLICK HERE for more details about the 2018 pageant and event! You can also email Director of the Miss Gering/Miss Western Nebraska Pageant, Heather Hayes, by emailing Heather.Hayes@charter.com.

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The Miss Nebraska Pageant takes place June 7-10 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more detailsHERE to follow on TwitterHERE to follow on Facebook.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Douglas County 2017 Kogan Murphy

COMING SOON.. Miss Heartland 2017 Allison Tietjen

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

Center Stage

Last week, I had one of those life experiences that reminds you of everything all at once. You’re smiling, you’re crying, you’re so happy, you’re so utterly grateful.

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Meet Ellie, the cute little brunette with the pixie cut on the left, and Kaleb, the strong, blonde gentleman in the middle. They are both elementary school students at Westside’s Sunset Hills, and when their principal, Michelle Patterson, found out they were competing in the Special Olympics for gymnastics, she scheduled a field trip so their entire 3rd and 5th grade classes could attend to cheer them on.

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They made signs. They wore Team Sunset Hills t-shirts. They exploded with cheers and rally chants every time Ellie or Kaleb stood up to compete, and they applauded just as loudly when one of the other athletes did well. Ellie stopped mid-floor routine, turned and grinned at her cheering section. I bawled behind my I-phone. CLICK HERE to watch Ellie & Kaleb’s story on KETV by Sarah Fili and Adam Ennis!

I remember another moment several months ago when tears welled up in my eyes.. watching Kindergartners in my son’s class run up to him to say hi and give him a hug. He has friends; he’s happy; he feels loved and wanted at school. It made my heart burst with pride and happiness for my sweet boy.

It’s all so much the same; we as parents have a universal wish for our children, perhaps more than anything else. We want them to be happy.

Kogan Murphy isn’t a parent, but she wants the same thing for every child she comes in contact with… so those children don’t go through what she did as a teenager.

Miss Douglas County 2017 Kogan Murphy

“I was bullied for years in middle and high school,” Kogan told me recently. “I struggled alone for nearly five years before anyone stepped in to help – they just didn’t know or couldn’t see what was happening to me. There were days I feared for my life and days I couldn’t leave the house, let alone feel safe enough to go to school.  Although I triumphed by working with people who supported and cared about me, not everyone is so lucky.”

It seems like these stories are everywhere these days, happening to people you would never predict as the target. Kogan is a gifted ballet dancer, a gorgeous blonde, a confident and mature young woman. Why would anyone bully her? It’s a question Kogan has asked for years, and one she intends to find answers to and solutions for.

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“I have spent over seven years now researching, living, visiting, speaking and gathering information on bullying,” said Kogan. “I was a victim of both harassment and physical violence. Unfortunately, as is often the case with technology, the harassment didn’t end when I got home at night. A large portion of my bully’s attacks came through online channels and social media. I have spoken to many different age groups and types of people about bullying and it continues to become a more and more important issue that is still so relevant today.”

Kogan found a powerful weapon against her bully when she was 17.. in the form of a crown. That was the first time she competed for the title of Miss Illinois.

“I still felt very lost after being bullied, “said Kogan. “What most people don’t realize is that even after the bullying stops and the problem is ‘resolved’, there is still a lot of work to be done. It took me years of trying to get my school grades up and figure out who I was again. Each time I competed, I felt like I was a little bit closer to finding myself again.”

Kogan held multiple titles within the Miss Illinois Organization, but took a year off when she moved to Omaha and joined Ballet Nebraska.

“I have been dancing for 21 years,” said Kogan, who has since performed professionally in productions including Swan Lake. “Dancing has always been a great way for me to express myself and I love getting the opportunity to perform. I also choreographed my solo for Miss Nebraska and it is very special to me.”

Kogan discovered the Miss Omaha/Miss Douglas County pageant in her new home, and decided to refocus on the organization that had done so much to build back up her self-confidence.

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She was crowned Miss Douglas County last fall, and was immediately surrounded with a network of people offering constant friendship and encouragement no matter life’s circumstances.

“The people you meet during your year, the people who volunteer their time and money to make this organization all that it is, and then of course, the mentoring,” said Kogan. “Over the past 6-7 years being involved in this organization I have met countless young women that I have looked up to and admired and then been able to take on that ‘big sister’ role myself with many little girls and my ‘pageant families’!”

For Kogan, this has also been an opportunity to try prevent other kids from traveling the same rough road she had to. She visits classrooms, youth groups and dance classes all over Eastern Nebraska sharing her personal platform: ‘Respect: Changing the conversation about bullying.’

