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Finding Balance

It’s a vicious cycle.

I desperately want the candy. Just one taste turns into a handful, then some crackers, then FORGET MY DIET, I’LL START OVER TOMORROW. Then I see those photos.. of others looking fabulous, and of myself… not so much. Maybe it’s karma. I was barely 110 my senior year of high school – couldn’t even donate blood because I didn’t weigh enough – and that was visiting McD’s every day after school for a shake and fries. Calories had no effect on me.

The changes came gradually… crazy work schedules, shifts in metabolism, two babies, and career changes… and all of the sudden I weigh more than I did after my first maternity leave, and I can’t say no to the candy.

I’m trying to focus on LIFESTYLE changes and not short-term diets. Healthier choices. Now when my sweet tooth takes hold and won’t loosen its grip, I reach for the Halo Top instead of my kids’ Drumsticks.

This is one of the things I love about the Miss Nebraska program. (‘Woah, Petersen, that was a leap! Where you going with this?’) No, really, hear me out – the young women who compete in our program are learning BALANCE. Yes, they have a set date and goal, fast approaching in less than 2 weeks, but so many of these girls are learning the science behind health and nutrition. They are NOT starving themselves to get skinny – they are fueling their bodies to become STRONG. The lessons they take from this year or several help shape how many of them balance their choices for years after.

Case in point: the current Miss Omaha, a former collegiate athlete who owns her own personal training business.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

Yup. A beauty who could beat you up. (Not that she ever would.)

“I have been an athlete my whole life, and I am a competitor at heart,” Allie Swanson told me recently. “I love pushing myself to the limit in all areas of my life.”

In Allie’s case, that balance I referred to all equates to being extremely well-rounded; she’s also a Cum Laude graduate and All-American scholar, a talented vocalist chosen to sing at this year’s College World Series, and a driven public servant with clear missions she hopes to achieve as the next Miss Nebraska.

“I decided to try the Miss Nebraska pageant because I new it could be a great vessel to enact the type of change I want to see in the state of Nebraska,” said Allie. “I have seen so much growth in my personal life even just preparing for Miss Omaha and now preparing for Miss Nebraska. I am combining all of my favorite things – promoting digital literacy, service, music, public speaking, style, and confidence, among other things.”

Oh, where to begin?

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How about October, when Allie was crowned Miss Omaha 2018. In the audience, cheering on her every move was her big sister, Miss Nebraska 2014 Megan Swanson. Allie, too, was a constant supporter for her sister when she competed, but she draws her inspiration from powerful women like US Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Nebraska Governor Kay Orr, and Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert. Allie is a woman who knows her leaders, noting 13 of Nebraska’s State Senators are women.

 

 

“My goal is to impact 20,000 lives this year, and I understand that this is no small feat,” said Allie. “I have gotten to speak to students, sports teams, educators, parents and government officials about my platform, and that alone makes this job so worth it. Being a titleholder has gotten me in the door to places that normal ‘Allie’ wouldn’t have, and because of this I have been able to spread my message of CyberSmartz to people of all ages and backgrounds.”

That’s how Allie Swanson hopes to make her mark, by helping as many people as possible protect themselves in a digital world. She visits school assemblies and other groups with some scary statistics:

  • 97% of American children under the age of four use mobile devices, regardless of family income.
  • The average teenager spends 72 hours PER WEEK using media, but only 38.5 MINUTES per week participating in face-to-face, meaningful conversation with their parents.
  • The average US parent says they do not fully understand today’s most popular ‘apps’ or the extent of content their children are using on digital media platforms.

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“As Program Coordinator for Smart Girl Society, a non-profit based in Omaha, I have seen firsthand the need in Nebraska and across the country for this message,” said Allie. “The biggest issue facing all generations, all states, and beyond is the technology crisis. People are addicted to technology, losing the ability to have face-to-face conversations with people, unaware of the effects of their digital footprints, and oversharing online. We can start by raising awareness and educating people on proper privacy and safety settings, as well as techniques to take back control.”

As Allie noted, she may be attracting more and bigger audiences because of her ‘Miss Omaha’ status.. but her run at Miss Nebraska could also directly benefit her mission with CyberSmartz, through scholarships financing her higher education and career plans. At this year’s Miss Nebraska competition, we are offering $70,000 in cash scholarships, gifts and services, and an additional $1.4 million, MILLION, in in-kind college scholarships. Miss Nebraska 2018 will receive at least $10,000 in cash to pay for her college education.

