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I’m writing this with a cold beer to my right on a Wednesday night. For the last three days, I’ve felt tears welling behind my eyes. Every moment I’m not living life to the fullest, not DOING something, I feel like I’m wasting.

My friend David is dying.

When I shared David’s story on this blog, I was still in TV. That alone feels like a lifetime ago, and that point in his journey felt life a lifetime since his diagnosis. He’s written a book. He’s travelled the world. He’s celebrated 11 years of life since doctors told him a brain tumor would kill him in five. For awhile, it was easy to say David **had cancer. Past tense. He’d beaten it. He’d laughed in it’s face, defeated it with an arsenal of positivity and sheer will, and shared his story to inspire and help others.

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Fuck you, cancer. FUCK YOU. Mom, I know you’re reading this and I’m sorry for swearing, but there is truly no other phrase that accurately fits how I feel about this disease.

It stole Cody from us. I miss his laugh, karaoke duets, how he made my husband smile, and seeing his soul-deep love for our dear friend, Darbi. Brain cancer stole Evan Sharp, a baseball-loving little boy from Omaha, robbed of school and running carefree with his friends on the field. It stole Heather Roberts, a young professional devoted to her Omaha Mavericks, who have now raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in her name.

David’s sister, Heather, emailed me and asked me to put together a video for his girls. They are so little… ask yourself what you remember from Kindergarten?? What will these three big eyed, blonde angels remember about the father who loved them with all of his heart?

For Marian, for Viola, for Etta, for Lori, for DAVID: This is for you.

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David always had a spark. There was something MORE about him. Always the guy making jokes, the guy who wore plaid when everyone else wore black, the guy who was the ever rare ‘part of every group’ guy – active in speech, band and theater, so he was popular with the Drama Dorks, played golf and baseball and ran cross country, so he had the ‘cool’ friends right alongside us. He was the center of attention in every circle he ran in. No matter what the situation, David stood out – trying to make someone laugh, trying to be something extraordinary.

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Complete disclosure – David was my first ‘boyfriend’, keeping in mind we didn’t go on dates, hold hands in hallways, or anything else. I totally ditched my junior year Homecoming date AT THE DANCE for David (Jim, my sincere apologies – still feel super bad about this. Shade.) The cool thing was, after the high school drama (guys, he left me for a girl on POM SQUAD. Devastation! David – I hope this makes you laugh, I still remember that blonde hussy’s name!!), we were friends again by senior year.

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I remember when we ripped a microphone off of Mike Unrein’s body, taped there to stay put under his costume for ‘The Nerd’. Mike was SUPER hairy.. and his pain was hilarious.

I remember going to Mock Trial nationals in St. Louis (State Champs!!), when he and Bobby busted into Cassie and I’s hotel room and literally carried my wimpy ass to the pool and threw me in. I hadn’t wanted to get my hair messed up. Too bad.

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I remember watching him play a trumpet solo in front of the entire student body at a home football game during halftime, and feeling immense pride for my friend, shining bright in that moment in time.

Baseball at Seymour Smith. Being crowned Prom Prince with Melissa. Sitting on Lauren’s steps inside her house at one of countless graduation parties in May of 1999.

Every moment was MORE. Nothing was ‘JUST’. With David, everything was the superlative – funnier, more creative, bigger, deeper, louder and memorable.

Of course, he was featured in Election, got his own trailer, and became bff’s with Matthew and Reese.

Of course, he went on to marry a supermodel wife and started to travel the world with his start-up company, fueled by his big ideas and vision.

Of course, when he decided to write a book, people from around the world would donate tens of thousands of dollars to support him and make it happen. OF COURSE.

Girls, your Daddy was NEVER ordinary. Not one day.

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I wrote my first blog post about David in 2014. He was in the very early stages of writing his book – maybe even just outlining it at that point. I knew he had battled cancer in an unorthodox fashion – attempting every method in the book OTHER than chemo. Chinese medicine, herbs, religion, going green, saunas, etc. I knew he had been divorced but had no idea of the loneliness and desertion that had come along with it. I knew fate brought him and Lori together, but had no idea the details of how that came to be. David bravely bared his soul in his book, Thank you Kung Fu, to hopefully inspire others facing cancer, surprises in life, devastation through divorce.. WHATEVER.. he didn’t sugarcoat anything, but he also found positive in everything.

When I told my Mom last weekend that David may be entering his final weeks, she, too, focused on the positive: he had so much more time than anyone thought. My husband talked about David’s three beautiful daughters that may never have been.