“I feel so lucky that I have been given the opportunity to have a voice and share my story,” said Kogan. “Having a dramatic personal experience gives me the credibility and relevance to connect with kids and adults alike; I’ve been there. I have been hurt, afraid for my life and embarrassed. No one should feel afraid to go to school, leave their house or feel as if their life does not matter. I am proof that there is a way out and a way back to having confidence in yourself. Let’s bring RESPECT back to the conversation. Everyone deserves the right to feel loved, appreciated and wanted in this world.”

AGREED. I think that’s why I was so touched by what happened in that gym last week. My hope is that not only did Ellie and Kaleb feel loved and supported, but that all of their friends saw the value in loving and supporting others. I was only a bystander that day, but I left that gym feeling like I could conquer the world.. and that our world was an accepting, beautiful place. Love multiplied again and again that day, and I hope the lasting memory every single one of those children will have is that smile on Ellie’s face. I hope they all realize they can do that throughout their whole lives; they can impact someone’s life by simply being KIND.

It’s a message Kogan Murphy will continue to spread through her words, through dance, and she hopes, as Miss Nebraska 2017.

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“This organization has not only shaped me into the woman I want to be but it continues to encourage me to be the best version of myself,” said Kogan. “I am very much at a place where I would love to dedicate a full year and serve the wonderful state of Nebraska through this organization. My goal and mindset is to always be the very best version of myself, enjoy every moment and know that timing is everything.”

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CLICK HERE to follow Miss Douglas County 2017 Kogan Murphy on Facebook.

For more information about the Miss Omaha/Miss Douglas County Pageant or to become a contestant CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Facebook, and CLICK HERE to follow on Twitter. You can also email missomahapageant@yahoo.com, or contact Director Marianne Grubaugh at ggrubaugh@cox.net.

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The Miss Nebraska Pageant takes place June 7-10 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more details, HERE to follow on Twitter, HERE to follow on Facebook.

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PREVIOUS..Miss Queen City of the Plains 2017 Jaicelyn Shakespaere

COMING SOON.. Miss Gering 2017 Alayna Wilson

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

Superwoman

Raise your hand if you watched Miss USA Sunday night!

Ok, good. Glad we’re all on the same page.

Oh, how I LOVED it – and how excited it made me for the Miss Nebraska Pageant in just 3 weeks!! (EEEK!) I LOVED the gowns, the intelligence, the poise… and the evolution.

The Miss America Pageant started in 1920, first created based on an event called The Fall Frolic in Atlantic City. Designed to bring business to the boardwalk, the main attractions were the young ‘maidens’ who sat in rolling chairs, headed by a Miss Ernestine Cremona, dressed in a flowing white robe representing ‘Peace.’ It was so successful, a newspaper-based beauty contest encouraged photo submissions, allowing women nationwide to participate in a ‘bather’s revue’; the Atlantic City Businessmen’s League paid for eight women from across the US to travel to New Jersey to compete to become ‘Miss America’. Margaret Gorman, 16, won the title and $100. 30 years later, Miss America 1950 Yolande Betbeze refused to pose for photos in her swimsuit. Sponsor Catalina created its own pageant: Miss USA. Decades later, the two programs have become the clear queens of the pageant world; two powerhouse organizations that empower women and provide them countless platforms for service, career advancement, opportunity and personal betterment. Perhaps my favorite part is that within both of these programs we are seeing more and more successful women of all shapes and sizes, a far cry from the bathing suit showcase of 1921.

Right photo courtesy Pageant Update; Left photo courtesy Vince Bucci/FOX

Miss Georgia 2017 DeAnna Johnson was a showstopper during last week’s preliminary competition in Las Vegas. She is curvy, healthy and CONFIDENT. Miss USA host Ashley Graham, the first plus size model to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated, grew up in Nebraska to become one of today’s most sought after muses, and just launched her own swimwear line ‘For All’. And one of this year’s Miss Nebraska contestants is not only working to become healthier, she is proudly sharing that journey to help inspire others.

Miss Queen City of the Plains 2017 Jaicelyn Shakespaere

“One of my favorite quotes is from Miss America 2001 Angela Perez Baraquio Grey,” Jaicelyn told me recently. “<She said>: ‘Before any barriers are broken, you have to break it for yourself. It’s so cliche to say, oh, believe in yourself, but if you don’t believe in yourself, you’ve already lost. For me to just believe that I could was enough.’ I want to make sure that throughout this experience as a titleholder, I am believing in myself. We as humans are all pretty harsh critics. It is important to put that belief that we can do things and believe that we can strive to make a difference in the world, no matter how big or small.”

Jaicelyn has competed in the Miss America Organization before, a woman born to speak her mind and destined to perform. Now living in West Point, she was crowned Miss Queen City of the Plains at one of Nebraska’s first local pageants last summer, and somehow, that moment sparked a new fire within her.