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“This Miss America program will allow me to obtain a Masters of Media Communication and Psychology, in the hopes of one day studying at the Stanford University Persuasive Technology Lab,” said Allie. “I plan to continue working at Smart Girl Society, but move up in position, and I hope to eventually take over as CEO to continue to spread the message of digital literacy and safety.”

Here’s a young woman who could do, and IS doing, EVERYTHING. Speaking, singing, and scoring points with fans everywhere she goes…

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…literally and figuratively. I look to women like Allie, MANY years my junior, and am inspired by all they are, all they hope to be, and the BALANCE they have discovered and are honing at such young ages.

Start somewhere. Find your October. Tonight, I said no to the candy and reached for the Halo Top.

Allie Swanson is reaching, too… for the VERY top, and no less.

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“I am thankful that my family encouraged me to pursue a variety of interests, extracurricular activities, and to get out of my comfort zone to learn about the world and myself,” said Allie. “With core values of hard work, integrity, responsibility and truth, I aspire to be a woman of great influence, and my background gives me the support to be the change I want to see in this world. I was and still m the girl who wants to do it all.”

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To follow Miss Omaha Allie Swanson, click here.

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The Miss Nebraska Scholarship Competition takes place June 7-9 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Facebook

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Twitter

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Sandhills Regan Kolbo

NEXT.. Miss Old West Balloon Fest Makinzie Gregory

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!

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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!

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

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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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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!

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I have a new best friend.  I look forward to the time we spend together everyday.  My husband knows about this new friend.. and encourages our relationship.

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Meet Vytas.  Vytas is really good at yoga.  Vytas is helping ME get better at yoga.

Note: I’ve never met Vytas.  He lives in my computer.  Please halt all potential warnings to Vytus about his creepy ‘friend’ Brandi.

Like so many, I struggle with my weight and nutrition.  I lose weight, then I lose interest and lose control.  I’m an emotional eater.  Pretty sure my body is 99% coffee instead of water.  When I was 18, I could get away with eating Chex Mix and Mt. Dew for breakfast.  Now, a few trips through the Runza drive-thru and the only thing that fits are my husband’s sweats (and he gets grumpy when I steal them!)  But aside from how I look and my confidence, my health has started to suffer because of my less than ideal lifestyle.  I feel like I’ve been sick in some form since early November.. and just after Christmas, I contracted strep throat.  A trip to the ER, 2 rounds of antibiotics and a week in bed later, I promised myself I was going to start doing a better job taking care of the body God has given me.

I’ve been trying Beachbody on the advice of my friend and stunning beauty, Amanda Soltero.  One of her challenges to kick off 2017 included 3-Week Yoga Retreat with Vytus.  I tried it.. and became hooked.  I LOVE the way yoga makes me feel.  I love awakening the muscles I used to stretch in gymnastics as a kid.  I love realizing I can touch the floor with my hands, or now keep my legs straight in downward dog.  I love when I automatically sit up straighter at my desk because the practice has already improved my posture and carriage.  Most of all, I love the RETREAT that yoga has provided me.. a chance to breathe deeply and for 30 minutes a day dissolve all of the stress and burdens that have piled on throughout the other 23 hours.

For a young woman from Omaha, this is a message of health and wellbeing she’s understood for quite some time.. one she’s now taking to children across eastern Nebraska.

Miss Omaha 2017 Wellesley Michael

“I am currently a yoga teacher and went through children’s yoga teacher training this summer,” said Wellesley.  “Both of those experiences led me to mindfullness.  I then continued my training on mindfullness with [my platform] ‘Mindful Schools: Peace Begins With Me’.”

A platform that skyrocketed last fall when Wellesley was crowned Miss Omaha 2017.

“I’ve always admired the women that have been in the Miss Nebraska Organization,” Wellesley told me recently.  “Then, when I was old enough, I felt as if it was time for me to stand up and be a leader and role model like the women who have been in the system before have been for me.”

A title doesn’t make you a role model.  A crown doesn’t make you a leader.  But Wellesley used both of those tools to find new audiences in schools across Omaha.

Wellesley sharing yoga and mindfulness with students at Westside’s Oakdale Elementary and at Brownell Talbot, where she attended school!