I think of Lori, and this is when my tears fall. She, too, has had her own journey of challenges, heartbreak, plot turns and more. WHY. WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY. Why can’t they have the fairytale ending where POOF?!? Cancer is gone? Happily ever after? Lori deserves that. I don’t know her well but here’s what I see… the ying to David’s yang. The independent, one of a kind, unicorn light that is just SPECIAL. I praise God for bringing these two together… perhaps, no, of course.. this was always His plan.

David was given 5 years… nope.

They were both told no children… they have 3.

They found each other. THEY WERE MEANT TO BE TOGETHER. What is the meaning of life? TO LOVE. TO LOVE. Because I am in a bar and surrounded by other humans… I will only say my husband is literally, half of my soul. He is my rock, he is my partner, he was meant to be mine. We are raising two beautiful boys and someday, when they are grown and off on their own journeys, we will have each other – only each other, blessedly each other, for now and forever. To lose him… I would lose half of myself. For this, Lori, I pray for you. Sometimes more than I pray for David, because I believe he is going to Heaven without pain or fear.

<<My waitress just asked if I was ok because I am now bawling. That’s where we are at right now.>>

Girls, your Momma is a LADY BOSS. She is a fighter. She is a leader. She is kind and cool and amazing. She is strength and honor and beauty personified. Every day.

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Westside was looking for a guest speaker to inspire our staff members to kick off the 2018-2019 school year. I pitched several ideas to my senior leadership team, including David. My high school friend who had proved doctors wrong, written an incredible book, and was now giving motivational speeches around the country; maybe he would be a good fit to come home and inspire our staff? August of 2018, David came to Westside High School to share his story. Thank you, Kung Fu – how he found how he had a hidden brain tumor through being his typical ‘class clown’ self and doing a mock kung fu move at a conference. How through the coming months/years of finding an alternative to his death sentence, his then-wife decided upon a different path. How he found Lori, and with her, they created a new, unexpected life. How throughout every hurdle and challenge, he chose positivity, humor, a smile, and gratitude. Our staff of 500+ gave him a standing ovation. Many left in tears, and approached David after thanking him for sharing his story. He told me afterwards he experienced multiple seizures on stage DURING his half hour speech. He knew beforehand it might happen… but it didn’t scare him, didn’t detract him from sharing his story. He just kept going, smiling throughout. He was just fine.

I met David and Lori for coffee after. They talked about the type of beans and coffee used at the locally owned coffee shop we were at, thinking of their coffee shop back home in Michigan. Everything was normal. Old friends catching up. It was fine – everything was just fine.

David held a book reading that evening at the Bookworm. Lauren. Gail. Jay. All of these high school friends I hadn’t seen in so long, coming to support David. His girls came at the end – two little princesses in dress up clothes; their baby sister with Grandma in Papillion, where David and I grew up. It was fine – he was fine. He was promoting his book.

The icing on the cake – surgery. David found a miracle surgeon in Texas just months later who thought she could remove the ‘inoperable brain tumor’. He stayed awake the whole surgery talking to Lori. She removed the majority of it! MIRACLE!!! Again – has this all been a dream?!? It’s gone!! David and Lori – watching their three babies grow up with their white picket fence, drinking beers on their front porch. It was fine – he was fine.

June 4.

A note from David:

Hello everyone. We have received some difficult news about my health recently. My cancer has spread into other parts of my brain and spine. At this point, the doctors have estimated I have 4-6 weeks. Last week after a brain scan they first estimated four months, but when they saw the cancer on my spine this week, they reduced it significantly. 

Now that this is all very present, I want you to know that I am not scared of death. Lori and I have full confidence in the future of our family. She will continue to be an amazing mother to our girls. I am so grateful for Marian, Viola, and Etta. ❤️❤️❤️

Marian, I see in your face – I have seen it in your Momma and Daddy’s posts from Day One – you will take no prisoners and conquer the world. You are your Father’s daughter.

Viola – you are proof of the miracle that was MEANT TO BE – the true love between your Momma and Daddy. You are unique, and everything your parents love: music, nature, poetry in word and beyond.

Etta – your Daddy was the only boy. Your Momma is the only girl. Your name means ‘ruler of the home’. Just look at your perfect face!?! Your Daddy will be smiling on you and proud of you every day of your life.

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Anne Frank wrote in her diary, “In spite of everything, I still believe people are really good at heart.” My question: why does God take all of the good people? Why children and teens who have so much innocence and desire to learn, why them? Why people like Cody, who just say it like it is in the midst of so much BS – who refresh us with honesty, love and goodness? I don’t wish death on anyone, but when we are surrounded by so much hate, idiocy, ill will towards others and each other… why Cody. Why Evan. Why Heather. WHY DAVID.