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“When preparing for pageants I never really focused on the fitness portion of the competition,” Jaicelyn posted on Facebook. “This time around I decided that it was time to change. I started right after I was crowned Miss Queen City 2017 at 240 pounds. Now I am currently 190 pounds. I feel more healthy and have more energy than I ever have before. This wasn’t just a diet for me, but a lifestyle change. I neglected to take care of myself for years. But throughout this adventure I’ve realized how important self-care is, both physically and mentally. My weight loss journey has been a hard one, but it’s been completely worth it.”

50 pounds GONE. I cannot adequately express how incredible that is, and the dedication and hard work that kind of progress requires. Yet, those are traits Jaicelyn has showcased repeatedly as Miss Queen City, particularly through her personal platform #Hopelist: Spinal Muscular Atrophy Awareness.

“Spinal Muscular Atrophy is a genetic disease that affects the motor neurons and makes it hard for the afflicted to move their muscles,” said Jaicelyn. “SMA is a very rare disease. In June of 2013, my cousin, baby Mathis, passed away from Type 1 SMA when he was only 9 months old. When he was diagnosed with SMA, my aunt and uncle decided to create a #Hopelist. This was a list of different things that focused on making memories with Mathis before he passed away. I believe it is so important for people to make goals and have dreams. As Miss Nebraska, I will help educate people about SMA, as well as help people create #Hopelists of their own.”

Jaicelyn notes this is what kept her coming back to compete for a Miss America Organization title, to serve others, visit people and share her platform.

She’s organized group efforts to make finger puppets for young SMA patients. She’s delivered cookies and Valentines to National Guard soldiers. Jaicelyn has spent countless hours in classrooms and kids’ clubs, encouraging them to eat healthy and stay active.

“I’ve been able to put myself out in the community and make a name for myself,” said Jaicelyn. “As a titleholder, I’ve also been able to meet countless people both in [my] community and across the state. That’s something I always look forward to whenever I volunteer or have appearances, is the fact that I constantly get to meet new people.”

And when they’re lucky, Jaicelyn performs for them.

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“I remember the day I fell in love with music, “said Jaicelyn. “I remember vividly as a young girl, waking up on Saturday and hearing Angel by Shaggy. I walked out into the living room and saw my dad standing behind his DJ equipment with the biggest smile on his face. In that moment, I could see how much he loved music and the power music could have on an individual. [This] gives me the opportunity to convey my love of music with the audience. As a titleholder, I’ve had countless occasions to share my talent with others and those experiences are the ones I’ll remember for a lifetime.”

Jaicelyn also notes the other perks of competing for Miss Nebraska; scholarships that are helping pay for her education at BYU-Idaho, and friendships through both our state program and the Miss Utah Organization.

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“[I am] spunky, energetic,hopeful and I have a BIG personality,” said Jaicelyn. “I enjoy being in the company of other people, whether it’s striking up a conversation with a stranger at the store or speaking in front of hundreds of people, that is just how I am and where I am most comfortable. I love to laugh and something even more rewarding for me is to make others laugh. Through this organization I’ve received incredible support from my family, friends and people all over!”

We all face challenges, and so often we say to ourselves ‘I can’t do that because <insert excuse here>’.

I’m not smart enough to apply for that job.

I’m not talented enough to get that part.

I’m not thin enough to compete for Miss America.

Jaicelyn Shakespaere tells herself I have as many hours in the day as Beyonce.

For every excuse, she instead finds inspiration.. sharing the stories of women like Malala Yousafzi, Frida Kahlo de Rivera and Rosa Parks. Each raised the bar a little higher, pushed themselves to do more and cleared a path for those who follow their lead. In a way, Jaicelyn is doing the same thing as Miss Queen City of the Plains. Competing for Miss Nebraska, and really, life’s journey in general, isn’t about being the skinniest or the anything-est. It’s about becoming the best version of yourself.. and Jaicelyn,  singing Superwoman on International Women’s Day, is doing just that.

Even when I’m a mess, I still put on a vest, with an S on my chest, oh yes. I’m a Superwoman.

YES SHE IS.

“Since I’ve been competing, I’ve had the dream of competing on the Miss America Stage in Atlantic City. Competing in the Miss Nebraska pageant is helping me get one step closer to achieving my goal and crossing yet another item off of my #Hopelist,” said Jaicelyn. “I am going to be completely and 100% myself. I want to show the audience, judges and fellow contestants the best ‘me’ that I can be. I loved myself beforehand, but I love myself even more now, which I never thought could be possible. Win or lose, I’m going to show people what I am made of, what I stand for, and make sure I give it my all.”

