The Real Me

Omaha Fashion Week.

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

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

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

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Thanks to Herb Thompson for the photo!

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

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I was Carrie.  I was Fashion Roadkill.

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

Here’s what I did instead..

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

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They texted me their reaction, and I smiled backstage.

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

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

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

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Thank you to Light Illusions Photography for the photo!

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

They’re right.  That’s just me.

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

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Thank you to Light Illusions Photography

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

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

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

Hopefully, on my feet.

Thank You, Kung Fu

Everything happens for a reason.

A relationship falls apart, and your heart breaks.  Then you find that one person you are truly meant to be with.

You don’t get that job you worked so hard for and had your heart set on.  Then an opportunity develops you hadn’t even envisioned as a possibility.

While trying to make people laugh at an event, you perform your best kung fu move, hit your head, go to the hospital, and learn you have inoperable cancer.

Wait.. WHAT?

That is just the BEGINNING of the story for my friend, David Wenzel.  THAT moment, a kung fu kick, led to his diagnosis.. and a roller coaster of life changing events including divorce, unplanned pregnancy, and love by accident (is there any better kind?).  His story is the stuff Hollywood is made of, and I’m so very honored he’s letting me share some of it here.

***

David and I both went to high school at Papillion-La Vista (go Monarchs!).  He was one of those rare Jack-Of-All-Trades, involved in drama, speech, mock trial and band.. but also ran cross country, played golf and baseball, and was friends with EVERYBODY.  We didn’t have a ‘class clown’ award for our senior class, but David was THAT guy who was forever the center of attention and could always make people laugh.

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Our junior year, David’s ‘status’ skyrocketed, when he was cast in Alexander Payne’s film Election, shot at our high school in 1997.  David got his own trailer, made the final cut that hit theaters and I think still gets royalty checks for like $10 from time to time.  (His ‘thumbs up’ scene with Reese Witherspoon still cracks me up!)

While many of us chose Creighton, UNO or UNL for college, David chose Cedarville University in Ohio, a school known as a top Midwest Christian school.  Faith was always important to David (he grew up in Omaha’s Christ Community Church.)  We’d all hang out together from time to time when he came back to Nebraska, but as you often do, many of us lost touch.  He got married, moved to Michigan, and life went on.

Years later, I was working with another Papio alum (and friend!) John Campbell here at KETV.  John asked, ‘have you heard about David?  He has a brain tumor.’

SHOCK.  I was engaged to my husband at the time, planning our wedding and life together, and the idea of being faced with cancer, faced with DEATH, was mind-boggling to me and terrifying.

That was NOTHING compared to what David was going through six years ago, especially, how his diagnosis came about.

“I attended an Experts Conference in San Francisco,” David told me recently.  “The conference instructed us to start every conversation with ‘what are you an expert in?’  Since I was actually an expert in training and working with other experts, my answer was quite confusing.  I gave up and started telling people I was a Kung Fu expert.  Late one night after hearing my response, a guy wanted to start a fake kung fu battle with me in the hotel lobby.  Never one to turn down an opportunity for a good laugh, I took him up on it.  He delivered a fake roundhouse kick to the head.  I quickly turned as though he hit me and struck my head on a concrete pillar.  I turned back around to laugh it off but realized I couldn’t speak.  It was my first seizure.”

David tried to shrug off what had happened, but the next morning on the final day of the conference, he suffered another seizure, much worse than the first.

“I fell to the ground shaking, then passed out,” describes David.  “I woke up as I was being loaded into the ambulance; I remember joking with the nurses and hospital staff, even tweeting about this entire crazy scenario!  After three to four scans, a doctor came into my room and told me I was diagnosed with a Grade II Oligoastrocytoma, a terminal and inoperable brain tumor.  I stopped breathing.  I remember thinking they had delivered this news to the wrong person.  I was in remarkable shape, never broke a bone, never even had a cavity.  And this (somewhat horrible) thought crossed my mind: this doesn’t happen to people like me.”

The doctor left.  A nurse sat down with David and held his hand as he cried.  For hours, he was alone, trying to process what was happening.

“I remember trying to truly ‘understand’ the idea that everything, forever, would be different,” said David.  “Knowing from that moment on, the future would forever be changed.  A few hours later I started making calls to my wife and family.  It was rough.  Just tears after tears after tears.”

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John and I, and many of David’s old friends back in Nebraska, followed what happened next on his blog, Jump David Jump.  I don’t know if it was from his amazing PLHS English teacher Mary Birky or from countless hours listening to the Dave Matthews Band on repeat, but David has always had a way with words, and sharing his own story was no different.  Clearly we weren’t alone in following his journey; David soon started receiving invitations to speak at universities, churches and conferences.  People wanted to hear about his treatment, taking an all-natural approach to beat cancer rather than trying conventional measures (read more here.)  They wanted to hear the crazy story about his diagnosis. Simply, as I’ve written before, people want to be inspired.