Baby girls – grow up knowing your Dad wanted to change the world, and he was doing it in so many places including here in Omaha, Nebraska and your home of Grand Rapids, Michigan. A lot of people TALK; very few DO. Your Dad was a doer. A lot of people BOAST; very few have what it takes. Your Mom DOES.

Lori – from one wife to another, you are in my prayers. Every day.

David – we have one life. ONE. You have lived it with zest, humor, drive, vision, flair. You wake up every day and live TO THE MAX. I am not mad at God – I am thanking him for introducing you to my life and giving you to the world. So many people are dealt a hand, and crumple and cry. They blame others. They lie down and give up. You fought – you laughed – you used your lessons to inspire others – you never lost sight of what matters, LOVE, for your wife and your girls. You have given me not only great memories, but new perspective.

Because life is short. But sweet for certain.”

David, do you still love Dave Matthews Band? My husband met him backstage once – as cool in person as he seems on stage. Dave gave the quote mentioned above. LIFE IS SHORT. But oh, how sweet. How many of us don’t see that? We focus on the negative. You have always focused on the positive.

David, you continue to inspire me every day. I am thankful for you. You have made a difference in this world to everyone you have touched, and your legacy will live on. Jump, David, Jump – from one challenge to the next, from here to your next adventure.

Cheers to you, my friend.

***

The Wenzel family is sharing updates and accepting any donations their loved ones are willing to provide, anticipating costs in the coming weeks and months. CLICK HERE to follow their CaringBridge page.

I also highly recommend anyone and everyone to buy and read David’s book, Thank you Kung Fu, available online through most mass retailers. CLICK HERE to purchase his book online.

Contestant #16

‘Mental health is as important as physical health. Please reach out to someone if you need help. You are not alone and you are worth so much ❤’ 

Posted by Kaelia Nelson, August 17, 2017.

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Right now, 15 young women are taking part in rehearsals at North Platte High School, hoping to be crowned the next Miss Nebraska. An important piece is missing from the Class of 2018.

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Her name: Kaelia Nelson, crowned Miss Chadron 2018 on September 9.

“Extremely excited for the year ahead as your Miss Chadron 2018,” she shared just days after she won the title. Just weeks later, Kaelia began classes at Peru State College and jumped right into her active scheduled as a collegiate cheerleader and local Miss Nebraska titleholder.

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“Last weekend I had the opportunity to perform a dance in honor of all the men and women who have risked their lives for us to live in this amazing country,” said Kaelia. “I feel absolutely honored to have been in the same room as so many of these wonderful and brave individuals. Thank you for your service. ❤️💙🇺🇸”

October 15, Kaelia got all dolled up for a photo shoot, courtesy of a new sponsor for the Miss Chadron program.

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“Thank you so much to the wonderful Heidi Barnes for donating a photo shoot for us title holders,” said Kaelia. “I can’t wait to see how they turned out!”

Two weeks after Kaelia posted this, she took her own life.

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In the days that immediately followed Kaelia’s death, I reached out to her mom to offer our condolences and any support the Miss Nebraska Organization could provide. Her mother said to me that day ‘we really thought that someday she was going to be Miss Nebraska.’

For good reason. Kaelia was 1st Runner Up to Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen in 2012. She was named Nebraska’s Homecoming Queen, finishing 3rd in the country in 2015. She had a natural gift for dance and performance, a Gold Rush Dance Team member at Nebraska Wesleyan before transferring to Peru State, where she was a cheer squad flyer. She was a caring advocate for children, setting the 2017 Miss Nebraska record for fundraising for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, and she planned to become a teacher. She was kind, charismatic, talented and driven.

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Behind the smile, the light that seemed to impact everyone she touched, Kaelia also battled darkness in the form of mental illness. Ironically, this was the very cause she so passionately spread awareness of as a Miss Nebraska titleholder: Stomping The Stigma.

“I live with anxiety, depression, bipolar and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD),” Kaelia told me last Spring. “People are afraid to step forward and admit to having a mental illness because society has made it such a taboo thing to the point where people are afraid to even talk about it.”

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Kaelia took her message everywhere: to elementary schools, across college campuses and organizations, and to local media. She opened herself up to connect with others, sharing personal details about her own battle and even revealing she had attempted to commit suicide in June 2016.

“I felt extremely alone and hopeless in the battle against my own illnesses,” Kaelia told me. “Individuals are scared of what people may think of them and therefore, do not seek treatment.  The consequences can be life threatening.  I never want anyone else to feel alone or ashamed like I did, especially not for something they cannot control.  This is why I have made it my mission to speak out and share my story in hopes that people will see and understand that it can happen to anyone and it definitely not something to be ashamed of.”

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YOU ARE NEVER ALONE. Here is proof, through Kaelia herself.