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To follow Miss Queen City of the Plains 2017 Jaicelyn Shakespaere on Facebook, CLICK HERE.

For more information about the Miss Queen City of the Plains/Miss Kool-Aid Days Pageant or to become a contestant, CLICK HERE to visit their website, or CLICK HERE to visit their site on Facebook.  You can also emails Directors Angie Trausch at angie.trausch@gmail.com or Angela Keiser at angelakeiser@gmail.com.

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The Miss Nebraska Pageant takes place June 7-10 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more details, HERE to follow on Twitter, HERE to follow on Facebook.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Chadron 2017 Shaniah Freeseman

NEXT.. Miss Douglas County 2017 Kogan Murphy

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

Can’t Stop The Feeling

It was one of those days where, from the moment I opened my eyes, I just thought ‘nope, not gonna do today.’ I should’ve just called a mulligan on this one, turned off my alarm, and gone back to sleep.

In our house, we’re big fans of the movie Trolls. I’d like to think I’m more Poppy than Branch.. and anyone who’s heard my car concerts on my daily commute will echo that this girl loves to sing (and scrapbook!) But sometimes, my inner Branch takes over and negativity, criticism, and pessimism cloud over everything and take hold of my attitude and psyche. The singing stops, the smile fades, and I a) eat my feelings and/or b) pout, feel sorry for myself, and waste away what might have been a great day.

It’s a life lesson that, at 36 years old, I still haven’t mastered. How do you take life’s hits, rise above and prove to the world you are a BOSS? At just 18 years old, a high school student in small town Nebraska has made it her mission to do just that.

Miss Chadron 2017 Shaniah Freeseman

“I’ve learned over the years that it’s okay to not sweat the small stuff, and to just enjoy life,” Shaniah told me recently. “It’s too short to waste time away with worries and regrets.”

Shaniah has faced some tough choices over the years, namely her decision several years ago to move from one parent’s home hundreds of miles away to another. As Shaniah described to me last year (click here to read more!), this move didn’t just include changes at home; everything in her life was new and different.

“Leaving wasn’t easy; I moved to a new school, with all new people, and was the ‘new girl’ in a small town,” said Shaniah. “It took a lot out of me emotionally and multiple problems arose. I didn’t truly find myself until I was a sophomore in high school when I was tired of being the one who no one really knew.”

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It was around that same time Shaniah discovered something called the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Organization.

“The minute I heard about it, something sparked my interest,” said Shaniah. “It wasn’t the dresses or the makeup, it was more of what the organization offered. I have always loved to help people and I’ve always had a drive to share my statement with others. I saw this as the perfect opportunity to help build my own character and find my true self, along with helping others throughout it all.”

Shaniah served as Miss Alliance’s Outstanding Teen 2015Miss Panhandle’s Outstanding Teen 2016, and in this, the first year she was eligible, was crowned Miss Chadron 2017 and an official contestant in the Miss Nebraska Pageant.

“At state, I’m going to have the best time ever, make amazing friends and endless memories,” said Shaniah. “No matter what the outcome, it’s the experience that’s important to me and gaining experience will help me and my future as I continue this journey.”

A journey Shaniah is taking full advantage of, and appreciating, every step of the way.

Shaniah has volunteered from one end of city limits to the other in her adopted hometown of Gordon, Nebraska. She visits classrooms and civic groups, hoping to connect with everyone she meets with, especially children. She shares her platform, ‘Overcoming Adversity in Order to Be Your Best’, and uses her own story to ensure her message resonates with everyone.

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“In addition to emotional and social adversity, I’ve also faced physical adversity,” said Shaniah. “I was a three sport athlete and I’ve overcome two significant injuries in basketball that set me back, one almost ending my athletic career for good. It was a hard decision for me, but I chose not to play basketball my senior year. As tough as [that decision] was, through hard work, exercise and nutrition, I have gained everything back from my injury. I am at full strength and have received a full ride volleyball scholarship.”

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And for Shaniah, there’s no coulda woulda shoulda. The time she might have been on the basketball court, Shaniah spent focusing on her new title and preparing for Miss Nebraska.

“I am a firm believer that pageants give young women the opportunity to gain many lifelong skills and attributes,” said Shaniah. “From personal experience, I can honestly say that I have become a more well rounded person, enhancing my poise, confidence and leadership skills from my years of competing.”

At the end of Trolls, after countless displays of love, perseverance and bravery, Poppy is named Queen. Shaniah, who describes herself as confident, driven and compassionate, already has her crown… and her journey is just beginning. Sometimes, all any of us needs is a reminder we all have happiness inside, a light brighter than any dark. Poppy, and Shaniah, remind me to crank up my radio and put Can’t Stop The Feeling on repeat.

