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Standing Tall

There are things about each of us we KNOW we are good at. ¬†I’ve got really nice teeth (never had braces!), God gave me the gift of public speaking and thinking on my feet, and I’m not gonna lie.. my children are BEAUTIFUL and PERFECT ūüôā

There are also things we each know are not our strengths.  Plants literally die in my presence.  I am a junk food junkie (currently fighting the urge to eat Gardettos instead of apples).  I CANNOT dance.  At all.  Not even a little bit.

There’s also this..

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.. my posture. ¬†I HOPE that’s not the first thing you notice when you look at this wedding photo on my bestie Melissa’s special day–because SHE IS GLOWING! (And my other besties Jenni and Pammie are pretty dynamite, too!) ¬†But to me.. I just focus on my crooked-as-all-get-out-shoulder… just a glimpse into the poor posture and resulting slouch I’d developed after 20+ years.

Last summer, fearful I was going to be a hunchback before I turned 40, I finally sought out advice and found Dr. Vanessa Green at Elite Chiropractic.

Photos courtesy Elite Family Chiropractic

This woman has changed my life. ¬†At my first appointment, ¬†x-rays showed that I had a pretty severe curvature of the spine. ¬†What’s more, I discovered my chronic headaches, which I just chalked up to allergies, stress and LIFE, were NOT normal. ¬†I’ve been seeing Dr. G once a week ever since, and I truly FEEL a difference in how I view health, how I function, and how I carry myself on a daily basis.

NOTE: This is not a paid promotion, endorsement or advertisement for Elite Chiropractic. ¬†I’m¬†simply¬†a very happy client.. and this is all transitioning to a bigger story, I promise!

When I first read Allison Baird’s story,¬†Dr. G was one of the first people I had to tell. ¬†I had NO IDEA what this beautiful young girl was hiding underneath gorgeous gowns and a dazzling smile.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“I was having severe back pain, went in for an xray, and they discovered that my curve had become 46-degrees and was congenital,” Allie told me recently. ¬†“Meaning, it was a birth defect so I wasn’t really a candidate for surgery or treatment, since they had found it too late. ¬†The doctors basically told me that I would have to live with the pain, and would probably not be able to do everything I wanted to.”

The Allie on the left is the girl I’ve known for about two years now.. the photo on the right shows what her spine looked and felt like within her body. ¬†Allie had been diagnosed with scoliosis at 13 and underwent physical therapy, but she had no idea how dramatic her problem had become. ¬†Still, that dire diagnosis from a doctor didn’t derail this incredible young woman from everything she intended to pursue.

“I smiled politely and said ‘watch me’,” said Allie. “Most people do not know I have it, strangers I meet on the street have no idea, and many close friends didn’t know for years. ¬†We all know someone who is struggling. ¬†We don’t always know their story, but to attempt to understand what that person is going through can mean the world. ¬†Now, I am so much more aware of those things, and I try my very best to have empathy towards others, but also not beat myself up too badly when it feels like I am nowhere near as good at something.”

THAT IS the Allie I know.

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For several years now,¬†Allison Baird has devoted herself to her community and others¬†as¬†a local titleholder in the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program. ¬†Twice, she finished 1st Runner Up in the state pageant. ¬†To give you an idea of the caliber of talent and character in those years.. both of those winners finished in the Top 10 at Miss America’s Outstanding Teen. ¬†Each year when the other girl’s name was called, Allie conducted herself with grace and humility, being the FIRST to genuinely and warmly congratulate the winner (read more here!)

Without skipping a beat, Allie entered the first Miss pageant she was eligible for.. and in her first try, won the title of Miss Scotts Bluff County 2016.

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“My mom is my best friend and definitely my role model,” said Allie, hugging her mom in the photo above, moments after winning the Miss Scotts Bluff County title. ¬†“She has been a serious source of my strength these past few months. ¬†I think I would have pulled all of my hair out and not had any fingernails if it weren’t for her! ¬†I truly wish everyone could have someone like her as their manager, friend, confidant and coach.”

And with that support system firmly in place, Allie began a nonstop year of appearances, college preparation, and activities as a senior at Gering High School.

Allie is a 4-time state speech medalist, she’s held lead roles in all of her school’s theater productions since her freshman year, she’s a nationally-qualifying DECA member, she’s captain of the Varsity show choir, and was a cheerleader at Gering for 3 years. ¬†An aspiring actor, singer, journalist (or all of the above!), Allie is also a news anchor for her broadcasting team, the Editor In Chief for her high school paper, she’s had articles published by her hometown paper, and she’s shadowed yours truly here at KETV.

Somehow, Allie finds time¬†to volunteer in her¬†community as Miss Scotts Bluff County, whether it be making quilts, donating blood, or simply making a child smile. ¬†She speaks to groups large and small about her personal platform, ‘Learning CURVE’, teaching courage, understanding, respect, value and empathy. ¬†Her favorite part of the pageant experience is Interview, the chance to tell a panel of judges about everything she’s doing.

¬†“I truly believe this is where the magic happens at the competition,” said Allie. ¬†“When the judges get to see that spark of passion, that light in your eyes when you talk about what is so near and dear to your heart, there is absolutely no better feeling. ¬†Public speaking is a passion of mine, and I wish that Interview could be 20 minutes instead of 10!”

Public speaking is the ONE THING I promote to EVERY SINGLE CLASS, STUDENT AND INTERN who I come in contact with, and Allie Baird is a shining example of WHY that tool is so powerful. ¬†It’s a trait she credits to her participation with the Miss Nebraska Organization.

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“The amount of self confidence I have gained from being involved in this organization, I will be forever grateful for,” said Allie. ¬†“I am not scared to talk to a group of CEO’s or a classroom of kindergartners because of the communication skills I have received. ¬†I have heard girls on the Miss America stage, and even the Miss Nebraska stage, articulate their opinions on hard hitting subjects with better grace and dignity than most of the [presidential] candidates. ¬†These ladies are the future. ¬†We want to make a difference. ¬†All of us have the potential, drive and work ethic to do just that. ¬†We breed leaders in the Miss America Organization, and I think that is pretty amazing.”

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A final confession.. I am pretty ASTOUNDED by this young woman, and consistently shocked that this kind of maturity, intelligence, and independance are already so strong in a girl who JUST turned 18 years old. ¬†Complete disclosure, she may also be my little boys’ favorite, after staying with us during a trip to Omaha this fall and playing ‘Olympics’. ¬†Allison Baird connects with people, and inspires them.¬† She works hard and stays humble. ¬†She stands tall, despite the things we don’t see that might break others down. ¬†That is the message she hopes¬†to take across the state if crowned Miss Nebraska 2016.