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More than 107,000 people impacted in some way by news of Kaelia’s death. 435 people shared this, most using Kaelia’s message #StompingTheStigma. More than 1,100 people who GRIEVED, who are hurting, who suffered because of this loss.

YOU MATTER.

YOU ARE LOVED.

YOU MAKE LIFE BETTER FOR SOMEONE ELSE IN THIS WORLD.

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This week, the Miss Nebraska Organization will honor the life of Kaelia Nelson, and the impact she had on others through her powerful message of mental health awareness. All contestants are wearing #StompingTheStigma shirts during rehearsals and sharing across their social media. For the first time, we will present a Kaelia Nelson Memorial Spirit Award. News outlets across the state have shared her story to compel others to seek help for themselves or their loved ones. CLICK HERE to watch KETV’s special feature on Kaelia; CLICK HERE to read the special feature in the North Platte Telegraph.

Kaelia should be up on that stage rehearsing. She should be preparing to share her talent in front of a roaring crowd, ready to walk across the stage with her radiant smile, waving to her mom and family.

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To anyone reading this, remember Kaelia. Remember her message. Think of her family, her friends, and all who loved her – and then think of everyone who loves YOU. Help us keep #StompingTheStigma.

“I would absolutely love to win Miss Nebraska and get to represent this amazing state, but my main goal isn’t about the crown on my head,” Kaelia told me.  “Instead, it’s the message I have to share and the people I get to meet because of it. It’s what you set your mind and heart to that will count in the long run.”

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Kaelia, we miss you, and we pray you have found peace.

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Click here to read more from Kaelia herself.

The National Suicide Hotline is available 24/7, 365 days a year. Always listening, never judging, confidential. Text CONNECT to 741741.

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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 Scotts Bluff County Brianna Little

COMING SOON.. Miss Nebraska 2017 Allison Tietjen

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

Persistence

I’m biased, but my son is BRILLIANT. OK, I’m exaggerating, but actually, not by much.. at just 7 years old, he’s already reading at a grade level several higher than his own, he LOVES math and science, and I’m convinced he has a photographic memory. Many aspects of learning come easy to him… so he gets frustrated when something presents a challenge he can’t master on his first attempt. It’s a lesson my husband is always helping him learn, that sometimes, we have to try a little harder and it makes success that much sweeter.

We saw proof of that the other night.. playing a video game at home. Easton FINALLY beat a ‘boss’ that he’d been working on for days, persistently working through the same level over and over again. ‘YEEESSSSSSS!’ he shouted, a huge smile on his tiny face, and he quickly turned around to make sure Brian was watching. We were 🙂

Flashback 16 years to an auditorium in Kearney. Tina Foehlinger stood on that stage, and FINALLY heard her name called as the winner of the Miss Tri-Cities Pageant. In the months leading up to that moment, she had competed in SIX locals, finishing first runner up SIX DIFFERENT TIMES. She never quit.

Neither did Courtney Pelland.

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Courtney has traveled Nebraska since last summer, hoping to win a local title and advance to the Miss Nebraska Pageant this summer. Time after time, she was named a finalist, leading to one last attempt in February.

“I was competing in my hometown, North Platte,” Courtney told me. “When my name was called, the crowd went wild. Being crowned in my hometown was an honor, and to have so many supporters there made my crowning 10 times more special.”

 

 

Courtney has dreamed of becoming Miss Nebraska for nearly a decade now, when she was a Little Sister to then Miss Omaha Brittany Jeffers. With Courtney at her side, Brittany went on to win Miss Nebraska and become our state’s first Top 10 finalist at the Miss America Pageant in 25 years. (Click here for photos!)

“I knew competing in pageants would help build my confidence, develop my interview skills, help pay for college, and build amazing friendships,” said Courtney. “I can proudly say I have friends across Nebraska and it is truly amazing how we inspire one another.”

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This is Courtney’s third year competing for a state title, first as Miss Sugar Valley’s Outstanding Teen, then Miss Fur Trade Days, and now, as Miss Nebraska State Fair. She’s used each title to advocate for a cause very personal for her: blood donation. Courtney has Celiac Disease, the latest in a series of diagnoses her sophomore year of high school that sent her to the hospital and in dire need of blood.

“My favorite part of being a titleholder has been touching the lives of kids, teens and adults with my personal story, and by simply listening what they have to say,” said Courtney. “I love telling them about the importance of blood donation and how someone save my life because of their donations.”

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Courtney has also helped organize blood drives, spoken to media and spread awareness in both North Platte and Fremont, where she attends college. Her goal is to collect 200 pledges by June 1st, no small goal considering she is also a full-time Midland University student, education funded in part due to the $60,000 in scholarships she received from Midland at last year’s Miss Nebraska Pageant.