“This was the first moment in my life when I was positive that I had a unique story to tell, was given opportunities to tell it, and was receiving messages that people’s lives were being changed because of it.  At this point, I was in full appreciation for the life that I had been given,” said David.  “Everyone was so supportive, but over time my (at that time) wife had issues with me continually sharing [my story].”

The couple tried a new church, a place where David grew uncomfortable after a few months.  He wanted to leave, she wanted to stay.  Eventually, the two divorced.

Everything happens for a reason.  Try telling that to a young man with cancer, recently divorced, who just years earlier was healthy, happy and had the world at his fingertips.  Adding to it, David didn’t know anyone else who’d been through a divorce.. until he met Lori.

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Photo courtesy The Awesome Mitten

The Chicago native moved to Grand Rapids for college, then opened The Sparrows coffee shop, which became one of David’s favorite spots for coffee.  The two met when Lori asked for writing help for her non-profit group, and their friendship blossomed after-hours, comparing stories about issues in their respective relationships.  Doctors had told Lori she couldn’t have children.

David proved that theory wrong.

“My first and only one-night stand,” said David.  “One night, one baby.”

Lori became pregnant; the two friends had only known each other for about a year.

“I was in shock.  Like, actual shock.  I couldn’t believe it,” said David.  “I was so afraid that the goodwill I’d built up around me would all come crashing down.  But I experienced so much love from my friends and family.  I couldn’t believe how well everyone handled it.”

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May 15, 2014, Marian Wenzel entered the world.

“Marian has two meanings: ‘bitter’ and ‘long-awaited child’,” explains David.  “So to each of us, she was that.  She was a complete surprise, and in many ways, a bitter one.  But in the end, she was the best surprise possible, our long-awaited child.  I suppose we just had to live some life and make a few mistakes before she could join us as the miracle of all miracles.”

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A MIRACLE, not a mistake, as David says God proved just a few months later.  Lori, who thought she was incapable of having children, became pregnant again.

“Lori and I had determined that God knows what is going on.  If I was on death’s door, he wouldn’t get Lori pregnant again,” said David.  “She walked onto the front porch where I was enjoying a beer and grinned as she showed me the positive pregnancy test.  My response this time was quite different from the first.  We were so happy.  Apparently, Lori and I are quite fertile people.”

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May 15, 2015, one year later TO THE DAY, Lori delivered Viola Wenzel at the couple’s home.  Irish twins.

Note what I wrote there.. the couple.  Between baby girls, David and Lori made a big decision.

“I realized that Lori had become my best friend,” said David.  “It took a few months of complete shock before I dug myself out of my past to realize that I honestly loved her.  And since then, she has become my beautiful constant.  She’s my center pole in my tetherball version of life.”

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The two married, at The Sparrows, just before Christmas.

I wish I could just type HAPPILY EVER AFTER, and leave David’s story at that.  But thinking back to when he married Lori jars another memory.. David being rushed to the hospital in the weeks before his wedding.  In the midst of such an incredible story, remember, David has terminal cancer.  He had made it six years, keeping a high quality of life through alternative treatments.. but also suffered seizures so bad that by December, he became unable to drive.

In September, when Marian was just four months old, David’s doctor told him his brain tumor was still growing, and without conventional treatments, he had possibly two years to live.  If he pursued chemotherapy and radiation through the Proton Therapy being advised, there was a 50% chance he’d have ten more years.

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David began treatment in March.  He lost a lot of weight, his hair, and at times, even memories embedded in his heart like his daughter’s name. Hopefully, he gained TIME.  Time to post the CUTEST pictures of his sweet girls together, all three of them.  Time to share that witty sense of humor with the world, as he always has. Time to continue to pursue his passion to write, contributing to and ghostwriting several books, and now… his own.  David is currently raising money through Kickstarter to fund his own book: Thank You Kung-Fu.  

“I have learned, first hand, that in all the messiness and disorder and pain and anger and hopelessness, there is a God.  And what God originates, He orchestrates,” said David.  “I know I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can share my story of how three miserable things happened in my life and through each of them, God has been quietly leading me towards where I am right now.  And I can honestly say, my life has never been better.”

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Photo courtesy Jon Melton

As of today, David’s supporters have donated about $34,000; a recent event through Failure Lab raised $8,000 in one night alone.

CANCER SUCKS, guys, it just does.  This terrible, horrific disease steals away fathers, friends, mothers, wives.. it is cruel and mean and blind to who it attacks.. people that the world NEEDS, people who are innocent and undeserving of this terrible fight they’ve been dealt.  I wish I could Kung-Fu cancer.