“My mission is to share my story of struggle and strife with those who have some sort of adversity they’re facing,” said Shaniah. “There is always a person there to listen and there is always a way to get through something even if it seems like it’s impossible. I understand firsthand how hard it can be to have the confidence to overcome something that seems impossible. But with my continued faith and my determination to become better, I have achieved the goals that I set for my life and continue to reach every opportunity I can.”

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Click here to follow Miss Chadron 2017 Shaniah Freeseman on Facebook!

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT SHANIAH?

CLICK HERE * 2016 * Divergent

CLICK HERE * 2015 * Nebraska’s Top Model

For more information about the Miss Chadron/Miss Northwest/Miss Fur Trade Days Pageant or for information about becoming a contestant, CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Facebook.  You can also email Director Sara Smith at misscnwdirectors@gmail.com or by calling (308) 430-2613.

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The Miss Nebraska Pageant takes place June 7-10 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more detailsHERE to follow on TwitterHERE to follow on Facebook.

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PREVIOUS.. The Perfect 10: Recap of the 2017 Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant

NEXT.. Miss Queen City of the Plains 2017 Jaicelyn Shakespare

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

2 Steps Forward and a Trip To McDonalds

Here’s the deal. I get REALLY excited about new endeavors, dive in headfirst, and then scramble to the surface for air when things get tense. My challenge in my quest to get healthier is FOOD. I eat great for a few days, I get stressed, I eat my weight in chocolate and peanut butter. As a result, I’m obviously not seeing the results I’d like.

STILL, let’s focus on the positive.. when I swung through McDonald’s Saturday in a rush to get myself and my boys to my husband’s District play-off game, that chicken sandwich and fries was my first fast food in I’d guess more than a month. While I’m not seeing the numbers I’d like on the scale, my clothes are fitting better and the number on the tag is a number I’m ok with. I’ve got a ways to go, but hope is not lost. When I plan ahead, FOCUS, and drink my water everyday instead of hitting the Keurig 8 times, I just FEEL BETTER.  I KNOW I can do this! That in and of itself is already a transformation.

3 WEEKS until the pool opens, 4 WEEKS until Miss Nebraska. Let’s do this!

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I’m dialing up (or down?) my menu a touch this week, since my timeline before swimsuits and cocktail dresses is fast approaching. One of the meals in my rotation this week will be a protein shake with almond milk and banana. I picked up my vanilla whey protein at Bakers, around $20. I also highly recommend the Beachbody Shakeology if you’re willing to make the investment, about $140 a month.

On the menu this week: Fixate Creamy Chicken Salad and 21-Day Fix Mexican Lasagna (meals), Sweet Potato Chips and apples (snacks), Multi-Grain Cheerios and Almond Milk and Egg Whites with Spinach (breakfast)

Fixate Creamy Chicken Salad

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Guys. This is AMAZE-BALLS. Absolutely delicious the first time I made it. Recipe calls for rotisserie chicken; this time I’m going to try standard chicken breasts since I already have them here at home.

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Makes 4 servings. Calories: 312. Recipe courtesy Fixate.

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21 Day Fix Mexican Lasagna

Another of my absolute faves.. it’s hard to believe this is an ‘approved’ meal because it’s soooo good. You even get CHEESE. (MMMM.. cheese..)

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Makes 6 servings. Calories: 269. Recipe courtesy Amanda Soltero.

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SNACK: Sweet Potato Chips

I have had a HORRIBLE time lately trying to conquer the munchies monster.. especially in the afternoon stretch. Gonna try these out this week and hope I trick myself into thinking I’m cheating with a treat!

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Serves 4. Calories: 76. Recipe courtesy Fixate.

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Breakfast is super simple: 3 egg whites with spinach. Not the most exciting, but super healthy, and I just read an article about how eating proteins like eggs to start your day is a great way to help you kickstart weight loss. Now that IS egg-citing!

#JokeFail

FIND YOUR MOTIVATION this week. Last week I left you with a screen grab of my pool countdown. Apparently, I need something more to get me through the nights where I eat my weight in saltine and PB sandwiches with my $4.99 Moscato. So here’s my focus:

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I want this dress. I WANT TO WEAR THIS DRESS. And I want that more than I want junk food, or a frappucino, or a glass of wine. THAT is what I will focus on when I reach for my water bottle, head to the gym, and DOMINATE this week!

Enjoy, and as always, let me know if you have any questions or feedback!

Like Beachbody or Bust? CLICK HERE to read more!