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Photo courtesy Morgan Wallace

“I want to spread awareness that if you are going through a personal battle, have courage and keep going,” said Allie. ¬†“Know that you are valuable and worthy and that a setback does NOT mean you can’t achieve something you want to achieve. ¬†It just means you might have to take a different road to get there.”

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Click each link to follow Miss Scotts Bluff County 2016 Allison Baird

on Facebook and on Instagram

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT ALLISON?

2015 * Just Add Glitter

2014 * Special Feature, Nebraska’s Outstanding Teens

For more information about the Miss Scotts Bluff County Pageant, CLICK HERE to visit their Facebook page and HERE on their website. For information on becoming a contestant, contact Director Cheryl Engelhaupt by phone at 308-783-2940 or at 308-635-8615.

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The 2016 Miss Nebraska Scholarship Pageant takes place June 8-11 in North Platte, Nebraska.  Learn more on THEIR WEBSITE, FACEBOOK PAGE, or follow ON TWITTER and ON INSTAGRAM.

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PREVIOUS..¬†Miss Chadron’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Emma Wilkinson!

NEXT.. Miss Dawes County’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Aubree Noble!

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2015 & 2014, click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

Sister Act

To the world, you may be one person; but to one person, you may be the world.

SISTER. ¬†To all of you who have one, I am envious; what a special bond, to have someone you can always talk to, always relate to, tease and then hug, laugh but still fight, a person that you will be bonded to for life for better or for worse. ¬†That’s pretty darn awesome!

Big sisters have a huge responsibility. ¬†Your little sister is your ‘big brother’, watching every move you make, wanting to emulate everything you do, and if you’re lucky, becoming a mirror of all of your best attributes. ¬†Emma Wilkinson is EXTREMELY lucky; she has had several¬†women in her life playing the role of¬†‘big sister’, and all¬†have had an enormous impact on the young woman she is becoming.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

The title of ‘little sister’ has been a formative factor in Emma’s life since she ¬†was a young girl growing up in North Platte, the home of the Miss Nebraska pageant.

“I was involved in the Little Sisters Program and I’ve dreamt of being Miss Nebraska ever since,” Emma told me recently. ¬†“My Big Sister was Miss Nebraska 2009 Brittany Jeffers! ¬†I was so lucky to be her Little Sister the year she won! ¬†As I watched my Big Sister dance her heart out on the Miss Nebraska stage, I realized I wanted to be a dancer!”

Emma started dance lessons at the Dance Factory in North Platte, under the direction of Miss Nebraska 1999 Becky Smith-Wagner.

“Today, I’m at the highest level in my studio. ¬†I take ballet, jazz and lyrical,” said Emma. ¬†“My dance teacher, Becky Wagner, has had such an amazing influence on my life. ¬†She has been such an amazing role model for not only for me, but for all of the girls who attend classes at The Dance Factory.”

Every class, and every life lesson Emma learned from these women helped fuel that initial dream to compete for one of our state’s longest standing honors. ¬†This year, Emma couldn’t wait any longer.. and since she isn’t yet old enough to compete for Miss Nebraska, she signed up to compete for the organization’s ‘little sister’ program, Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.

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In her first pageant, Emma was crowned Miss Chadron’s Outstanding Teen 2016, giving her the same performance and leadership opportunities both Brittany and Becky pursued years ago.

“Although I love to dance, singing is my passion,” said Emma. ¬†“Ever since I received the lead of Little Red Riding Hood¬†in a musical here at North Platte Community Playhouse, I have been lost in musical theatre and the art of performing. ¬†I went to Texas Arts Project in Austin to gain more passion for singing, dancing and acting.”

Emma, a junior at North Platte High School, is also Vice President of the Nebraska Association of Student Councils (NASC; Emma served as district president last year), a cheerleader, and involved with Key Club and Honor Society. ¬†In addition, every summer she attends Launch, a statewide leadership program. ¬†That organization and Emma’s involvement inspired her personal platform of service as Miss Chadron’s Outstanding Teen, ‘Breaking Down Barriers: Education To End Stereotyping.’

“I have watched stereotypes drive kids away from exploration of themselves and the communities they inhabit, and instead into molds that high school has predetermined for them,” said Emma. ¬†“It is not impossible to defeat stereotyping. ¬†Simply getting to know each other weakens the barriers. ¬†Making real connections with a classmate is stronger than any stereotype.”

Emma has also been busy making those connections herself, with her Class of 2016 Outstanding Teen sisters.

Together, these girls have been making appearances across the state, trying to have a positive impact on their communities, in addition to the responsibilities and commitments they have made as high school students.

“I am passionate about catalyzing positive change in my school, in my community, and in Nebraska,” said Emma.

Emma credits that drive and desire to form relationship to the sister and bond that stand out from all the rest.

“My biggest role model is my sister, Lily,” said Emma. ¬†“When she was in high school, she was NASC’s state president, and she currently attends Harvard College in Boston. ¬†She truly can do anything she sets her mind to and continues to make me extremely proud.”

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A beautiful sentiment from a little sister.. who will now become the big sister she’s always admired. ¬†The above photo was taken this spring, when Emma was cast as Belle in North Platte High School’s production of Beauty and the Beast.

“That experience was something I will never forget,” said Emma. ¬†“After every show, I loved walking out to greet people who came to watch me. ¬†I will never, ever forget the look on the little girls’ faces when they saw Belle standing right in front of them. ¬†Little did they know, I felt just as honored as they did.”

Perhaps, a preview to this year’s Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant, when it will be Emma on stage, looked at and fawned over by countless little girls, dreaming of someday¬†wearing that same crown.

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CLICK HERE to follow Miss Chadron’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Emma Wilkinson on Facebook!

For information on becoming a contestant, CLICK HERE to visit the Miss Chadron/Northwest/Fur Trade Days Outstanding Teen Pageant on Facebook.  You can also contact Director Amanda Vogel by phone at 308-665-5595 or by email at maoteenchadron@gmail.com.

For more information on becoming a Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen contestant, contact Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com¬†or Director Kali Tripp at¬†kalinicoletv@gmail.com.

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The 2016 Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant takes place June 10 in North Platte, Nebraska. ¬†Learn more on THEIR WEBSITE, FACEBOOK PAGE, or follow ON TWITTER¬†and ON INSTAGRAM.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Twin Rivers 2016 Jenni Wahonick!

NEXT.. Miss Scotts Bluff County 2016 Allison Baird!