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Photo of David & Lori courtesy Jill Devries Photography

David Wenzel is trying, directly and indirectly.  He’s fighting his own battle for himself, his wife, and his beautiful, baby girls.  He’s also sharing his story to help others fight.. maybe against cancer, maybe against other demons.  I will NEVER justify cancer, but David Wenzel is living proof everything happens for a reason.

Note.. LIVING proof.

With that, I leave you with two final messages.  From me, maybe you don’t believe in fate.  Maybe you don’t believe in God.  Whatever you believe in, find HOPE in something.  Search for whatever makes you happy and gives you strength, and JUST DO IT.  In the end, who knows how much time any of us has?

David certainly doesn’t know.  But he’s still making people laugh, still the center of attention, and very much so, living life to the fullest.  He leaves you with this.

“I have no idea what you are going through, but I am positive there is a God who knows.  He has not forgotten you.  He knows you and loves you and wants you to know you are not alone.”

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Photo courtesy Gorilla

To learn more about David Wenzel and his memoir, Thank you Kung-Fu, click here to visit his Kickstarter fundraising site, active through July 25.  As of this post, David was approximately $6,000 from his fundraising goal.

David invites you to click here and visit his blog, Jump David Jump, to follow his journey.  You can also click here to learn more about his work with Robin Hood Ink.

This Is How A Heart Breaks

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

WHY.

What if there IS NO why.

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

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

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

WHY.

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

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

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

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

WHY.

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

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

I know you found love.

**

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

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

ROAR

Well, HELLO!!!!! Long time no post! As always, THANK YOU for reading the blog!

I have been ‘off the grid’ for most of the month of June.  Vacation, time with family, heaven at home.

IT HAS BEEN FABULOUS!

Sometimes you just need to take a deep breath, step back, close your eyes and BE.  I feel refreshed, rejuvenated, and reminded of who I am.  GO OFF THE GRID! IT’S GREAT!  Even if just for a few days.

Before my amazing time at home with the three men in my life (four, if you count our dog, Mack), my hiatus began with a long awaited trip to North Platte, Nebraska.

MISS NEBRASKA 2015.

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Photo courtesy of Corbey Dorsey for the North Platte Telegraph; click here to read the NPT’s wonderful article on Alyssa by reporter Kamie Stephen!

After seven days of rehearsals and events, four days of nerve-wracking competition, a lot of laughs and some tears, too.. Miss Douglas County Alyssa Howell was crowned Miss Nebraska 2015.  What an INCREDIBLE moment to cap off a wonderful week for this caring, young woman.  Alyssa has dedicated so much of her time to others.  She is sweet, kind, hard working and focused.  For five years, she also watched her big sister compete at both the Miss Iowa and Miss Nebraska pageant, finishing as a finalist multiple times.

THIS MOMENT WAS ALL ALYSSA.  SHE WILL NOW FOREVER BE MISS NEBRASKA.

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So many cool moments; the kids who just LOVED Alyssa, including her Little Sisters who took part in all of the Miss Nebraska events at her side, and the little boy who not only wanted one kiss, he circled around for a second.  Alyssa’s real boyfriend, Grady, and his excitement and sheer pride every moment leading up to his girl’s crowning moment.  Shrieks of joy between Alyssa and the new Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2015 Steffany Lien; the two have been Miss Douglas County sisters for months, now they are going to Miss America together.  And the heartwarming friendship and bond between Alyssa and her sister queen Miss Omaha Megan Gould, supporting each other from Omaha to North Platte and still to this day.

But.. I’m going to throw this out there.. was Alyssa ‘the best’?

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How do you choose which flower is ‘the best’ in the garden?  Which city is ‘the best’ in our state?  Which art, whether it be singing or dancing or playing piano, is ‘the best’?  Alyssa will be a FANTASTIC Miss Nebraska and I cannot WAIT to see how far she’ll go at Miss America.  This is Alyssa’s time; this is the result of her hard work; this recognizes an exceptional young woman, helping her to inspire so many more; and five smart, talented, and critical judges determined Alyssa Howell was the best candidate for this job as Miss Nebraska 2015.

The best of the best, you might say.. because HOLY CRAP, did this event showcase some absolutely incredible women in our state.

4th Runner Up, Miss Northwest LaRissa McKean

JOYFUL.  LaRissa McKean radiated happiness, and made everyone in the Miss Nebraska audience feel it.  She also shared that positivity with her fellow contestants, voted Miss Congeniality by the majority of the other titleholders.  LaRissa CAPTIVATED the audience Thursday night, winning the Preliminary Talent Award with an energetic and dazzling dance (another Kitty Lee Dance graduate!)  As I told one of my friends during finals night, she JUST MAKES ME SMILE.  What a better role model than that?