“Mindfullness is the act of paying attention on purpose without judgement,” said Wellesley.  “I’ve spent a large part of my year so far going to schools and working with students on techniques to help them breathe, focus, listen and just feel good!  In a world that is so chaotic and go-go-go we have to find a way to slow down.  It’s healthy! Mindfulness brings that stillness we are often missing.”

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Wellesley is also a frequent visitor to Children’s Hospital and Medical Center, delivering blankets over the winter holiday and bringing in Valentine’s Day crafts for patients this week.  She’s also partnered with businesses like Yogurtini in Lincoln to raise money for the Children’s Miracle Network, the Miss America Organization’s community partner.

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“Three words to describe me are driven, organized and focused,” said Wellesley.  “Goal setting is one of my favorite things.  When I set a goal I dig in right away and figure out what it takes to get me to my dream.”

CLICK HERE to hear more from Wellesley during a guest appearance with Matt Tompkins on News Talk 1290!

These are the character traits Wellesley hopes stand out to both children and adults, attributes she credits in part to her participation in the Miss Nebraska Organization.

“This organization has helped me to clearly articulate my opinions and beliefs without fear,” said Wellesley.  “It has given me experience in skills I will always need such as interviewing and networking.  I go into a lot of situations with more confidence than ever because of this organization.  The fact that I get to even put on the Miss Omaha crown and sash and meet so many amazing people around my city is unreal to me.  The whole experience is a dream come true.”

Wellesley is clear: her big goal is to become Miss Nebraska.  However, she is also mindful of the big picture.  Wellesley is a University of Nebraska-Lincoln student majoring in advertising/public relations and journalism and has authored her own fashion/pop culture blog for several years. CLICK HERE to check it out!

“Beyond the pageant world, I hope to one day combine my loves of journalism and yoga to work for a wellness magazine or website like The Yoga Journal or mindful.org,” said Wellesley.  “At the state pageant, my plan is just to do my best and get people thinking about mindfulness and all of its benefits.”

Wellesley and her fellow titleholders will be the first to tell you, just as yoga isn’t just ‘stretching’, competing for Miss Nebraska isn’t just slapping on makeup and waving your hand in parades.  They spend  hours in the gym every week.  They dedicate countless hours to people and causes they care deeply about.  They study, they work hard, they plan.  But at the end of each day, Wellesley also remembers to breathe deeply and to reflect.

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“Here’s a mindfulness tip before I go.  I do this everyday,” said Wellesley.  “Take five minutes, mute your phone and listen to your breath.  Maybe you say ‘inhale, exhale’ with each breath or count how many times you breathe.  Thoughts will come up and that’s ok!  After five minutes sit for a minute and notice how you feel.”

On behalf of this blossoming yoga instructor, Namaste.  To you, Miss Omaha Wellesley Michael, NamaSLAY.

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Photo courtesy Michael Dar

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CLICK HERE to follow Miss Omaha 2017 Wellesley Michael’s blog, Wellesley Lauren.  You can also CLICK HERE to follow her on Facebook, or CLICK HERE to follow her on Twitter.  To contact Wellesley for appearances and speaking events, email wellesleymich@gmail.com.

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 Omaha’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Katie Harris

NEXT.. Miss Sarpy County’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Phoenix Stanford

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!

Special Feature: Miss America 2015 Kira Kazantsev

FACT: You are more likely to have a son play in the Super Bowl than you are to have a daughter compete for Miss America.

This weekend, as people all over the US watch the biggest game of the year, dozens of women from across Nebraska are gathering in North Platte, hoping this is the first step in their journey to Atlantic City and the iconic crown.

Not so long ago, a New York college student was doing her own preparation.. planning, hard work and drive that ultimately catapulted her into the national spotlight and cemented her place in the storied history of the Miss America Program.

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Miss America 2015 Kira Kazantsev

“I will always be incredibly proud to be associated with the Miss America title,” Kira told me recently.  “Only about 90 women can even say that! It has enriched my life more than I can convey, not to mention the personal growth, relationships, and experiences I have had ever since.”

Kira grew up in California and showed early on she was a talented, charismatic leader.  She held two state pageant titles by 16 years old, she was Student Body President of her high school, and a member of the Varsity Cheerleading Squad.  Kira moved to New York after high school to triple major in political science, global studies and geography.  At Hofstra University, Kira maintained a 3.6 GPA, she studied in Barcelona and she held multiple internships in political consultancy in Washington DC.  Somewhere, she found time to compete for the title of Miss New York, winning on her second try in 2014.