“My career goal is to become a Labor and Delivery Nurse. I love children and babies!” said Courtney. “I may want to work in Children’s Hospital & Medical Center one day. Being a part of the Miss Nebraska Organization has inspired me; I’ve been raising money for them for four years, so why not continue giving back to them when I’m a nurse!”

That smile and passion for life are present everywhere this young woman goes, whether it to be a classroom, a donation site, or to a performance with the award-winning Midland Warriors Dance Team (yeah, Courtney dances, too.)

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“My role model is my dance coach, Katie Speicher,” said Courtney. “She came into a team that had just won the NAIA National Championships for 2017, moving from California to Nebraska just to coach a team like us. She has had her battles throughout the year but has overcome them. I am so proud of her for everything she has accomplished and she is someone I truly look up to.”

Now, Courtney is cementing that legacy for herself. She’s building a reputation as a strong woman who never gives up, just like Tina Foehlinger did 17 years ago.

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Photo courtesy Ben Fogletto for Press of Atlantic City

Just months after Tina FINALLY won a local title, she was crowned Miss Nebraska 2001 and then a Top 20 semi-finalist at the Miss America Pageant on national TV.

Colin Powell once said, ‘success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty and persistence.’ Courtney Pelland is hoping to find the meaning of that message early this summer.

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Photo courtesy Kamie Stephen Photography

“Success to me is when you achieve your personal dreams and goals,” said Courtney. “Of course, I would love to win, but in all I want to walk away with a whole new group of best friends through an amazing organization. I would love to make Top 8; I’ve been working really hard and I hope I can achieve that.”

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To follow Miss Nebraska State Fair Courtney Pelland on Facebook, click here.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT COURTNEY?

CLICK HERE * 2017 * College Ready

CLICK HERE * 2016 * Everyday America

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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 Harvest Moon Festival’s Outstanding Teen Jade Vak

NEXT.. Miss Twin River’s Outstanding Teen Rachel Young

Heroes With Heart

I am WEAK… when it comes to blood, needles, shots.. BARF. When I was 19, I passed out in the doctor’s office while getting my blood drawn. While covering a story in pre-op before a patient’s surgery, I saw the needle and had to kneel on the ground before I dropped (which the doc thought was HILARIOUS.. click here for the story.) Even having my own babies in the hospital, getting IV’s put in made me lose my lunch.

Still, when I learned Westside High School was hosting a blood drive, I decided I was going to suck it up and DO IT. Every blood donation saves up to three lives; I could certainly withstand a little queasiness to do my part.

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I was so proud of myself – ROCK STAR STATUS! I squeezed that little ball and laid back and relaxed… until they took the needle out. WHOOOOOSSSSH!! The tech immediately jumped to my side and called for help…

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… and Gabby Henderson came to my rescue. Gabby is a student at Westside High (featured in this photo on the far left), and she has a special talent for taking care of people. I met Gabby a few months ago, when the Nebraska Medical Center brought the Stop The Bleed program to Westside’s Center for Advanced Professional Studies. Westside High students interested in Nursing and Medicine learned how to triage patients and save lives after an accident or tragedy. Gabby was also one of the student volunteers helping run the blood drive that day at WHS.. she helped fan me off, talk me off my ‘pass out’ ledge, and then sent me on my way with a smile and without any judgement the the Director of Communications for her district almost lost her cookies over a little bit of blood. You can guess how delighted I was to hear last month that Gabby was part of the state championship HOSA team (Health Occupation Students of America) who will now compete at the International Conference in June!

People like Gabby truly have a gift; they see beyond blood or sickness, and only feel compassion and a compulsion to help others. About 4 hours west of Omaha, Jade Vak knows the same calling.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“I have always wanted to go into the medical field,” Jade told me recently. “While volunteering, I have discovered my career ambition of becoming an Emergency Doctor.”

 

 

Jade is well on her way, excelling in her studies at North Platte High School, practicing hard work and dedication as a member of the dance team, and further improving her ‘bedside manner’ and people skills through volunteer work across her community.

That last trait is part of what compelled Jade to try something new this year; she’s competing for the title of Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.

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“I wanted to further my communication skills and gain more self-confidence,” said Jade. “It is my passion to help as many people as I possibly can within my life. One of the amazing things about the MNOT program is that it gives you such an opportunity to help those in need.”

Crowned Miss Harvest Moon Festival’s Outstanding Teen in November, Jade has embraced every service opportunity offered to her.