The Perfect 10

I have this little thing I do when I got to a pageant. I keep score. It’s kinda like keeping book at a baseball game, except I keep my own numbers for each phase of competition as if I were on the judging panel myself.

Last month, for the first time I gave a contestant a perfect 10 in every, single, category.

Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Carsyn Long

Charismatic. Goosebumps. Articulate. OUTSTANDING.

Sticking with the baseball theme, I’m stepping up to the plate and calling the homerun now: Carsyn Long will be your next Miss America’s Outstanding Teen.

This girl was sensational from start to finish. Her poise and carriage on stage were what you hope to see in every young woman in America. She had the performance of her life, singing a rendition of ‘Tomorrow’ from the musical Annie. In a display of fitness, no ‘girlie’ pushups from Carsyn; she dipped all the way to the ground and back up, displaying the hard work and strength she’d built up pursuing a healthy lifestyle. And what I loved most: Graciousness. Humility. Gratitude. When it comes to pageants, so often a woman’s true character is revealed in how they are thought of by others. In Carsyn’s case, here’s a sample:

Carsyn Long congratulations on becoming Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2017. You make an excellent Queen. I remember meeting you at crowns and gowns and thinking you were such a nice and beautiful girl. You have an amazing personality so there’s no wonder the judges adored you, and they will at nationals too! I wish you all the best on your year! If you ever need “a real queen to fix your crown” or gown, just know that I’m behind you knowing you’ll have no problem being the best you can be to represent our state! – Alexandria Warneke, Miss York County’s Outstanding Teen 2017

You did it!! Congrats honey bear!! With your fun loving attitude and the love and direction God has given you, you will do great things!!! You enjoy your year babe! Make the difference I know you can make!!! If you ever need something, Hit Me Up girl!!! Wishing you also safe travels from place to place!! Love ya girl!!! – Haylee Umble, Miss Scotts Bluff County’s Outstanding Teen 2017

To Carsyn Long, our new Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen. Congratulations — you really deserved that crown! You truly owned that stage, and I can’t wait to see you at the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen pageant. Your platform is Real Queens Fix Each Other’s Crowns, and I think we can all say that you are truly a ‘real queen.’ Warmest regards from your fellow titleholder — I know that you’re going to be an amazing representative for Nebraska. #mneoteen – Jamie Chen, Miss Metro’s Outstanding Teen 2017

TWU All girls

What an absolutely phenomenal group of young women. The Class of 2017 was truly a showcase of intelligence, talent, sisterhood and service. Following in Anchor’s Away form, here are MY 2017 MNOT awards, based on that ever important secret score sheet.

The ‘Holy Crap! How old are you?!?’ Awards

Miss Metro’s Outstanding Teen Jamie Chen was barely old enough to compete in this year’s state pageant, but her maturity and exceptional talent blew me away. Jamie was asked to perform piano years ago at the Miss Nebraska Pageant, so I knew she had a gift. I wasn’t expecting the musical masterpiece and artistry she displayed for us, especially at such a young age. Jamie was then asked on stage about her recent award working on a real-life challenge involving STEM studies, and she not only explained the project but how opportunities like it allow students to explore how subjects like math and science can be applied outside of a classroom. Jamie was simply magnificent..

TWU Jamie and dad

..and I’d argue no one was prouder than her mom and dad. I cannot wait to see more of this young lady in our programs!

As a public speaker and writer, I always look forward to the on stage questions, and usually that’s the make or break moment for me regarding a contestant. Miss Scotts Bluff County’s Outstanding Teen Haylee Umble was tops for me after her moment on stage, fielding a question about transgender issues in public schools. Guys, these questions are HARD. The teens who competed in this year’s event were 13-17 years old, responding to issues from date rape to President Trump’s policies and more. Haylee articulately answered the question, offering both her personal views as a Christian and her feelings about what public policy should include. She accomplished the golden unicorn of controversial issues: providing her own, honest feelings and yet still offering a respectful, researched and thought out response. I challenge you to find an adult who can do that.

TWU Haylee Umble

Haylee won the People’s Choice Award and tied for Miss Congeniality, voted on by her fellow MNOT sisters.

The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Best Dressed Awards

I stress… this isn’t about who paid the most money for their gown. When I won Miss Douglas County, I wore my high school prom dress I got for $89 at the mall. Still… OH, HOW I LOVE SEEING ALL THE GOWNS! Or as my BFF Camilla would say, ‘SO MANY BOO-TIFUL DWESSES!’

CAMILLA

As always, I LOVED seeing such variety in color and styles at this year’s Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen pageant.