“The thing about being Miss New York is that it’s unlike any other state, especially if you’ve spent any time living in the city,” said Kira.  “You are fighting to maintain relevance in a place that has so much other stuff going on, you can easily slip into the shadows. You are also being exposed to high profile events, people and opportunities constantly which is great preparation for Miss America. In New York our pageant culture is very unique. The girl is very much in charge of her own preparation. I chose every piece of my wardrobe, I worked hard to get sponsors that I wanted, and I took the subway to the Bronx and Brooklyn for appearances that I scheduled myself. We have an incredible board and support team, but Miss New York herself leads the charge. It is tough and requires grit but that’s a recipe for one heck of a Miss America contestant.”

Proof: Kira made history in September of 2014, becoming the 3rd straight Miss New York to be crowned Miss America.

“I remember a blur of screaming and lights and turning around to see all of my Miss America sisters smiling and clapping,” said Kira.”

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A dream come true for countless little girls and young women across America, one that was quickly tainted by a small group trying to muddy Kira’s reputation.  They criticized her talent, a song-and-Solo-cup routine mirroring Anna Kendrick’s viral video.  They questioned her character regarding her participation in sorority activities.  Here was a woman who speaks three languages, was an honors student with three majors, an elite golfer, and she just did the impossible by becoming the 3rd consecutive contestant from one state to win that national title.. and she was being virtually assaulted by critics within days of her groundbreaking success.

“People focus on the negatives because 1: It makes them feel better about themselves and 2: The higher you rise, the more people will want to tear you down, because that is just the way many people are,” said Kira.  “I learned that lesson very early on as Miss America.  It taught me who my true friends were and who was really there for me.  I don’t focus on the negative.  If I did, I would still be sitting and responding to the millions of nasty tweets and comments I’ve gotten over the last few years.  Instead, I focus on the positive, the amazing things I’ve been able to accomplish, and the goals I continue to aspire to.”

Kira won me over through her reign as Miss America… starting with this:

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…a photo shoot with her cup.  She stood tall in the face of all the haters and OWNED it.  Something about this photo made me smile and think ‘you go, girl!’

‘Miss America isn’t a talent show.  Talent is meant to show you can entertain, you can connect with people.  That is the job of Miss America.’

It was the first of MANY photos of Kira, taking the world by storm.

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Presenting at the Academy of Country Music Awards

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Red Carpet at the Billboard Music Awards

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Presenting at the American Music Awards

Kira returned the Miss America brand to the national spotlight, appearing at and/or presenting at numerous awards shows (and often featured in the Best Dressed section after!)  She was the first Miss America in 43 years to visit troops overseas with the USO.

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And Kira shared her spotlight with her biggest.. yet smallest fans, as the National Goodwill Ambassador for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.

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‘Remember when you are fundraising, there are tiny human beings on the other end who benefit from that.  No matter what challenges we face there are these little people who rely so much on us.’

She also embarked on a personal crusade against domestic violence, a campaign she dubbed ‘Put The Nail In It’.  She partnered with Safe Horizon, the nation’s leading victim assistance organization, and started a social media revolution.

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Kira painted her left ring fingernail purple, the color of the anti-domestic violence movement, and encouraged her half-million social media followers to do the same and unite together, as one collective voice, that we will support survivors and stop violence.  Music stars, professional athletes, reality TV stars, and countless others across America proudly painted and posted.

“No one can prepare themselves for suddenly being the face of a social media movement!” said Kira.  “But it was my greatest honor to be part of the creation of the ‘Put The Nail In It’ campaign.  It continues to garner huge impressions on social media while spreading awareness for the cause.  I couldn’t be more proud of it!”

By September of 2015, Kira Kazantsev was both sad to pass on her crown to new Miss America Betty Cantrell (click here to read more!) yet ready to begin a new adventure on her own.

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Photo courtesy People

 

“It was really hard for me to let go of a role I loved so much,” Kira told me.  “At the same time, I was ecstatic to take everything I’d learned and venture out into the world as just Kira.”

Kira has since expanded upon the connections she made and experiences she had as Miss America.  She’s hosted multiple events from the red carpet to the the non-profit world, she has performed and spoken at high profile venues across the country, and she’s played in numerous charity golf tournaments including the BMW Pro Am, and the Tiger Jam for the Tiger Woods Foundation.  She is now based in Los Angeles, using her extraordinary social media knowledge and experience as the Director of Community Engagement for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, the same organization she devoted so much of her life to as Miss America.