“My platform is Volun-Teen. It is about promoting teenagers to volunteer so when they get older, it is just a way of life,” said Jade. “I visit patient’s rooms to provide comfort services, I serve food for those in need, and I ring bells for the Salvation Army. You name it, I have done it! I also talk to volunteering organizations about my platform. At elementary schools, I read a story and then we talk about how we can help others, or volunteer, just like the main characters.”

To Jade, volunteering not only makes the world a better place, it is a potential cure for the ills impacting her peers and beyond.

“I believe the greatest issue for my generation would perhaps be technology,” said Jade. “We need to learn how to balance it with the real world. Technology is an amazing tool and has done great things for the world, but we struggle on the line of the technology world and reality. I suggest volunteering! It forces us (in a good way, of course) to look up and get out!”

And as Jade hits the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen stage in Omaha, hoping to win the chance to spread that message statewide, she’ll be cheered on by the woman who’s inspired her to help others throughout her life, crown or not.

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“My female role model is my incredible mom,” said Jade. “She supports me with everything and always tries to make my dreams come true, even if it means sacrifices. I think that is beautiful and I hope I can do that for someone else someday.”

Ironically, Gabby’s biggest cheerleader is also HER mom. Christine Henderson works with me here at Westside, and literally glows with pride every time her hero makes a difference in someone’s life.

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For both Gabby and Jade, that difference may very well be saving lives within a few years. Today, it’s simply making a child smile.. and sending out a smiling adult, grateful for the girl who helped her survive a weak moment.

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To follow Miss Harvest Moon Festival’s Outstanding Teen Jade Vak, click here.

For more information about the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program or to become a contestant, CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Facebook, or CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Twitter. You can also contact Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com or Director Kali Tripp at KaliNicoleTV@gmail.com.

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The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Competition takes place April 28 in North Omaha, Nebraska.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Western Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Shelby Blundell

NEXT.. Miss Nebraska State Fair Courtney Pelland

 

Power & Voice

I am a gymnastics nut. When I left KETV, my good friend Stacey presented me a group photo of the 2016 USA Men’s Gymnastics Team with their ‘personal’ messages wishing me luck. That’s friendship, folks.

I, like so many others, have been sickened, revolted, and angered by the stories that have come to light about Larry Nasser, the former US team doctor accused of molesting more than 100 elite gymnasts, including national, world and Olympic champions. MORE THAN A HUNDRED. How does this happen???? Why did no one listen??

Everyone is listening now; each victim has been allowed to publicly address Nasser in court during his sentencing hearings. In front of packed courtrooms, with cameras sharing their secrets to every corner of the country and beyond, these brave women spoke out. Some did it through tears; some kept their eyes down and read their accounts from prepared statements. Then, Aly Raisman stood up.

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Photo courtesy Brendan McDermid/Reuters

She’s won three Olympic gold medals and served as Captain on both the 2012 and 2016 USA Olympic teams. She has since shared that for years, she was sexually assaulted by Nasser under the guise of ‘massage and medical treatment’. When she stood up to confront her abuser in court, Raisman looked him straight in the eyes, HELD that stare, and boldly stated, “Larry, you do realize now that we, this group of women, you so heartlessly abused over such a long period of time are now a force and you are nothing.”

Click here to watch Aly Raisman’s full victim-impact statement.

If you are a young woman, or a parent of a young woman, I strongly suggest you watch this. It is a powerful demonstration of bravery, grit, intelligence; a strong woman finding her voice when for so long, she was engulfed in a world of silence.

Cue Tristen.

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Photo courtesy Timmy James Photo

For nearly a decade, she kept her secret. In silence, she’d flashback to memories of strange things happening to her at just 5 years old. As a teenager, she found comfort and safe haven through her youth group pastor, finally revealing her past. Through counseling, Tristen also found the strength to share her story.

“I am currently an ambassador for DOVES, I’ve partnered with CAPWN and CAPSTONE, and I work closely with No More,” said Tristen. “I travel to area schools, elementary through college, and talk about how to be safe. I have three points that I really like to touch on when speaking to a group: how to identify if you are someone has been assaulted, what legalities survivors are entitled to, and how to be an effective bystander. These points are vital for both survivors and non-survivors to know.”

Tristen also uses social media to share alarming statistics about sexual assault, and ways we can all stay aware and step in to help.

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In 2016, Tristen started spreading her message through another program: the Miss Nebraska Organization. The Minatare, Nebraska native was crowned Miss Old West Balloon Fest 2017, then Miss Fur Trade Days 2018.

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“[This] gives us each a VOICE!” said Tristen. “Each girl has a personal platform they devote their service to. My platform, Speaking Out Against Sexual Assault, has been more influential than I could have ever hoped, all because of the continuous support I receive through this organization.”