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2015 & 2014, click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

Wonder Woman

I have a confession to make.. I am a JUNK FOOD JUNKIE.  Some days I run, stay focused, and feel like Superman.. and then my Kryptonite, peanut butter, takes me down. (mmm.. peanut butter..)

With the help of my friend and coworker, KETV First News Anchor John Oakey, I lost about 8 pounds this winter.  My husband and I spent a few GORGEOUS days in sunny Cancun, and I felt like a new woman!

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I came home.. and within a few weeks I not only fell off the wagon.. the wagon ran over me a few times. ¬†Easter baskets, Girl Scout Cookies.. and NUTTY BUDDIES. (Be still my heart..) I kept saying ‘I’ll start again tomorrow.. I’ll start again Sunday..’ and before you knew it, I got on the scale and had gained several pounds back. Even THAT didn’t push me back on the wagon…

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..but Gal Gadot did! ¬†Gal is the new Wonder Woman in the DC Comics movie franchise.. and SHE. IS. AWESOME. ¬†I left Batman Vs. Superman (which isn’t terrible, by the way!) ¬†DETERMINED to rediscover the self-discipline and drive to become the physically fit, healthy woman I know I can be. ¬†Sometimes you just need a little motivation.. and sometimes change is forced upon you whether you want it or not.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln student Lianna Prill altered nearly every facet of her diet and lifestyle because of a debilitating medical condition.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“I suffered for a decade without answers,” Lianna told me recently. ¬†“After finding I had Celiac Disease my sophomore year of high school, a strict, gluten-free lifestyle was needed. ¬†I was a new woman within days.”

Lianna does a GREAT job explaining what Celiac Disease is (CLICK HERE to read my interview with her in 2014).  The skinny of it is that certain foods cause Lianna INTENSE pain including migraines and abdominal issues.  She says once she eliminated those foods from her diet, namely gluten, her health was restored.  Still, Lianna was not content improving just her own life; she set out on a personal crusade to help others.

Lianna-Prill

Photo courtesy Corbey Dorsey for the North Platte Telegraph

Lianna, who also loves to sing and perform, was crowned Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2012, and later competed¬†at Miss America’s Outstanding Teen. ¬†The following year, Lianna was chosen as a recipient of the prestigious DJ’s Hero Award for her work with Celiac Disease, including her time as an intern with the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. ¬†Despite double majoring in broadcast journalism and advertising/public relations, Lianna competed for and won the title of Miss Kearney Crane Festival 2014, giving her another venue to spread her message. ¬†She’s a titleholder again this year, crowned last summer as the first Miss Queen City of the Plains.

“Competing in the [Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen and Miss Nebraska Organizations] revealed the beauty of Celiac,” said Lianna. ¬†“It’s a blessing, a motivation to always carry out a healthy lifestyle.”

That is because not only will Lianna compete once again for the title of Miss Nebraska, she is a very public representation of her cause, ‘#EatWellBeWell’.

“I understand that not everyone has Celiac, but I want people to realize the crucial link between diet and wellness. ¬†In other words, what you put into your body directly affects how you feel,” said Lianna. ¬†“Some do not know what it is like to truly feel well, because it’s their ‘normal’. ¬†I challenge everyone to evaluate his or her lifestyle. ¬†if you are constantly sick, ill after eating a certain food, tired after you eat (you should not be, because food is your fuel!) or don’t feel as healthy as you think you could be, find the root of the problem and do not cover your symptoms up with some kind of bandage!”

Lianna not only makes appearances across the state spreading her message, she also fills her Facebook page with information and tips on how to be healthier.  With childhood obesity forever on the rise, many of the groups Lianna talks to include kids.

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For anyone doubting the power of Lianna’s story, there’s this… instead of lying on her bathroom floor in pain, this future journalist is also the Engagement Editor at UNL’s newspaper The Daily Nebraskan, she hosts a radio show on campus every week, she volunteers with her sorority, Children’s Hospital and the Miss Amazing Organization, and she works here at KETV two days a week as one of our news interns.

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Now working with Lianna, I see her drive and ENERGY.  I see the water blueberries on her desk instead of Mountain Dew and chips from the vending machine.  I see Associated Press and Daily Nebraskan articles on her computer instead of TMZ or Candy Crush.  Lianna credits much of this to her years of participitation with the Miss America system.

“The Miss Nebraska Organization also gave me the drive, poise and work ethic to fulfill my dream of becoming a news anchor,” said Lianna.

This girl is on the right track.. and she’s pulling my new wagon onto that path with her. ¬†Gal Gadot may be my screen saver, but Lianna Prill is the Wonder Woman hoping to promote¬†health and wellness across¬†all of America.. as the new Miss Nebraska.

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“I am so grateful to have an opportunity to share this message,” said Lianna. ¬†“Listen to your body, because your health and life is so worth it. ¬†#EatWellBeWell.”

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CLICK EACH LINK to follow Miss Queen City of the Plains 2016 Lianna Prill

on FACEBOOK, on TWITTER, on INSTAGRAM

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT LIANNA?

CLICK HERE * 2014 * Fueling The Journey

For more information about the Miss Queen City of the Plains Scholarship Pageant, visit THEIR WEBSITE or  FACEBOOK PAGE.  For information on becoming a contestant, contact Director Angie Trausch at (402) 984-2690 or angie.trausch@gmail.com, or contact Director Angela Keiser at (402) 578-8621 or angelakeiser@gmail.com.

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The 2016 Miss Nebraska Scholarship Pageant takes place June 8-11 in North Platte, Nebraska.  Learn more on THEIR WEBSITE, FACEBOOK PAGE, or follow ON TWITTER and ON INSTAGRAM.

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PREVIOUS..¬†Miss Douglas County’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Adella Smolsky!

NEXT.. Miss Kearney’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Shelbe Stroh!

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2015 & 2014, click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

Father Knows Best

It’s no small thing to be a collegiate athlete. ¬†It takes hard work, focus, and to a certain extent, some degree of innate physical ability and talent. ¬†One of my favorite quotes from my Superstar Co-Anchor Rob McCartney: ‘You can’t coach tall!’

(Side note.. Rob is a HUGE basketball fan and actually¬†tried out for the Nebraska Cornhuskers as a walk-on ‘back in the day’. ¬†Additional side note.. I missed the part of his story where he said he didn’t make the team and for awhile, just told people Rob played basketball for Nebraska. ¬†Small mistake.)

A La Vista dad recognized early on in two of his children that his boys were gifted.  He knows what athleticism looks like.. because he saw it in his own reflection in the locker room at Memorial Stadium.