TWU Top 5

I definitely had a gasping moment when Miss Elkhorn’s Outstanding Teen Emily Lenser walked out on stage (seen above on the far right in purple.) Her Ritzee Originals gown from the Black Swan Dress Boutique was GLORIOUS!

makenzie

I also loved Miss Northwest’s Outstanding Teen Makenzie Davies canary yellow gown, a Sherri Hill from the Winning Crown Dress Boutique. Yellow is a TOUGH color to pull off, but Makenzie made a perfect choice, and radiated happiness and sunshine on stage.

Sheridan Hirschfelds

Miss Old West Balloon Fest’s Outstanding Teen Sheridan Blanco wore one of the most memorable gowns of the night, a Jovani from Hirschfeld’s Prom Shoppe. It was SO DIFFERENT than what anyone else had, or what we had ever seen before, and it was a perfect fit for this wonderful young lady!

Whitney Hirschfelds

My showstopper of the night… Miss Western Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Whitney Miller and her custom Rachel Allen gown from Hirschfeld’s Prom Shoppe. Hirschfeld’s owner Abbie Pack took the gown and hand-beaded the lining with a dazzling pop of pink. THIS. WAS. AMAZING.

Finally, not competing but equally as dazzling, was Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2013 Samantha Washington, the current Miss Nebraska Teen USA.

twu samanthan washington

Samantha just has that IT factor, and was a supermodel in this amazing bling-meets-pants Vienna Prom combo from Black Swan Dress Boutique. LOVE!

The Hostess with the Mostest Awards

Wow. Pretty much broke every grammar rule in the book with this one.

Nicole

Miss America’s Outstanding teen Nicole Jia was a special guest and host for this year’s state pageant, and she was a JOY. It’s easy to see why and how this young woman was named Miss America’s Outstanding Teen; she is articulate, funny, and incredibly warm and caring to everyone around her.

I was especially touched by this moment: Nicole, not only congratulating our new Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen, but connecting with her in a way only a select few can, because they are the girls who’ve accomplished this incredible feat. Nicole attends school and travels to another state and crowning nearly EVERY WEEKEND, and we are so blessed and grateful she chose Nebraska!

Helping Nicole throughout the night and ensuring the production was nearly flawless was a woman very familiar to so much of our Miss Nebraska and MNOT family..

TWU Alyssa and Jessica

Miss Nebraska 2015 Alyssa Howell volunteered her time to direct the pageant from backstage. This former MNOT contestant and Top 12 semi-finalist at Miss America dedicated her whole day to rehearsals and worked in the dark behind the scenes to put the best light possible on this year’s 18 contestants. She is one of the most giving, genuine people I have ever met, qualities she continues to prove through her willingness to give back to our programs.

We use the word OUTSTANDING for a reason. These young women are everything you hope your daughters are as they grow up. They remind those of us who are older of the energy, light, and beauty we all still have inside us. They represent the very best our state has to offer now and in the future.

group

Here’s proof. Miss Nebraska 2011 Kayla Jacox, who was also Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2007. Miss Nebraska 2016 Aleah Peters, a Top 5 finalist at Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen. Rachel Daly, the second Executive Director of the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Organization, who along with Peggy Fox and Kayla, formed the foundation of a new legacy and countless opportunities for future Miss Nebraska’s. And me, just a gal incredibly inspired by this year’s 18 contestants, the friends at my side, and the new Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Carsyn Long.

TWU Carsyn official

Sweet girl, we are so, so proud of you and cannot WAIT to watch you represent all of Nebraska’s teenagers on America’s stage. You are truly OUTSTANDING.

CONGRATULATIONS TO THE 2017 MISS NEBRASKA’S OUTSTANDING TEEN AWARD WINNERS!

Carsyn Long, Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen: Overall Awards for Interview, Talent and Evening Gown/On Stage Question

1st Runner Up: Jamie Chen (also Overall Scholastic Achievement Award)

2nd Runner Up: Cherokee Purviance (also Spirit Award, tie for Miss Congeniality)

3rd Runner Up: Alex Nervig

4th Runner Up: Emily Lenser

Top 8 Semi-finalists: Alexandria Warneke (also 2nd Place Community Service Award), Whitney MillerNaomi Turner

Additional honors: Brianna Little, Overall Community Service Award; Katy Greene, Non-Finalist Talent Award; Phoenix Stanford, Non-Finalist Interview Award & Non-Finalist Evening Gown/On Stage Question Award

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CLICK HERE for more details, HERE to follow on Twitter, HERE to follow on Facebook.  For more information about becoming a contestant, email Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Western Nebraska 2017 Devin Owens

NEXT.. Miss Chadron 2017 Shaniah Freeseman

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

 

Beachbody Or Bust

I’m not fitness expert (and I don’t play one on TV) but I’m on a mission.. to hold my own at this summer’s Miss Nebraska pageant, the two weddings we’re attending this summer, and my good friends Adrian and Emily’s beach wedding in the fall! If Christie Brinkley can pose in a swimsuit in Sports Illustrated at 60, I can certainly eat healthier and rock a suit at the pool this summer!