Click here to learn more of Tristen’s story and mission, shared by Madison Elliott and KOTA-TV!

 

 

The Miss Nebraska program combined many of the elements Tristen is passionate about: as a talented vocalist, she was offered a stage to perform. As a student at Black Hills State University, she was provided thousands of dollars in cash scholarships. As a future elementary school teacher, she was given incomparable experience inside classrooms across western Nebraska, connecting with the children she hopes to someday nurture.

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“With the generous scholarships provided to every Miss Nebraska contestant, I will graduate college this December 100% debt free!” said Tristen. “My work has definitely been beneficial to my career goals. The biggest takeaway would be social skills and interactions. Public speaking is now one of my favorite things to do. Not only do we gain this valuable money to put towards our degrees, we also have countless doors open up for our careers.”

And as a woman fueled by a personal mission, Tristen has been empowered to share a powerful message, united with like-minded titleholders from across the state united to serve others.

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“Through Miss Nebraska, I have gained friendships I never would have had prior to competing,” said Tristen. “With those friendships came a huge support system full of women lifting each other up,” said Tristen. “My favorite memory at this year’s local [competition] was being backstage with the other contestants during rehearsals. During this time, I looked around and saw how each of us were working on something. Whether it was our talent, current events, or college homework, we were all involved. We are confident, talented, smart girls who dedicate ourselves to greatness. Each of as are all good at something. It’s amazing to watch us all in action, off stage as well as on stage.”

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When Aly Raisman gave her victim impact statement, she made something very clear: she is no victim. She’s a survivor.

“I have both power and voice, and I am only beginning to just use them,” she said. “All these brave women have power.”

My friend Stacey texted me that day and noted that Aly could go on to win 10 more Olympic gold medals.. and it wouldn’t be as impressive as she was in those moments of strength in court.

Tristen Wecker, Miss Fur Trade Days 2018

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

The same is true for Tristen. She is certainly a worthy candidate for the iconic title of Miss Nebraska… but crown or not, she is a model of courage, using her power and voice to inspire other survivors to come forward, while encouraging all of us to join their support system.

“Being a ‘Miss’ titleholder opens up so many doors. You get to show the world how amazing and powerful women are,” said Tristen. “My goal at Miss Nebraska is to share my platform with everyone who will listen. I want to create a domino effect of advocates. I strongly believe that even if you touch one person, they will go out and do the same.”

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To follow Miss Fur Trade Days Tristen Wecker on Facebook, click here.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT TRISTEN?

CLICK HERE * 2017 * Breaking The Silence

For more information about the Miss Chadron/Miss Fur Trade Days Pageant or for information about becoming a contestant, CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Facebook.  You can also contact Director April Grant by calling (308) 430-0479.

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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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NEXT.. Miss Chadron’s Outstanding Teen Kiera Rhodes

Up For The Challenge

What is the biggest challenge you’ve ever faced?

The fact that nothing immediately comes to my mind as a forerunner tells me I have been extremely fortunate throughout my life. I think of breakups, hiccups throughout my career(s), how do I raise happy, healthy children, and simply time management. This is all just life, right?

How about this for a challenge.. battling a chronic disease, surviving a car accident, facing your parents’ divorce, all while double majoring in college and launching your own organization.

WHAT?

Miss Harvest Moon Festival 2017 Lianna Prill

“Although I’ve experienced plenty of life obstacles, I’ve used every experience as motivation to propel me to my goals,” Lianna told me recently. “I use my sassy and positive attitude to accomplish my dreams.”

Lianna doesn’t dwell on what’s happened to her. Instead, she focuses on what she’s doing NOW. For more than five years, she’s worked nonstop to make the world a better place and to make her aspirations become reality. For example… her mission to become Miss Nebraska.

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“There is nothing I want more,” said Lianna. “When I was eight, I promised myself that once I was qualified to compete, I would give it everything I had to become the role model that I looked up to back then. This organization continues to give me a stage to perform on, a voice to share my message, an opportunity to give back to Children’s Miracle Network and a scholarship opportunity to help me graduate from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln debt free.”

Lianna was crowned Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2012, the first step in that journey to achieve her dream. It was a chance for her to sing and perform for thousands of people across the state and at the national Miss America’s Outstanding Teen competition that year.

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“I. Love. Talent.” said Lianna. “Standing on stage under bright lights and not seeing anyone in the audience allows me to truly perform for an audience of One. I believe everyone has a gift and belting out a song on the Miss Nebraska stage is how I give mine back to Him.”

But that exciting year wasn’t without challenges; around the same time Lianna finally found an answer to the crippling pain that had haunted her for years.