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Curtis Cotton, now a father and Papillion Police officer, is also a proud member of the Class of 1991 with the Nebraska Cornhuskers football team.

“I get that a lot,” Cotton said, when I asked him recently about being recognized as a Husker. ¬†“‘I remember you!’ That’s the first thing they say as soon as I tell them, ‘hi, I’m Officer Cotton.'”

CLICK HERE TO WATCH KETV’S¬†THROWBACK THURSDAY HUSKER FEATURE ON #9 CURTIS COTTON!

1991 huskers

It’s hard to see in this blurry image, but when Nebraska played Oklahoma in 1991, it was downright MISERABLE. ¬†Fans throughout the stadium wore ponchos and rain gear, rain pooled¬†all over the turf and every players’ breath¬†was¬†visible in the cold, fall air. ¬†Still, THIS, was Cotton’s favorite game as a Husker.

“[It was] my senior year when we won a share of the Big Eight title,” said Cotton. ¬†“It was at home against Oklahoma. ¬†It was so cold and wet that day, but I don’t remember it after we sealed that win. ¬†It was a great time.”

Check out this video of the game thanks to ArenaTeam on YouTube.  Players lifted Coach Tom Osborne onto their shoulders and carried him into the sea of fans rushing the field.  ABC broadcasters kept the final score graphic up over a shot of Husker fans climbing and shaking the goal posts, trying to bring it down.

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What a cool thing to watch, even via a grainy YouTube video. ¬†Kick up the volume, and it’s enough to give any Husker fan chills.

While those days are no doubt special to Cotton, his adrenaline rushes these days stem from a different vantage point.

“I think I get more nervous when I’m about to watch my kids perform,” said Cotton. ¬†“I get the butterflies in my stomach, my heart rate rises!”

Kenzo Cotton and KJ Cotton have both become something of high school legends in the Papillion-La Vista area.  Kenzo became an 8-time state track and field champion, claiming the 200M title all four years he competed.

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He chose the University of Arkansas, and just months ago, earned a national championship as part of the 4X100M relay team. ¬†Kenzo’s ultimate goal is to make the US Olympic team. ¬†(Click here to follow Kenzo Cotton’s athletic career on Twitter!)

Click here to watch Andy Kendeigh’s story with Kenzo and Curtis Cotton in May 2012!

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Photo courtesy JPC Photography

Kurtis ‘KJ’ Cotton is now a junior at Papillion-La Vista High School, also competing in track and field and playing on the varsity football team. ¬†#9 (yes, wearing his dad’s number), has already made several highlight reels for the Monarchs this season with his speed and athleticism. ¬†No word yet where he’s looking at for college, or if he intends to play college football like his dad.

Click here to watch KJ Cotton’s¬†touchdown run during Papio-LV’s FIRST game of the season!

Kenzo told us back in 2012 he wanted to be just like his dad.  Curtis shared his parenting advice with us back then.

“I told him to try to stay humble,” he told KETV’s Andy Kendeigh. ¬†“Big dreams, that is what being young is all about. ¬†I remember those times when I dreamt the same way. ¬†Hopefully they can come true for him.”

Three years later, Curtis Cotton is not only thinking of the sons following in his footsteps, but of today’s Huskers in the midst of a 2-3 season.

“Keep fighting,” Cotton said. ¬†“[They] are going through a system change. ¬†They’re all trying to perform for their new coaches, if they are new coaches. ¬†They’re all trying to show they are worthy of being on the field. ¬†It’s difficult to watch when you know that they’re struggling and they’re giving the best that they can give out there on the field, but at the same time, you want to see them keep fighting through it. ¬†Man up, fight through it, get through it and don’t give up.”

Advice for anyone facing challenges, on or off the field.  I guess what they say is true; father does know best.

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WEEK FIVE.. CLASS OF 1970 JERRY MURTAUGH!

NEXT WEEK.. CLASS OF 2003 DR. JUDD DAVIES!

The Real Me

Omaha Fashion Week.

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Over three years, I’ve hosted this incredible event six times. ¬†August Fashion Week 2015 was supposed to be my lucky Number 7.

“Don’t you get nervous?” asked Kontempo’s Kristen as she did my makeup Friday afternoon.

“Nah,” I replied. ¬†“I’ve embarrassed myself so many times in my job over the years, and realized hey, it wasn’t the end of the world.”

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Thanks to Herb Thompson for the photo!

Perhaps I should’ve stuck my foot in my mouth. ¬†Then it wouldn’t have caught underneath my beautiful, beaded, BORROWED gown Friday night on the runway, causing me to WIPE OUT¬†in front of hundreds of people.

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I was Carrie.  I was Fashion Roadkill.

When I tell people what happened, I don’t use the verb ‘fall’.. it doesn’t seem like it fits.¬† Folks, I FLEW. ¬†I seriously had a few seconds of air time before crashing down on my hip/shoulder. ¬†Somehow I crawled behind the backdrop (surrounded by horrified models and stage staff), and composed myself. ¬†A few deep breaths.. nothing hurt but my pride. ¬†As for that..¬†I WANTED TO CURL UP IN A CORNER OF THE TENT AND DIE.

Here’s what I did instead..

I texted my best friends out in the audience, the girls who’ve come with me to¬†six of those seven shows.

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They texted me their reaction, and I smiled backstage.

I texted my mom, and when she asked if I’d had any ‘wardrobe malfunctions’, I breathed a sigh of relief that I DID NOT.

I texted Rob, and after his response.. ‘Please God.. I’ve lived a relatively good life.. let there be video of this!’.. I laughed¬†out loud.

Then I took off those damn shoes, hiked up my dress with my hand, and walked back onto the runway.

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Thank you to Light Illusions Photography for the photo!

I poked fun at myself the rest of the night.. probably too much on a night that should’ve been, and hopefully still was, about six INCREDIBLE designers, and the amazing models showcasing their work. ¬†I’ve since shared the story with my coworkers, family and friends.. because you know what? It’s funny, and I like to make people laugh. ¬†I realize that YES, I’m sure there are people out there who think I’m clutzy, obnoxious, and unsophisticated.

They’re right. ¬†That’s just me.

And you know what? These girls.. MY girls.. are ok with that.

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Thank you to Light Illusions Photography

When I told my 4-year old what happened, he asked me where I got hurt and said he would kiss it better.

I even got this INCREDIBLE message from viewer Jayne Meehan..