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Named one of the Most Beautiful Women In Golf by People Magazine & Golf.com

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Hosting Red Carpet coverage for the American Music Awards

“I’ve definitely taken time to travel and do things for me, but sometimes my schedule these days feels just as busy if not busier than my time as Miss America and I love that!” said Kira.  “I find that I’ve grown accustomed to that pace and If I’m not constantly doing something then I just feel a little off.  I try to balance as much as I can but there’s nothing better than the thrill of accomplishment.”

And through that balance, Kira continues to be a role model for women of all ages and backgrounds.  Through her social media and blog (click here for more!), Kira continues to advocate for health and fitness, chronicling how she faces the same challenges so many working women do regarding fast food and finding time to work out.

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“It is always a struggle,” Kira told me.  “I just remind myself that people battle disease, hunger, homelessness and far bigger problems than I could ever imagine every day, so I think I can find the will to make healthier eating choices and to get myself to the gym.  Now, I’m not always on top of it, but I do my best and that’s all anyone can do.  Life is full of choices and if we make the choice to take care of our bodies then somehow, someway, we find the time and we get it done.  It is all about perspective.”

Kira is sharing that insight with dozens of Nebraska women this weekend at Crowns and Gowns 2017 in North Platte as a featured guest.  She often thinks back on her own pageant journey, both her successes and her regrets.

“A million, but such is life and there is nothing I can do about them now,” said Kira.  “I try and work on this, but instinctually after every appearance, speech, and interaction, I turn it over in my head a million times.  Self doubt is my constant companion.  However, I know that I am being my best possible self and putting my best foot forward, always, and I am proud of everything I have accomplished and continue to pursue.”

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That is the self evaluation, the search within one’s self, that Kira hopes young women learn from her story.  To speak out on what you believe in.  To define this competition anyway you like and share your talents with the world.  To set larger than life goals whether you are a local titleholder, or Miss America.

“Miss America is evolving and the ones who can keep up with those changes and be cutting edge in their definition of titleholders will remain at the forefront,” said Kira.

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And to all of the young women competing for Miss Nebraska this year, dreaming of the day they could follow in Kira Kazantsev’s footsteps, this advocate, speaker, host and former Miss America has a message.

“Please just be YOU!” she said.  “Be genuine, real and off the cuff but always be prepared.  Do your research and work ahead of time and READY for a JOB.  This is more than a pageant, it’s an opportunity that can change your life forever and bring you incredible experiences.  At the same time, if it doesn’t work out, no big deal! We all have a plan and maybe being Miss Blah Blah isn’t part of yours and that’s ok.  Miss America is A dream, not THE dream.  There should be other things in your life that you are aspiring to like internships, colleges, charity work, and larger than life dreams.  You’ve got this, and only YOU can make it happen.”

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Photo courtesy Kristy Belcher Photography

‘As a  titleholder, you have the power to have a positive impact on somebody’s life.  That’s why we do this, it’s not for the crown, it’s for these kids.  It’s not about me, it’s about the title and what it makes people feel.  Hold on to who you are and be confident in the person you want to be.’

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Kira Kazantsev is available for public appearances and events.  For booking information and more about Kira, CLICK HERE to visit her website.  You can also follow Kira on social media: CLICK HERE to follow her on Twitter, HERE to follow on Facebook, HERE to follow on Instagram.

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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

The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant takes place April 21-22 in Omaha, Nebraska.

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

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PREVIOUS.. Brilliance (2017 Series Preview)

NEXT.. Miss Alliance’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Sydny Ridgeway!

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!

Our Invisible Crowns

Let me tell you about my friend, Alex..

Alex wears MANY hats.  She is a momma to sweet baby Jackson.  She is a proud wife.  She is one of the stars of the #1 rated KETV First News, drawing nearly 9,000 followers on Facebook, thousands more on Twitter.  She is also a former Miss South Dakota, record-breaking swimmer, accomplished vocalist.. the list goes on.

Alex is also the former ringer 1st basewoman for Team Paparazzi.

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Typically in slow-pitch, coed softball, when a girl gets up to bat you hear a cry from a guy somewhere on the field… ‘MOVE IN!! GIRL UP!!’

A word to the wise.. NEVER say that when you see THIS girl step into the box.  Alex grinds her hands on the bat and UNLEASHES fury.. usually catapulting the ball over the head of whichever dude yelled to move in.

