Tara's Take: Winning Miss VA

By: Tara Wheeler
By: Tara Wheeler

What it feels like to reach a goal you've worked so hard for.

Miss Virginia week is hectic and exhausting to say the least. You're constantly rehearsing production numbers, rehearsing your talent, trying to keep up with current events for the interview, hitting the gym at the Hotel Roanoke late at night while the poor chaperons watched over you, all while making appearances around the city to promote the pageant. But if you think that's hectic, it's nothing compared to the 3,000 mile a month whirlwind schedule of Miss Virginia. So it's good training!!

As tiring as it is, it's still SO much fun. I've made some of my very best friends competing and had a blast goofing around to blow off steam, and being there to lift each other up when we got stressed and needed encouragement.

Speaking of needing encouragement: Halfway through the week, the competition begins with the interview. It's said that Miss Virginia is won or lost in that interview room and that terrified me. I could barely keep food down I was so nervous. I walked in to face the 7 judges and they fired away. I was asked questions about current events, my service platform, and plenty more. My goal was to convince the judges that, although I may not be the most talented, most fit, or most elegant, I was still the one the organization needed. I wanted to convince them that I could break the negative pageant stereotype and get a whole new crop of people excited about supporting and participating in the program. I walked out of the interview room feeling like I had done that.

....Until... I began to over-analise every little thing I had said in that interview. Suddenly what I thought was a great interview because a hot mess in my head and I was melting down. I was on the phone with my directors and parents going over every detail of the 10 minute conversation with the judges and totally working myself up. They told me they believed in me and tried their best to build my confidence back up for the on-stage portion of the competition.

Evening gown, swimsuit, talent, and on-stage question went well over the course of the next two nights of preliminary competition. My roomate, and one of my close friends, Shannon Beam, and I had bonded and were having a great time rehashing every nights events together. But inside we were both nervous. Tomorrow was Saturday... final night. The Top 11 would be announced and re-compete for the title of Miss Virginia.

There was no sense of calm for me Saturday. I was a nervous wreck. Before heading onstage, all of the contestants gathered together and I remember telling them what a privilege it was to know them all.

The Top 10 were announced and, thank goodness, I didn't have to stress long; mine was the first name called! I competed in swimsuit and then talent and evening gown... Then it was time to announce the Top 5. I was not as lucky as I was in the Top 10 announcement... 4 girl's names had been called into the Top 5 and I was still waiting. There was only one spot left and I looked down the line and saw that last year's first runner-up still hadn't been called either. But for some reason, finally, there was a calm that came over me and then they called my name as the final contestant in the Top 5.

Then it was time for the on-stage question. Ironically, it's not judged in the final night of competition, it's only a filler while the judges scores are tabulated. I was asked "what would we find if we searched your name on Google?". "hockey stats", I said... In just a few short minutes, that answer would be very different.

As I waited to hear my fate, hands clasped, with the rest of the Top 5, I still had a nice calm feeling over me. I had done the best I could and wouldn't change anything. As the girls were announced from 4th runner up to 2nd runner up, myself and Caressa Cameron were left standing.

Caressa had competed since she was 17 and had made Top 5 every year. I had only competed for a couple of years and the year before I barely made the Top 10. I was the underdog, big time. Caressa and I held hands and I repeated over and over "please God, please God, please God". I remember I could barely hear anything, it was like someone had their hands cupped over my ears, everything had a dull echo. Then, as soon as they said "your first runner-up is Miss Hanover, Caressa Cameron" the arena exploded with sound and energy.

I never thought I'd be one to cry about a crown, but this one moment changed my entire life and that produces some pretty powerful emotion. So, I cried. A lot. I was so excited, happy, grateful, and overwhelmed. Those feeling would continue to grow as the night went on.

Immediately after winning, I filmed a commercial for Miss America and then was carted off with the Miss Virginia Board Members to the Hotel Roanoke for a champagne toast in the suite in my honor. Then, it was time to head to the after-glow ball and meet everyone!

It's an overwhelming whirlwind. It's everything you've worked so hard for, but at the same time, it's very scary. I had a bit of a melt down and I remember a former Miss Virginia came up to me and told me that it was perfectly normal to have a panic attack when your life has changed forever in one moment. It made me feel better knowing all of the formers had felt the same way and they were all there for me.

After 3 hours of sleep, the next day started with morning show appearances and a special brunch where I was given a host of gifts from sponsors, such as a lap top, camera, GPS, new phone, the keys to my new car for that year and the keys to my new apartment for the year. Such exciting stuff!!! I was over my panic and ready to take on this new and important job.

After cheering on the girls in Roanoke this weekend, I am so thrilled and confident that the new Miss Virginia 2011, Elizabeth Crot will represent us proud. One indication is that Elizabeth tied for the Spirit Of Miss Virginia award, a scholarship in my name, that I present to the contestant who has worked the hardest as a local titleholder and who truly exemplifies what it means to be Miss Virginia. Her fellow contestants voted for her and Miss Lynchburg Courtney Garrett as the winners. They were the last two standing at the end of the night. Miss VA and her first runner-up. The judges got it right.

Starting now, Elizabeth will begin a schedule that will have her traveling 3,000 miles a month across the Commonwealth, speaking to over 30,000 students, raising thousands for the Children's Miracle Network, and changing others lives as she continues to grow. I think we may have another Miss America here in Virginia and I'm so proud of my new sister.

Welcome, Elizabeth, to the most exclusive sorority in the world.


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