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Things happen.. sometimes in the privacy of your home and sometimes in front of way too many total strangers. ¬†They say life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it. ¬†I can’t change what people think of me, and I can’t say that I’ve danced around in my bedroom to Cheryl Lynn like Carrie. ¬†BUT.. I’m again reminded of and grateful for the people who love me whether I’m on a billboard along I-80, or lying in a pile of hot mess at Omaha Fashion Week. ¬†Because of them, I’m no longer MORTIFIED.. in fact, I’ve added this to my queue of ’embarrassing Brandi stories’ to share the next time I emcee an event.

Hopefully, on my feet.

This Is How A Heart Breaks

We’re just the narrators, the storytellers. ¬†We are the witnesses who relay the facts, the who what when where why.

WHY.

What if there IS NO why.

What if we, as journalists, are among those asking why.

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His name was Lawrence Bolden III.  A big name for such a little boy.  Most of Omaha (and beyond) knew him simply as Baby Lawrence, a cherubic toddler, grinning from his hospital bed as his mom and nurses encouraged him to smile.  I went to his funeral this afternoon.

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¬†Her name was Kayla Hebenstreit. ¬†That smile.. stunning, and GENUINE. ¬†When we shared Kayla’s story last December, how she was diagnosed with cancer for a fourth time just one month after delivering her first baby, hundreds of thousands of people were touched by her fight. ¬†Kayla passed away Sunday morning.

WHY.

They were two people who just GOT life, who did everything right. ¬†Lawrence exhibited pure love and strength. ¬†At just two years old, all he knew was how to love. ¬†He scanned a room for his momma no matter who else was there. ¬†He grinned for his daddy while sitting on his lap in the hospital. ¬†He cooed for the Children’s Hospital nurses who cared for him for so long. ¬†He just LOVED.

Kayla didn’t dream of money or yachts or Jimmy Choos.. she treasured every kiss from her husband, every moment cradling her baby girl, Kendall. ¬†Her message to her daughter, back when we spoke in December, was that she just wanted her to know how hard she tried to beat this, and how much she loved her.

And their families.. Lawrence’s mom, Shalina, a woman who got up early every single day to get her little girls to school, work full time, then rush her family every single night to her baby boy’s bedside at the hospital. ¬†Joe Hebenstreit didn’t leave his wife’s side in her final weeks, working from home¬†a few hours a day so he’d always be there for his best friend and love.

Why did two such incredible people and their loved ones have to face such unimaginable fights? ¬†Why did Kayla’s cancer come back when she’d beat it so many times? ¬†Why didn’t Baby Lawrence’s transplant, a miracle in itself, work?

WHY.

PREACHY ALERT from a mom who listened to One Sweet Day today, while watching a home video of Lawrence crawling in his hospital room. ¬†Go home tonight and look, really look, into the eyes of your babies, husbands and wives, and loved ones. ¬†Smile. ¬†Hug them and kiss them. ¬†Laugh. ¬†When the tiny little things we let ruin our days come up.. remember, they are NOTHING. ¬†¬†Everything? LOVE. ¬†I guess that’s what I’m trying to take from this. ¬†That even though my eyes are sore from crying, and my heart is breaking for these families, I will try to pass on what Lawrence and Kayla taught me. ¬†TO LOVE deeper and to put aside the crap that doesn’t matter. ¬†As one of Lawrence’s family members said at his funeral today, if a 2-year old can go through all of the surgeries, procedures, needle pokes and pinches, and still just SMILE… WE certainly should. ¬†If a new mother, facing painful, grueling treatments just for the chance at life with her family, can still SMILE, WE should. ¬†Be thankful for every GOOD moment, celebrate LIFE and time together. ¬†LOVE.

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Lawrence and Kayla, your legacies will live on. ¬†Those who knew you are better people because you¬†were in their lives. ¬†You don’t have to fight anymore, no more pain and suffering. ¬†I pray you have found peace.

I know you found love.

**

To learn more about Kayla Hebenstreit, join her thousands of supporters in Kayla’s Crew; click here for the Kayla’s Crew Facebook page, and click here for the website.¬† You can also read my first blog post on Kayla, You Think You Have Time.

To learn more about Lawrence Bolden III, click here to visit his Facebook page.  You can also read my blog post about Lawrence and his journey, Saving Baby Lawrence.

Defining Outstanding

Once in awhile, you meet someone who you just KNOW is going to be¬†a star. ¬†There’s just something dazzling that radiates¬†from them. ¬†They are THAT stunning, THAT talented, THAT well spoken, THAT inspiring. ¬†They are simply OUTSTANDING.

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MISS NEBRASKA’S OUTSTANDING TEEN 2014 MORGAN HOLEN

(Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography)

This is my 4th blog post I’ve written about Morgan. ¬†I’m not a creeper (at least in this case), she’s just that incredible. ¬†Beauty inspiring¬†nationally renowned photographer Jenn Cady to invite Morgan to South Carolina for a premiere fashion show and photo shoot. ¬†Talent and a gift for dance that earned Morgan a state championship this year with Elkhorn South High, the dance award at Miss America’s Outstanding Teen, and acceptance and scholarship into the American Musical and Dramatic Academy and Dance Program.

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Sheer kindness and love for life.. rooted deeply within her family and now woven across our entire state.

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What an outstanding young lady.  Like so many in the Miss Nebraska Organization, I first met Morgan through her mom, Jodi, who was Miss Nebraska 1988.

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Jodi, also a former Miss Omaha, was hands down one of the most welcoming, kindest people I met the night I was crowned Miss Douglas County and unknowingly entered this new and overwhelming world.  At her side, and then at MY side asking for pictures, were two sweet, little girls.

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Me and the Holen girls, shortly after the Miss Omaha/Miss Douglas County pageant, Fall 2001

Morgan has been attending the Miss Nebraska pageant with her mom for as long as she can remember. ¬†She decided to compete in this new version of Miss America¬†for teenagers, Miss America’s Outstanding Teen,¬†her freshman¬†year of high school. ¬†(Click here to read about Morgan’s time as Miss Omaha’s Outstanding Teen!) One year later, just weeks (if not days!) after completing her sophomore year at Elkhorn South, Morgan was crowned Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2014.

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Morgan’s crowning moment one year ago. ¬†CLICK HERE to read more.

Immediately, Morgan began preparations for Miss America’s Outstanding Teen, knowing Nebraska had never cracked the Top 12 at the national level. ¬†Morgan did.

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“I am extremely honored and humbled!” said Morgan. ¬†“Then my competition mode just kicked in and I didn’t realize really what happened until it was over. ¬†I competed in the first area, fitness, and made the cut to the Top 10 where I was able to perform my talent one more time.”