Alex is STRONG. CONFIDENT. POWERFUL.  She is proof you CAN be all of those things AND be talented, beautiful and sophisticated.

Next up to bat.. Shelbe Stroh, a young lady on a mission to crush any steretypes you may have about pageant girls, and what they can or can’t do.

HEAD SHOT

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a pageant girl?” Shelbe asked me recently.  “Is it glitz and extravagant dresses? Or is it the dedication to scholarship, community service, leadership and integrity?  The Miss America Organization has shaped me to be the confident, independent and self-sufficient young woman I am today.”

Shelbe is a 17-year old who is as diverse and involved in her community as she is striking.  She’s smart, taking AP classes at Elkhorn South High School and making the Rotary Honor Roll, while also taking part in FCCLA, SADD and National Honor Society.  Shelbe earned recognition at the 2015 BBB Integrity Awards and as a Gregg Young Great Kids of Omaha award recipient.

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Outside of school, Shelbe is part of the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council,  she volunteers at the Hope Center for Kids, and she models for Omaha Fashion Week.

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Photo courtesy Kathy Rae Photography

One more thing.. ever since she was a little girl in glasses, Shelbe has been kicking a soccer ball.

A few years ago, Shelbe found an organization that encompassed all of the qualities fine tuned by taking part in these activities… the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program.  Shelbe is currently Miss Kearney’s Outstanding Teen 2016.

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This June, she’ll compete with more than a dozen of teenagers from across Nebraska who excel in any number of activities in and out of the classroom, on the stage or on the field, in front of a crowd or with one other person.

“I have made connections with people across the state and along the way I have learned a little bit about myself,” said Shelbe.  “With each community event I attend, I witness the sparkle in a bystander’s eye as I flash a smile or spark casual conversation.  I have come to realize that the small deeds I do have a major impact on lives of others.”

Shelbe and her sister queen, Miss Tri-Citites Outstanding Teen Ashly Helfrich

Just as she is trying to change stereotypes about pageant girls, Shelbe wants to alter how girls and women view themselves through her personal platform, ‘Fit and Fabulous: Shattering The Negative Body Image of Young Women.’

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“Instead of focusing on that ‘perfect image’ by resorting to unhealthy habits, I want young girls to discover the long term effects of a healthy lifestyle and reap the benefits!’ said Shelbe.  “As a teen, I know it’s hard coming to terms with your body, but finding the satisfaction in exercise and smart eating will radiate positive vibes and inspire others.”

Part of Shelbe’s message is her own story of pain and disappointment.  In October 2014, Shelbe tore her ACL in a club soccer game, and spent the next 9 months building herself back up physically and emotionally.  When she couldn’t turn to soccer, she found yoga and other ways she could stay active.

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“I take pride in my athletic physique and want to empower young women to take pride in their own bodies as well.  Confidence is the key to success,” said Shelbe.  “Loving yourself along the way will make the journey that much more meaningful.”

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Shelbe also credits her mom for supporting her throughout her recovery and during every activity she’s taken part of, pageants included.

“I want to make a special shout out to the one who taught me to always wear my invisible crown, my beautiful momma,” said Shelbe.  “Thank you for making me the strong young woman I am today.  You are such a blessing to me!”

And THAT is what Shelbe Stroh wants to bring to the table as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.. the message that no matter what hat you wear, from soccer player to beauty queen, from student to star, WE ARE STRONG.

Women of the world, we can do ANYTHING we set our minds to.  Wear YOUR invisible crown.. and be darn proud of it.

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“Above all, I want to be remembered as the girl who put her heart and soul into everything she did,” said Shelbe.  “I’ve failed many times, but I am so full of life and have this dream to change other peope’s lives.”

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CLICK EACH LINK to follow Miss Kearney’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Shelbe Stroh

on FACEBOOK, and on TWITTER

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT SHELBE?

CLICK HERE * 2014 * Nebraska’s Outstanding Teens

For more information about the Miss Kearney/Miss Tri-Citites Outstanding Teen Pageant, visit THEIR WEBSITEFACEBOOK PAGE, or follow ON TWITTER.  For information on becoming a contestant, contact Director Megan Goeke at hello@beautifulbridal.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 Queen City of the Plains 2016 Lianna Prill!

NEXT.. Miss Nebraska State Fair 2016 Payton Merritt!

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.

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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!