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3rd Runner Up, Miss Heartland Steffani Jiroux

BREATHTAKING.  I love watching dance, but don’t know much about it (and hurt myself trying.) I know even less about ballet, but I LOVE the costumes, the makeup, the SHOW.  And boy, oh boy, did Steffani Jiroux deliver.

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Just stop and look at this picture for a second.. (and thanks to Kamie Stephen and the North Platte Telegraph for sharing it!)

It was like watching a scene from a movie. Steffani also seemed to enjoy herself every moment; smiling nonstop, walking across that stage like she OWNED it, twirling around her Little Sisters like they were just dancing in the living room and not competing for the title of Miss Nebraska.  What’s next for Steffani? Continuing LAW SCHOOL at Creighton University.

2nd Runner Up, Miss Kool-Aid Days Brooke Ludemann

SENSATIONAL.  Miss Nebraska and Miss America challenge a woman to become the best version of herself in all areas, and Brooke Ludemann pushed herself to the max in every. single. test.  Her gown made me gasp (in a good way!); her answers showed evidence of a woman with a business plan as Miss Nebraska; her physical self was a demonstration of what our bodies can become with hard work and discipline, and her talent.. I have no words.  On the final night of competition, with everything on the line, Brooke’s performance singing ‘Bring Him Home’ from Les Miserables game me CHILLS.  Brooke won 2nd place for the Miss Nebraska Community Service Award, and she will be Nebraska’s representative at the National Sweetheart Pageant this summer.

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1st Runner Up, Miss Kearney Crane Festival Allison Tietjen

JAW DROPPING.  Every time Allison Tietjen walked on stage, my eyes were just DRAWN to her.  (In a completely uncreepy way, regardless of how that sounds…) She is the model of poise, grace, and beauty.  Allison could’ve walked right off the Miss Nebraska stage onto Hollywood’s red carpet and fit right in. BUT, what I love is that Allison knows, and SHOWS, this program’s power and purpose extends long beyond Miss Nebraska week.  Allison’s work promoting awareness of our veterans earned her the Miss Nebraska Community Service Award and the Miss America Community Service Award; she also earned the Miracle Maker Award for raising more than $1300 for the Children’s Miracle Network, helping hospitals like Omaha’s Children’s Hospital and Medical Center.  Oh yea, and Allison JUST TURNED 19 in April.  Truly exceptional.

I would argue not one of these women is ‘better’ than the other; each is SENSATIONAL.  They each prepared, volunteered, practiced.. hoping THIS was their year, and their time.  It was only destiny for one–and Alyssa is FABULOUS.  But this is why you see so many girls try again for the crown.. and thank the Lord for that, because they are all deserving, INCREDIBLE women, and bringing them together to recognize them and their accomplishments is uplifting and inspiring to everyone who can be part of it.  WE ARE WOMEN, HEAR US ROAR!!!!

***

Now to the moment I know you all have been waiting for…

The 2nd Annual Brandi Petersen Unofficial Superfan Awards!

( ahem… I’ll wait for your laughter to die down before I proceed..)

The ‘My Life Goal Is To Look Like Carrie Underwood’ Awards…

Again.. the work and service that take place the other 364 days of the year are arguably the most important part of the Miss America Organization.. but I LOVE LOVE LOVE the gowns!!  C’mon.. from dreaming of your wedding gown, to picking out prom dresses, to playing dress up as a little girl, who DOESN’T love beautiful dresses?!? 2015 was simply a RAINBOW of color on the Miss Nebraska stage, and THAT alone made it awesome.  So much diversity; different colors, styles, fits.. and so much elegance!

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Remember how I said Miss Kool-Aid Days Brooke Ludemann’s gown made me gasp?  GASP!!!  OHHH.. this dress.. this moment.. absolutely INCREDIBLE. (Details: Tarik Ediz gown from the Black Swan Dress Boutique in Lincoln)

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Miss Kearney Crane Festival Allison Tietjen.. ANOTHER gown that stole my breath.  Just STUNNING.  (Details: custom Sherri Hill gown from the Winning Crown Boutique in Omaha)

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And boy, those Kearney Crane Festival Directors KNOW THEIR STYLE.. because Miss Kearney Crane Festival’s Outstanding Teen was possibly MY FAVORITE gown of the weekend!  There was just something so very special about Merrilee Prill when she walked on stage in this dress.  The color, the style, HOW she wore it.  I LOVED IT. ( Details: Jovani Fashions gown from the Black Swan Dress Boutique in Lincoln–thanks to owner Joe Bohac for the photo!)

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Miss Northwest’s Outstanding Teen Cherokee Purviance.. what a GORGEOUS choice for her gown!  On stage, this color and the sparkle were just RADIANT.  (Details: a Mac Duggal gown from Hirschfeld’s Prom Shoppe in North Platte–thanks to them for the photo!)

The ‘Holy Crap, Petersen, Put Down That Blizzard’ Awards..