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As Morgan told me last summer,¬†(click here to read more!), her talent was a self-choreographed tribute to her longtime dance instructor ‘Miss Kitty’ Dahlberg. ¬†Dahlberg passed away the summer before Morgan won Miss Omaha’s Outstanding Teen. ¬†Among those in the crowd was Dahlberg’s daughter and another of Morgan’s instructors, Diane Hansen. ¬†This dance, dedicated to Morgan’s friend and mentor, was nothing short of breathtaking. ¬†Watching the webcast from home, I was in tears. ¬†Someone in the audience tweeted ‘Morgan Holen just set a new standard for talent.’

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“Then, after the evening gown competition, I was thrilled (and stunned) to be called out in the Top 5,” said Morgan. ¬†“Outside of Teresa Scanlan, who has been a role model, no other Miss Nebraska or Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen had ever placed that high, so to be standing there representing my state was in incredible honor and an indescribable experience.”

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KETV: Omaha Teen Crowned Among Best In Country

Morgan finished 4th runner up, surrounded by a huge fan club who traveled to Orlando to support her, and the new friends she made while there.

“The friendships last long after the pageant,” said Morgan. ¬†“My roommate Page Mackenzie (Miss Pennsylvania’s Outstanding Teen) and I have visited each other in our home states. ¬†We bonded over the fact that by the time we left our hotel room, our feet could stick to the bathroom floor due to hairspray (pageant girl problems.) ¬†We remain very good friends today and talk at least once a week.”

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“I also was very blessed to have the third or fourth largest crowd of supporters,” said Morgan. ¬†“My parents, sister, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, dance teacher, local and state directors, and Megan were all there to support me and of course, they were easy to spot since they help up big red Husker N’s. ¬†There really is no way to represent Nebraska without the Huskers! ¬†Other contestants even commented about it and were a little jealous.”

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As for the last¬†10 months.. Morgan has simply been on the go NONSTOP. ¬†She’s on Elkhorn South’s state champion dance team, in addition to dancing competitively for Omaha’s Kitty Lee Dance; she’s also on the award-winning Elkhorn South competitive show choir squad.

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Still, she’s been out across the state as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen, not only taking part in EVERY local pageant this year, but volunteering and making appearances for various events. ¬†Morgan cares deeply about her platform Random Acts of Kindness, promoting good deeds and service to others, big and small. ¬†Last January, Morgan even created a ‘kindness calendar’ and shared it across social media, suggesting something different every day of the month you could do to pass on a random act of kindness.

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Morgan volunteering with her big sister and best friend, Brittany Holen

“My one regret is that there aren’t enough hours in the day or days in the week!” said Morgan. ¬†“As a teen, you are obviously still in high school and the girls who compete for and win these state titles are involved in many activities inside and outside of school. ¬†I only wish I had been able to do more as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen because there are many opportunities the title affords you, however, you still have to go to school and honor your other commitments.”

That’s part of the advice Morgan has for whoever she’ll crown in just five short days, Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2015.

“To the next MNOT I would say do everything you can, but understand that some days there are just not enough hours in the day and that is okay,” said Morgan. ¬†“I would also tell her to enjoy every minute because the year flies by and you will never have these moments back. ¬†It will be an awesome experience!”

And still, Morgan shows me even now how exceptional¬†she truly is. ¬†As part of that message to her future MNOT sister, a reminder, and a sign of this young woman’s maturity, sense of self, and state of mind.

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(Photo courtesy of The Mullers)

“Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen did not make me who I am,” said Morgan. ¬†“Lots of people have invested in me over my 17 years: parents, sister, family, friends, teachers, coaches, over the years shaped me into the person I am and for that I am grateful.”

Morgan asked me to note her gratitude to her local director Kelsey Joseph and her state directors Rachel Daly and Kayla Jacox, not only for what they have done for her, but for the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Program.

Morgan, I thank YOU.  Thank you for being KIND.  For sharing your incredible gift of dance.  For filling me with hope thinking of the young people that will soon be the adults in our world.  For showcasing our state and this program to people everywhere, and making them do double takes.  You are simply outstanding.

And I think Morgan’s own words confirm that:

“I hope that I have represented all of you in a way that made you proud.”

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(Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography)

Click here for a special feature on Morgan on the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Facebook page!

Click here for a special interview with Morgan by the nationally popular Pageant Junkies team!

***

The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant will take place June 5, 2015 in North Platte.  Click here to visit the organization’s website or the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant on Facebook and on Twitter.

***

PREVIOUS..¬†Miss¬†Kearney Crane Festival’s Outstanding Teen 2015 Merrilee Prill

NEXT.. Miss Nebraska 2014 Megan Swanson

To read more about the Miss Nebraska‚Äôs Outstanding Teen Class of 2014, click on the ‚ÄėThere She Is‚Äô link at the top of the page.

Sister, Sister

I am the oldest of three, with two ‘little’ brothers. ¬†‘Little’, because now they could crush me if they wanted to, but in a way, I’ll still always be their big sister.

I’ve never longed for a sister, in part, because I am blessed to have such dear friends who have always filled that role for me beautifully.

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But to be a woman and have a sister must be a beautiful thing; sharing secrets, dreams, frustrations, CLOTHES.  To have their support when you need them most, and to help you fly even higher when you soar.

The young woman you’re about to¬†meet has shared a bond with her twin sister since the moment they arrived in the world, a journey now inspiring her individually as one of the state’s most outstanding teenagers.

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MISS KEARNEY CRANE FESTIVAL’S OUTSTANDING TEEN 2015 MERRILEE PRILL

(Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography)

“I was born at Children’s Hospital in Omaha as a micro preemie weighing in at 1 pound 7 ounces and I had a 10-percent chance of survival!” ¬†Merrilee told me recently. ¬†“At 2 years old, [my twin sister and I] were featured on the Children’s Miracle Network telethon. ¬†So, I am Children’s Miracle Network!”

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Merrilee and her sister, Mariclaire, spent four months in the hospital as newborns. ¬†Many deemed them miracle babies since they later only underwent surgery for ear tubes and had no other developmental problems. ¬†This personal story inspired Merrilee’s platform of service ‘Believe the Impossible: Miracles Happen.’

“Because I have experienced this miracle in my own life, I want to inspire others to believe that miracles can happen in their own lives no matter what the circumstances,” said Merrilee. ¬†“This piece of the Miss Nebraska system holds a very special place in my heart!”

One piece of many for not just Merrilee, but the entire Prill family.

