The Road to Miss Virginia

By: Tara Wheeler
By: Tara Wheeler

It took me three tries to win the state title and make it to Miss America... here's the ups and downs of my pageant career

It took me three tries to win the state title and make it to Miss America...

And many, many more tries to even qualify to compete in the state pageant.

I decided when I was half way through college, that I wanted to add "pageant contestant" to my list of extracurricular activities... a list that already included "ice hockey goalie" and "Air Force cadet". I've never been one to comply with stereotypes.

One of the first pageants I tried, there were only 5 girls competing. They called out three runners up and a winner... and I was left standing. Yup. I came in last place. This wasn't some strutt-your-stuff-and-say-world-peace kind of event. This was tough!

At first, I competed for a chance to make it to Miss Pennsylvania. Because I went to school full time at Penn State, I was eligible to compete there as well as in Virginia. It took me at least a dozen tries before I won a local title and made it to Miss Pennsylvania. I was a deer in headlights and didn't even make the top 10... Had a great time, though!


So excited to finally win one!!!!                                  A learning experience.

The following year, I graduated from college and moved back to Virginia and competed again. I won the "Miss Blue Ridge Mountains" pageant, based out of Waynesboro, which qualified me to compete in Miss Virginia. I had a wonderful committee preparing me and was excited to make the Top 10 that year... one step closer... I could almost taste the title!

Quite a line up in the 2nd pic, that's Miss VA 07 Hannah Keifer (she would win that night), Me (Miss VA08), and Caressa Cameron (Miss VA 09... who would go on to win Miss America)

Then... the pressure was really on... I only had one more year of eligibility. The Miss America age range is from 17-24 and I was about to turn 24. I only had one more shot to win a state title. I won the Miss Arlington pageant to qualify for Miss Virginia and I could not ask for a better team. The fabulous "Arlington Mafia" team didn't just make me feel like I could win Miss Virginia... they made me feel like Miss America every day. Between them and the support of my amazing family, I was at my very best for my final year.

"The Arlington Mafia"'

But, because it was my final year... my final chance... I put an almost unbearable amount of pressure on myself. At the time, I was having trouble getting my foot in the door to start my dream career as a newscaster. I was working odd jobs, waiting tables, as a counselor in a group home, and anything else I could find. In my mind, I NEEDED to become Miss Virginia to launch myself into the life I wanted. That's a lot of pressure for a competition so subjective.

I worked my tail off and departed for Roanoke to give it one last shot.... You all know how the story ends... but I'll save that for the next blog...


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