I’d like to show you my reaction to this year’s Miss contestants competing in swimsuit.

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My thanks to Taylor Swift for the assist.

ABSOLUTELY SENSATIONAL.  This year EXEMPLIFIED that Lifestyle and Fitness is just that–this competition is intended to encourage women to treat their bodies like temples and reach their full physical potential.  AND THESE WOMEN DID.  Abs, biceps, quads for days. This wasn’t about starving, or being the skinniest.  You could SEE their work; the time they spent in the gym and the time they DIDN’T spend at their local fast food spot.

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Miss Omaha Megan Gould was my winner for swimsuit.  I know this girl puts in countless hours of dance and practice as a Nebraska Cornhusker cheerleader, and WOW-did that hard work show!!  Plus Megan was just SOO confident, not conceited in the least, just wonderfully comfortable in her own skin.  You go, Megan!

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Miss Heartland Steffani Jiroux.  This is her profile picture now on Facebook (taken by Kamie Stephen for the North Platte Telegraph), and to me, that’s using restraint.  If I looked like this, I’d make a cardboard cutout of myself to greet people at my front door.  THIS is what happens with 20 years of ballet training and several more as a member of the Creighton University dance team!

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Miss Kearney Crane Festival Allison Tietjen was the Overall Swimsuit Winner at Miss Nebraska this year, and here’s why!  Another absolutely radiant moment in red for the UNL sophomore, and in case you’re wondering, she’s a piano player.. so what you see is the result of sheer hours in the gym and dedication to nutrition!

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And Miss Kool-Aid Days Brooke Ludemann.  Just.. WOW.  MUSCLE ON MUSCLE WITH MUSCLE.  When I messaged Brooke about using this photo, she responded ‘I’m darn proud of those photos!’  AS SHE SHOULD BE!! AH-MAZ-ING!!

STRENGTH, POWER, HEALTH. Are you listening, America? I just read this morning there are more clinically obese people in our country than simply overweight Americans.  Heart disease remains a leading killer.  These women exercised and ate healthy with consistency and self discipline for months, and likely formed a foundation to continue to do so to some extent.  Long after that 10 second walk across stage in a swimsuit, their health is improved, their confidence is boosted, and they’ve empowered and inspired many others. (I’M AT THE TOP OF THAT LIST!) Ladies, you should be so very proud of yourselves.

The Nebraska’s Got Talent Awards..

MY WINNERS FOR TALENT: THIS YEAR’S MISS NEBRASKA’S OUTSTANDING TEEN CONTESTANTS.

BLOWN AWAY.

First of all, CONGRATULATIONS to the other young woman who wrapped up this weekend in North Platte with a state title..

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Miss Douglas County’s Outstanding Teen Steffany Lien is now Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2015!  (A 3-peat for Omaha titleholders!)  While Steffany shined all night at the competition, SHE OWNED talent.  America, watch out; when this girl competes for the national title in Orlando this July, she will STUN YOU!

CLICK HERE to see a preview, showing Steffany competing at the World Championships in Italy in April, winning her SIXTH world title.

Steffany does things with a baton that challenge the Laws of Gravity and Physics.  Not only have I never seen her drop a baton in competition, I’ve never seen the girl even ‘almost’ drop one in rehearsal.  She is SENSATIONAL!

Nebraska’s 10th Outstanding Teen was one of several incredibly talented young teenagers who competed in North Platte this year.  Piano players, singers, dancers.. these girls are so young they can’t vote, but they knocked the socks off everyone in the audience Friday night.

Among my favorites (along with Steffany, of course!)..

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..singer Emma Kate Brown, Miss Platte Valley’s Outstanding Teen.  There’s a reason why little girls love her.. because someday she will be the voice of a princess in a Disney movie.  That’s how I described her voice to my husband.  Emma Kate sang ‘Tonight’ from West Side Story and her innate vocal talent is just BEAUTIFUL.  I’m calling it now.. the next animated blockbuster you take your kids to, you will likely hear Emma Kate in the soundtrack! (And a huge CONGRATULATIONS to this beauty as well!  Less than two weeks after being named 2nd Runner Up at Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen, the Elkhorn South student was also named Nebraska’s Best High School Actress, winning an all-expenses paid trip to New York to compete for the National Award!!)

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Grace Heggem, Miss Scotts Bluff County’s Outstanding Teen, was dazzling from start to finish.  She played Tarantella on the piano, her fingers dancing across the keys at the speed of light, and she NAILED it.  Much like ballet, I know nothing about piano, but I can hear a bad note… and I didn’t hear one off-key when Grace performed.  Incredible!

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Emma Keifer, Miss Gering’s Outstanding Teen, was just a joy to watch.  I felt like I was watching an act from So You Think You Can Dance (and you all know what a freak I am about that show!!) Emma tapped.. up and down STAIRS.  Her energy was just OFF THE CHARTS.  Emma, you would’ve made Nigel proud!