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“I unknowingly suffered from Celiac Disease for a decade,” said Lianna, who explains more about what that is HERE. “I needed to adhere to a strict gluten and dairy free lifestyle. It was then I realized the crucial link between diet and wellness.”

Lianna spread awareness of Celiac throughout high school, earning a D.J.’s Hero Award and a $10,000 scholarship for her efforts. She continued as a Miss Nebraska titleholder to advocate for others diagnosed or not yet diagnosed (approximately 1 in every 133 people).. but realized that her message applied to everyone, not just those facing this chronic disease.

“I wanted to make my message universal,” said Lianna. “‘Eat Well, Be Well’ focuses on healthy lifestyles full of whole foods designed for our bodies. Nutrition is a game changer and eating well makes you feel well and be well!”

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Lianna, a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, took her message even further, forming the Gluten Free Community on her campus. She’s also a busy sorority member on campus, a staff member at the Daily Nebraskan, and a student with two majors in her work towards a career in broadcast journalism.

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Her hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed; Lianna is now a finalist for the 2017 Miss Nebraska Community Service Awards, and earned the People’s Choice Award sponsored by Hirschfeld’s Prom Shoppe after earning more than 1,100 online votes from her friends, fellow students, and perhaps, strangers inspired by her story. A story and mission that once again, are all part of her lifelong dream.

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“Hey, I’m not a Barbie! I lead a healthy lifestyle, and I strive to be well-rounded,” said Lianna. “The Miss America Organization is a training ground for interviews, jobs and life. It has given me the opportunity to hone communication skills that I will use in the future and in my career, not to mention, it funded my college career and allowed me to not only attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, but double major and graduate this year. I have become the best version of myself because of the four points of the Miss America crown.”

Service. Scholarship. Style. SUCCESS.

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How do you measure success? Only if you rise about those challenges and accomplish your goals? Or do you succeed through pushing yourself further than you ever thought possible in the attempt?

Lianna Prill looks at every challenge as more motivation.

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Appearances speaking about Celiac Disease aren’t work; they are opportunities to help more and more people Eat Well and Be Well. Every time she takes the stage to sing, Lianna doesn’t think ‘what if I mess up?’ She embraces each moment and revels in it. The countless hours spent visiting schools and groups across Nebraska don’t take away from her time, they add to her resume as a future reporter and anchor.. and possibly, a future Miss Nebraska. THAT may be the biggest challenge Lianna Prill has ever faced, and she says BRING IT ON.

“I want to give back in any way I can; the Miss America Organization makes that possible,” said Lianna. “I have worked incredibly hard on my journey to Miss Nebraska this year, and I am looking forward to seeing God’s plan unravel.”

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CLICK HERE to follow Miss Harvest Moon Festival 2017 Lianna Prill, CLICK HERE to follow her on Instagram, CLICK HERE to follow her on Twitter.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT LIANNA?

CLICK HERE * 2016 * Wonder Woman

CLICK HERE * 2014 * Fueling The Journey

For more information about the Miss Alliance Pageant/Miss Harvest Moon Festival Pageant or for information about becoming a contestant, CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Facebook. You can also email Director Riki Cornish Hunter at riki.hunter@farmcoop.com or miss.alliance.pageant@gmail.com or call 308-430-4355.

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

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

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Scotts Bluff County 2017 Nikki-Catrina Anderson

NEXT.. Miss Nebraska 2016 Aleah Peters

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!

Finding Our Purpose

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

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

Every single one of us is here for a reason.

Think about that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This superhero squad has grown yet again in recent months.

Miss Gering 2017 Alayna Wilson

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

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

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She found it when crowned Miss Gering 2017 in February.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alayna Wilson hopes to follow in their footsteps.

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

CLICK HERE to learn more about Sammy’s Superheroes

CLICK HERE to learn more about the Brian Duensing Foundation

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

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

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

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

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Douglas County 2017 Kogan Murphy

NEXT.. Miss Heartland 2017 Allison Tietjen

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

Superwoman

Raise your hand if you watched Miss USA Sunday night!

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

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

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

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

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

Miss Queen City of the Plains 2017 Jaicelyn Shakespaere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m not talented enough to get that part.

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

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

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

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

YES SHE IS.

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

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

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

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

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

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Chadron 2017 Shaniah Freeseman

NEXT.. Miss Douglas County 2017 Kogan Murphy

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

2 Steps Forward and a Trip To McDonalds

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

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

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

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

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

Fixate Creamy Chicken Salad

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

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

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21 Day Fix Mexican Lasagna

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

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

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SNACK: Sweet Potato Chips

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

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Serves 4. Calories: 76. Recipe courtesy Fixate.

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

#JokeFail

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

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

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

Like Beachbody or Bust? CLICK HERE to read more!