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Merrilee’s big sister, Lianna, was Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2012, and just last year, competed for the title of Miss Nebraska (click here to read my profile of Lianna during her time as Miss Crane Festival 2014). ¬†Merrilee’s twin, Mariclaire, was Miss Sandhills’ Outstanding Teen 2013.

“I first got involved in the Miss Nebraska program because my sisters were titleholders,” said Merrilee. ¬†“I experienced challenges while competing for [local titles]. ¬†Consequently, winning did not come as quickly for me as it did for my sisters. ¬†Now as I come to the close of my reign as Miss Kearney Crane Festival’s Outstanding Teen, I have been able to sharpen my public speaking and stage presence skills. ¬†These parts of the competition used to terrify me. ¬†Now, I comfortably speak to a crowd of insurance professionals as a keynote speaker, address a crowd of community members at an outdoor festival and convey encouragements to patients at Children’s Hospital.”

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And those visits to Children’s are among Merrilee’s favorite moments as Miss Kearney Crane Festival’s OT.

“My signature project for this program has been decorating over 400 colorful place mats for patient meal trays,” said Merrilee. ¬†“Seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces during craft hours just makes my job as a titleholder so gratifying because that makes me feel like I am making an impact by encouraging them that miracles can happen in their lives as it did in mine.”

Among Merrilee’s other top memories this past year include signing nearly 400 autographs for the annual Daddy-Daughter Banquet in Kearney and spending time with her sister queen Miss Kearney Crane Festival 2015 Allison Tietjen (click here to to learn more about Allison!).

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“I know the importance of being a positive local role model for young girls,” said Merrilee. ¬†“It was a bonus during my year to share this event and many others with Allison!”

Merrilee is also looking forward to connecting with a few other ‘sisters’.. her fellow outstanding teens from across the state. ¬†She sent me this picture, taken the last time many of these girls were together, at the Crowns and Gowns weekend in North Platte.

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Merrilee striking a pose with Miss Douglas County’s OT 2015 Steffany Lien and Miss Scotts Bluff County’s OT Grace Heggem.

A year’s worth of moments and memories, all leading up to one amazing night. ¬†So many ‘sisters’, biological or otherwise, that will no doubt be in¬†Merrilee Prill’s mind and heart¬†during those moments she takes the stage alone in North Platte.

“I have to say that walking in my evening gown is the most fulfilling part of the competition for me, because that’s the point when I feel the most confident and I feel like I’m on top of the world,” said Merilee. ¬†“Very few teenagers get to do this on such an awesome stage!”

Only 11, in fact, this year. ¬†And of those outstanding girls, one will be crowned Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen. ¬†Will it be Merrilee Prill? ¬†Just ask the once 1.5 pound miracle who defied all odds at birth; ANYTHING is possible.

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Follow Miss Kearney Crane Festival’s Outstanding Teen 2015 Merrilee Prill on Instagram.

 To contact Merrilee for appearances and events, visit the Miss Kearney/Miss Tri-Cities Pageant on Facebook.

Click here for a special feature on Merrilee on the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Facebook page!

For more information about how to become a contestant, email Director Megan Goeke at megan@hellobeautifulbridal.com.

***

The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant will take place June 5, 2015 in North Platte.  Click here to visit the organization’s website or the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant on Facebook and on Twitter.

***

PREVIOUS..¬†Miss¬†Northwest’s Outstanding Teen 2015 Cherokee Purviance

NEXT..¬†Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2014 Morgan Holen

To read more about the Miss Nebraska‚Äôs Outstanding Teen Class of 2014, click on the ‚ÄėThere She Is‚Äô link at the top of the page.

Hammer Time

This weekend, my incredible volleyball skills will be on display in Papillion. And by incredible I mean TERRIBLE.  Softball was always my game; I love all sports but I could never do much more than the solid bump from the backfield, occasionally breaking out a trademark move I’ve called THE HAMMER.  Basically clenching both hands together above my head and smashing the ball as hard as I can to protect myself, endlessly embarrassing my husband in the process.

Good thing that this time around, I’m playing for four AMAZING people where effort triumphs over talent and skill.

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Meet Kyle and Melissa Frans, and their sweet boys Tanner and Kraig.  You know their hands are full when they have to hand off the camera to take dual pictures so everyone is included!  Missy is my husband’s cousin, but close enough to be a sister to him and sister-in-law to me.  She spoke at our wedding, and is our Evan’s godmother.  Kyle is funny, kind and welcoming to friend and stranger alike, and just an awesome all-around guy!

Kyle has also battled Crohn’s Disease for 15 years.  Officially, Crohn’s is described as a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract.  Simply put, Crohn’s is intense abdominal pain.  Frequent hospital stays and surgeries.  Inability to eat when or what you want.. often leading to weight fluctuation, diarrhea, bleeding, fatigue and other issues.  This is a CHRONIC illness, it lasts for life.  There is no standard treatment, and no cure.

Kyle, only in his early 30’s, has already made several trips to the Mayo Clinic and back.  He’s undergone multiple surgeries.  He’s faced countless trips to the ER.  This couple has dealt with this challenge while working and taking care of two little boys.  If you’ve ever gotten a big doctor’s bill in the mail, even WITH insurance, you know how quickly procedures can add up.  Multiply that by the dozens, if not hundreds of tests, stays, and visits the Frans family has gone through.. and it’s hard to imagine what they are dealing with financially, let alone physically and emotionally.

THIS SATURDAY, their friends, loved ones, and more will join together to raise money to help and to show Missy and Kyle they are not alone.  Organizer Joe Dolezal said it best on the event website: ‘Knowing Kyle and Melissa would, and do, go out of their way to help their friends, we’re going out of our way to help give them a little relief from all the costs that have been piling up over the years.’

CLICK HERE for more information about the CROHN’S SUCKS: FRANS FAMILY BENEFIT SAND VOLLEYBALL TOURNEY.  $20 gets you at least four games of volleyball, a drink ticket, and a chance to bid on LOTS of great raffle items.  Better yet, if you have a group of friends looking for a volleyball tournament.. or just a group of friends who want to hang out.. sign up your team!  Visit the Facebook event link above or email FriendsofFrans@gmail.com.  This will all take place SATURDAY MAY 30th at Sinnott’s Sand Bar in Papillion.