And finally, though she wasn’t competing for a title, this performance was MY FAVORITE TALENT PERFORMANCE OF THE WEEK..

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THE WATER CUPS DANCE.  Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2014 Morgan Holen, performing the same dance her mother Jodi did as Miss Nebraska 1988 at the Miss America pageant that year.  Balancing three cups of water on her hands and forehead, Morgan bent backward, forward, down into splits, up from splits… all without spilling a drop.  You could’ve heard a PIN drop in the auditorium, as hundreds of us collectively held our breath through this performance.  ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE..  just like Morgan.  Many of us shed tears as she took her final walk as our state titleholder.. mine started to fall as her proud daddy, Brad, handed her a bouquet of flowers at the bottom of the Miss Nebraska stage.  The sky is the limit for this young woman–you WILL see her again.

The Brittany Jeffers Awards for Super Awesomeness

We all have someone we just ADMIRE.. their style, their confidence, just because THEY ARE AWESOME.  Some of mine: one of my best friends Jenni Rohacik who always looks so good she could host E!, my neighbor Brittni Madden who can take a picture off Pinterest and make a project look like it cost thousands of dollars.. and my fellow anchor/reporter/forever Miss Omaha Brittany Jeffers-Hannema, who I swear is fabulous, in every way possible, 24/7.  (And now that I’ve declared my obsession with these ladies.. they may all be working on protection orders..) THESE GIRLS ARE JUST AWESOME!  Brittany gets the award named after her because she had to work rather than attend the Miss Nebraska pageant this year.. she may have been on air in Oklahoma, but her heart was in North Platte!

Two young ladies made a huge impression on me this year.. two teens who I didn’t know prior to this year’s pageant.

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Shelby Blundell, Miss Chadron’s Outstanding Teen, was the youngest and tiniest of ALL of this year’s contestants, Miss and Teen.  She was also Contestant #1 in the competition, a tough draw; you set the bar for the judges, you are the first contestant both that panel and the audience will see.  Shelby rose to the challenge, nailing her song in talent, and impressing the hell out of me during her on stage question.  Shelby was asked a very tough question, whether LGBTQ issues should be discussed at school in the classroom or in group/activity settings, or if those topics are best left for family and group discussion outside of school.  Without hesitation, tiny Shelby answered confidently and quickly, sharing her opinions without pause.  That’s a tough issue for politicians and public leaders to address, and often we see adults avoiding giving a clear answer.  This young woman tackled the issue head on, and agree with her or not, it was refreshing to see such a young person stand tall and share her opinion.

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I was also SO very impressed with Allison Baird, Miss Western Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.  For the second year in a row, Allison was named 1st Runner Up in the teen competition.  I’ve touched on this before.. as exhilarating as it is to hear your name called as a new titleholder.. it is incredibly disappointing when all of that work does not result in that win.  Allison’s now been through that twice.. coming ever so close both times.  BUT.. the moment that curtain closed after Steffany was crowned, when the spotlights were off and no one was watching her (except me, the nosy emcee/reporter backstage), Allison was the first one to smile and hug Steffany.  She was also the first to hug Morgan last year–and not just the cordial ‘arm around her, pat pat pat’ hug.. but a genuine embrace, wishing a friend well.  It’s the moments you think no one is looking when your true character is revealed.  Allison Baird is an exceptional young lady.  A gorgeous voice.  Mature and smart.  Beautiful.  And in those moments, when I can only imagine how her heart was breaking, she showed class and selflessness, to celebrate Steffany’s moment.  That’s something you don’t often see in adults, let alone a young woman just entering her senior year of high school.  Again, these competitions are not about choosing ‘who is the best’, but who is right for the position at that exact moment in time.  YOU ARE A WINNER, ALLISON.. your future is so very bright.

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So did you pick up on that ’emcee/reporter’ note?  I had the GREAT honor of co-emceeing this year’s Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen pageant with this beauty, my final Awesomeness Award Winner, Jessica States!  A) She can sing REALLY well  B) She’s a born leader, holding a respected position with Junior Achievement of Lincoln  C) She was THE FIRST Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen in 2005!

AND, she was SUCH A GREAT co-host!!!  We had such a terrific time, and I hope the audience did, too!  (And thank you to Joe Bohac and the Black Swan Dress Boutique for providing our gorgeous gowns for the evening!)

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#MNOT2015.  Trending.

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What a terrific, empowering week of incredible women and the people who support them.

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I enjoyed every single moment, and CAN’T WAIT until next year to do it all over again!  AND, I NEED to mention what these girls took away from Miss Nebraska (in addition to their own memories..)