With the help of my Beachbody Coach Amanda Soltero, I’ve been meal planning using Fixate; recipes focused on clean eating and portion control. The food is great and I’ve really enjoyed the recipes! If nutrition is 80% of the battle in health and weight loss, I’m hopefully taking the first important steps in the journey to become the me I’m more proud of.  It’s not perfect, but I feel good about the results I’m seeing. Here’s hoping this meal plan benefits you as well, and please, give me your feedback!

Every week I choose three meals, a breakfast, and two snacks.  This gives me a little variation so I’m not eating the same thing at the same time everyday, but I’m only cooking once a week and then grabbing and going for work or at night when I’m juggling little guys’ dinners, too. If you don’t like something–don’t make it! If you’re like me, you just won’t eat it and hit up Runza instead. If I make a substitution or have an extra snack (like a much-need trip to Scooters!) I just make sure I’m within my calorie allotment for the day. (MyFitnessPal is a great, free app that shares what your magic number is based on your goals.)

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ON THE MENU THIS WEEK:

Turkey Tacos

Fixate Chicken, Apple & Sweet Potato Salad w/ Four-Ingredient Drop Biscuits

Moroccan Carrot Salad w/ 1/2 Turkey Sandwich

Baked Oatmeal Cups

SNACKS: Fruit, Yogurt w/ fruit and granola

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TURKEY TACOS

Low Sodium Taco Seasoning Packet

4 cups shredded lettuce (I get the plastic containers of mixed greens – doubles for lettuce, salads, etc. and a healthier choice than iceberg lettuce)

1 LB ground turkey

salsa

corn tortillas (which taste like crap, but a healthier option than flour tortillas)

Fixate has a recipe for a healthy version of turkey taco meat. I just use a taco seasoning packet, but low sodium if I’ve got one.  Prepare using 1 LB of ground turkey.  Divide into four portions.

For each meal, use 2 corn tortillas, 1 Cup shredded lettuce and 2 TBL salsa (again, Fixate has a healthy recipe; until summer/Farmer’s Markets I just buy fresh salsa from the deli at HyVee).

Calories: 319 per serving.  Recipe courtesy Fixate/Amanda Soltero

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CHICKEN, APPLE AND SWEET POTATO SALAD

Warning: this is a new one for me! I haven’t tried it yet, so fingers crossed!

Recipe 1

Calories: 176.  Recipe courtesy Beachbody.

I’ll be eating this with FOUR-INGREDIENT DROP BISCUITS

Recipe 2

Calories: 104 per biscuit. Recipe courtesy Beachbody.

Total calories for meal: 280

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MOROCCAN CARROT SALAD WITH SPICED CHICKPEAS

REcipe 6

Again, you’ve been warned.. I haven’t tried this one yet. I don’t even know what the hell a chickpea is. Also, cut this recipe IN HALF if you only want four meals – otherwise you’ll be eating this all week long.

Recipe 3

Calories: 161. Recipe courtesy Beachbody.

I’ll be eating this with 1/2 a turkey sandwich, using whole grain bread, mustard, no cheese.  Use 2-4 ounces of deli turkey (25 calories per ounce.)

Total calories for meal (based on 3 oz of turkey): 326

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BREAKFAST: BAKED OATMEAL CUPS WITH RAISINS AND WALNUTS

REcipe 7

I love breakfast recipes that all I have to do in the morning is grab them and go.  I will bake these tonight and have them ready for the next two weeks.  Cut the recipe in half if you only want 6 of them. I’m also using cranberries instead of raisins because I already have them in my pantry. NOTE: If you like the idea but are worried you’ll get sick of these after a few days, I’ve had a healthy cereal and unsweetened almond milk on hand to substitute here and there. Think Cheerios or something with little to no sugar. Almond milk is 30 calories a cup versus 80 for skim milk.

Recipe 4.jpg

Calories: 154 per muffin. Recipe courtesy Beachbody.

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SNACKS

A fruit every morning.  I love apples and pears.

Greek yogurt with granola every afternoon. I feel like this gives me a protein boost when I’m dragging around 2pm, and I LOVE the extra crunch by adding granola to it. Fixate offers a yummy granola recipe I really like, but you can also choose a bag of granola at the grocery store to simplify it.

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Recipe 5

ALRIGHT, TEAM.. LET’S DO THIS! And again, please let me know if this works for you or if there is anything I can to make this easier or better for you!