I’ve said before.. and posted right here on this blog.. I don’t know why things like Crohn’s happen to such good people.  Not just Kyle, but my good friend and co-anchor Rob McCartney also suffers from this terrible disease.  Rob often reaches out to other patients, especially kids, to compare stories about what they are going through, forming a support network in a club they never wanted to be part of.  Nebraska native, now Phillies baseball player Jake Diekman went public with his battle with Ulcerative Colitis this year, promoting research through the sale of ‘Gut-It-Out’ t-shirts and gear nationwide.  Guys like Jake, Rob and Kyle rise above their challenges; they fight, they stay positive, they inspire the rest of us to roll up our sleeves and do better.

This Saturday, I’ll be with my Team Paparazzi softball squad, as our team trades gloves and bats for sand and volleyballs to support our superstar catcher and friend Missy Frans and her family.  I would LOVE to see hundreds of people there to support them!  Regardless, I have a favor to ask of all of you who are reading this.. please learn more about Crohn’s.  It’s a terrible, terrible disease.  More awareness, means a bigger push for answers, meaning more fundraising and hopefully, bring us one step closer to finding a cure.  CLICK HERE to learn more about Crohn’s Disease at the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America website.  CLICK HERE to learn more about Jake’s story, and his work with the Gut-It-Out campaign.

And if you pray, please say a prayer for these guys, especially my friend Kyle.  For a huge showing of support Saturday, for the financial boost the Frans family needs right now, and for a cure so one day this wonderful family of four can have a volleyball game for no other reason than to teach Kraig and Tanner THE HAMMER.

Loved ones have also established a GoFundMe account to help Kyle Frans and his family.  CLICK HERE for more information.

Miracle Worker

You advocate for something because you believe in it.  You put your face and name behind a cause to share a compelling argument for why you are so passionate about that effort.  It takes courage to speak out (especially from a personal place); it takes time and dedication; it takes a leader who can command attention and compel others to make a difference.

This is one of the reasons I advocate for the Miss America Organization.. because no matter what you think of beauty pageants, or women competing for crowns, when that ONE DAY of competition is over, they are out in their communities and states 364 OTHER days of the year trying to do all of the things I just mentioned, in most cases, serving others.

This young woman will continue to promote her platform after her pageant days are over; she wants her cause to become her career.

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MISS DOUGLAS COUNTY 2015 ALYSSA HOWELL

(Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography)

“I will be a junior at Creighton University, studying Elementary Education, with the career ambition of becoming a child life specialist in a Children’s Miracle Network Hospital,” Alyssa told me recently. ¬†“Truly, Children’s Miracle Network is my passion, and my platform, ‘Making Miracles Happen’, stands to improve the lives of children in hospitals all over Nebraska.”

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Several of this year’s Miss Nebraska contestants, including Alyssa and Miss Nebraska 2014 Megan Swanson, delivered gift bags to Children’s Hospital & Medical Center Rainbow House pediatric patients and their families for Miss America Serves day.

Children’s Miracle Network is also Miss America’s community partner, the organization which titleholders all over the country must raise money for in order to compete at the local and state level. ¬†Money raised benefits¬†hospitals like Omaha’s Children’s Hospital and Medical Center. ¬†Many of this year’s Miss Nebraska contestants have spent time volunteering at Children’s; Alyssa visits on a consistent¬†basis, inspired by her cousin and former CMN patient, Shayna.

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“Eight years ago my family (after a streak of 12 boy cousins) was finally blessed with a girl! ¬†However, Shayna was sick with a frightening virus that left her sick and in the hospital for days after her birth,” said Alyssa. ¬†“18 months later, she tested positive for profound hearing loss. ¬†My family was devastated, however, with the help of St. Louis Children’s Hospital (a CMN facility), Shayna was able to receive cochlear implants that allow her to hear as a normal child.”

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Alyssa witnessed part of that journey in person, staying with Shayna and her family for two months while Shayna attended the Central Institute for the Deaf. ¬†Alyssa had already been involved with CMN fundraisers as a young girl, at her sister Devin Howell’s side during her time as¬†Miss River City 2008, Miss Douglas County 2009 and Miss Omaha 2010.

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When Alyssa was crowned Miss Eastern Nebraska 2014, (click here to see read my interview with her last Spring!) she wanted to take her passion for CMN hospitals and the children they serve to another level.  Alyssa designed and implemented something she calls the Miracle Bags Program.

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“I go to sororities [including her own, Pi Beta Phi], business groups, girl scouts and schools and collect donation items. ¬†Each bag [I create] contains a blanket, coloring book, crayons, Play-Doh, and a handwritten card,” said Alyssa. ¬†“I then deliver these bags to the patients at Omaha Children’s, and let me tell you, nothing makes a sick child light up like a princess with a bag of goodies!”

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To Alyssa, the Miss America Organization presented opportunities for both volunteering and for her own personal growth. ¬†It’s a stage for this pianist (and piano teacher) to play for a crowd; it’s a path to scholarships for this college student; it’s a platform for her to share Shayna’s story and encourage others to help pediatric hospital patients.

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“I truly believe that EVERY woman can gain so many incredible things from this organization, and Miss Nebraska stands to represent every woman in the state regardless of career, beliefs, appearance or education,” said Alyssa. ¬†“As the All-American daughter of a former Marine and the 1981 Miss Iowa Dairy Princess, my upbringing led me to big dreams, big accomplishments and making big differences in the lives of everyone I meet.”

Alyssa Howell isn’t just an advocate for Miss America or for Children’s Miracle Network, she shows¬†what strong, smart, talented¬†women can accomplish when inspired by something as powerful as a little girl’s smile. ¬†Just a guess, but I’m betting the feeling is mutual, and that Shayna’s grin will light¬†up the entire North Platte High Auditorium¬†in just three weeks.. as her princess, Miss Douglas County, competes to become the next Miss Nebraska.

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(Photo courtesy Studio FBJ)

To find out more about Miss Douglas County 2015 Alyssa Howell’s Miracle Bags Program, and to contact her for appearances and events, email alyssahowellva@gmail.com or click here to visit her Facebook page.

For more information on the Miss Omaha/Douglas County Pageant, click here to visit their website, here to visit them on Facebook, and here to follow on Twitter.

For information on becoming a future contestant, contact Executive Director Marianne Grubaugh at 402-330-8033 or by email at missomahapageant@yahoo.com.

***

The Miss Nebraska Pageant will take place June 3-6, 2015 in North Platte.  Click here to visit the organization’s website, to visit the pageant on Facebook, to follow the pageant on Twitter, and to follow the pageant on Instagram.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Heartland 2015 Steffani Jiroux

NEXT.. Miss State Fair 2015 Marie Allison

To read more about the Miss Nebraska Class of 2014, click on the ‚ÄėThere She Is‚Äô link at the top of the page.