MORE THAN $42,800 IN CASH AWARDS

AND MORE THAN $400,455 IN OFFERED COLLEGE SCHOLARSHIPS.

But hey, it’s just a silly scholarship pageant, right?

***

One final message to wrap up this post, and this year’s 2015 Miss Nebraska series..

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I was SO very honored and humbled to receive this year’s Miss Nebraska Volunteer of the Year Award.

THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU to all of you who have read these blogs and offered your congratulations.  I’m still mystified and elated that so many people check in to read my work, and to receive such an incredible honor for it is just a thrill.  THANK YOU.

To all 24 of the young ladies who competed in North Platte, YOU EMPOWER ME. You are the future of our state, and our country, and that makes me so very proud.  CONGRATULATIONS Alyssa, Steffany, and every young woman taking a chance to set an example, be a role model, and to just SPARKLE.

No matter what you do next, crown or not, go out into the world and continue to ROAR.

***

 Click here to learn more about the Miss Nebraska Organization, and the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant.  You can also visit Miss Nebraska on Facebook, follow the pageant on Twitter, and follow the pageant on Instagram.

To read more about the Miss Nebraska, and Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Class of 2014, click on the ‘There She Is’ link at the top of the page.

We Are Nebraska

Who is Miss Nebraska?

I’m not just asking who is the current Miss Nebraska, but who is this person who travels the state wearing a crown and sash?  Who is the woman who goes on TV every year and represents all of us at Miss America?  Is there even one all encompassing definition of this person we call Miss Nebraska?

Click here and see the incredible compilation of Miss Nebraskas through the years.

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Miss Nebraska 1962 Mary Lee Jepsen was the first to crack the Top 10 at Miss America, twirling three fire batons; she went on to earn four college degrees, two of them Masters’ and one of them a Post-Masters, focusing on psychology and family counseling.

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Miss Nebraska 2002 Krista Knicely survived a horrific attack and assault before she was crowned; she used her time as Miss Douglas County and then Miss Nebraska to bravely share her story and inspire other victims of sexual assault attempts or attacks across the country.

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Miss Nebraska 2006 Molly McGrath traveled 30,000 across the state talking about financial literacy and economic education, has worked with both the Federal Reserve and in the private sector on multi-million dollar projects.

Such different stories during and after their time as Miss Nebraska, yet they all share a common bond, along with this young woman.

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MISS NEBRASKA 2014 MEGAN SWANSON

(Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography)

“I’m a tall girl with an even bigger heart,” Megan told me recently.  “The job of Miss Nebraska is so much more than what you look like, but rather is about the utterance of your heart by the words you speak and the message you believe in.”

THIS Miss Nebraska isn’t kidding about being tall, she’s 6 feet without heels.  That kind of altitude is common place in the Swanson household, but just short of legendary everywhere else.

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Megan eye to eye with her family.. and *slightly* taller than her pageant sister, Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2014 Morgan Holen

Megan wants people to remember more than that; she wants to be seen as the best possible candidate for serving her state.  That has been her intention from the beginning; click here to read my first interview with Megan during her time as Miss Douglas County.

“Nebraska is my home, my love, and my heart,” said Megan.  “It’s land, it’s people, it’s message, it’s feel.  While passionate about the nation, I believe this year I was supposed to make a visible impact on the state of Nebraska, and I believe I did so.  This year as Miss Nebraska, I put over 25,000 miles on my Miss Nebraska car, spoke to over 10,000 students alone, and really believe our residents would associate my name and platform in about 2 seconds.  THAT was what my goal was: for people to think Megan Swanson, Miss Nebraska 2014, and think: ‘Oh, yeah!  She’s genuine, she cares about people in a real way (not for show, not because she has to), and she’s a fitness/health/wellness buff.  Total Body Wellness: Spirit, Soul, and Body is her platform, AND she’s really tall!”

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“I’ve spent many a surprising time with tears slowly falling down my face at the testimonies from this year,” said Megan.  “You see, to me.. it was never about ‘my message’, despite being 328479384% passionate about it.  It’s about the people, your audience.  Why go into a school, auditorium, arena, business luncheon, or conference and speak about the same topic over and over that has no way of relating to people?  I made it my mission to write the framework and research the heck out of all facets of my program, and then make sure I became an expert in each area.”

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Megan has also shared each facet of her program on social media.  Using Miss Nebraska 2014 Facebook page (now nearing 1,350 followers), and Instagram (with more than 4,500 followers) Megan posts scripture, diet and workout tips and simply inspiring thoughts, along with a steady stream of photos showcasing her ‘days in the life’ of Miss Nebraska.

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‘{BE ENCOURAGED!} I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance. I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come. God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church. And the church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself. (Ephesians 1:16-23 NLT)’

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‘Mar 7, 2014 | {4 hours of sleep} + [5 games (hours) of reffereeing 5th grade boys bball at 8:30am] + {1 small nap} + [my amazing cousins engagement party] = In Bed By 10:45pm and Miss Night Owl is now Miss Sleepy Nebraska 2014.’

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‘Day 9 is all about Abs, Abs, Abs!!! And are made in the kitchen folks! Your hormones and adrenal glands also have a lot to do with storage of fat around your middle section- here are a few quick bullet points to help! As always, if you have questions feel free to DM me!’

Megan has also secured sponsorships during her year as Miss Nebraska with private companies including Deep South Pout clothing, Envy Tans By Tammy, Max Muscle, Meal Solutions, and Smart Girl Style.  More so, she’s expanded and further solidified Miss Nebraska’s reach; in politics, visiting the state legislature, meeting Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts, and singing the national anthem before a major Republican party event this spring.

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Megan has also appeared on television news across the state, participated in radio interviews, and has taken part in numerous fundraisers and events across the state, often with hundreds or thousands in attendance.  She’ll perform for one of her biggest crowds yet in just weeks, singing the national anthem for 30,000+ at the College World Series.  Click here to listen to her audition!

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CLICK HERE TO SEE KETV’S STORY WITH MEGAN, SEPTEMBER 2014

CLICK HERE TO READ MY FEATURE ON MEGAN & MISS IOWA ALY OLSON BEFORE MISS AMERICA

CLICK HERE TO READ ONE OF MEGAN’S FIRST INTERVIEWS, WITH KETV, AFTER WINNING MISS NEBRASKA

Still, Megan wanted more.  She told me several times leading up to Miss America she intended to win; her experience was no doubt memorable, but not all positive. An unflattering camera angle of Megan, seated behind ABC’s Miss America host, made national headlines.  Megan’s post on Facebook shortly after, ‘liked’ more than 400 times, spoke VOLUMES about her character and confidence.

‘Despite all the explosion of media recently- there are apparently pictures of me in a swimsuit even I didn’t even know existed! Hilariously, these show clearly more than the one accidental second caught on national television! Haha. To everyone- I have laughed about this and moved on! I am a strong woman of character, and confident in who I truly am and where I am going! I guess I am also quite definitely a true basketball player at heart and forgot for a second that I wasn’t on the bench ready for coach to tell me to get in the game! (Lesson learned…) obviously- this In no way means I am anything less than a person of extremely high moral standards. If you know me, you know that. Here’s to the future aiming to be the best Miss Nebraska yet! God can turn any situation for good, and hey- I’m excited to see how even this ends up being an outlet for my TRUE message: helping people to love, accept, grow, and transform themselves through the eyes of wellness education from the inside out! Spirit, Soul, and Body! I have even MORE of a reason now to advocate for my cause! #missnebraska#missnebraska14 #lifestyleandfitness #fitness #laugh#teammegan #tbw #wellness #missne

“I choose to BE overcome by a circumstance, or take it by the horns and OWN it, overcome IT myself,” Megan told me.  She remains focused on her positive take-aways from Miss America.

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“It was so amazing to get to sing on the Miss America stage, and it’s a time I’ll never forget,” said Megan.  “I am so blessed to have a network of 52 sisters that I bonded with at Miss America and still talk to literally every, single day.  We’re go-getters, we don’t take no for an answer, and we work for every dream in our hearts.  Watch out, world!  In ten years, we will have conquered wherever we land.  The CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies, beautiful, intelligent, confident women broadcasting on television or ESPN, future famous musicians, teachers, educators, Super-Moms, and leaders alike, will be women who competed.”

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How do you measure a year? How do you define Miss Nebraska?

“This job has abundantly transformed my life for the better this year, and most importantly, grown ME as a young woman,” said Megan.  “I’m honored that every, single day, I woke up with the responsibility of being a role model for people of every age, gender, background, status, and walk of life and I don’t take it lightly.  It’s exactly that: a responsibility.  It’s my duty and my job.”

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Megan Swanson’s chapter in the History of Miss Nebraska will end this Saturday night, as she passes her crown on to a woman who was in her place one year ago.  She will return to Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, to pursue her Commercial Voice Major.  Megan will continue to write and produce music, and pursue her family ministry through their church and via their new website (click here to check out We Are Swanson).

“Knowing who we are is the foundation of everything we become,” said Megan.  “I believe any role model must first know who they are and where they’re going, or they can’t lead!  I think that’s what makes me different.  My laser focus in on not just speaking for 30 minutes or an hour, but leaving a lasting impact, creating new leaders, helping people change their path and start walking towards the person they were created to be; first recognizing what makes them special, and then operating in those gifts.”

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(Photo courtesy Midwest Photo Pro)

  “When I go to schools, I get to look students in the eyes and genuinely convince them that all things are possible.  All future hopes and wishes are possible,” said Megan.  “Through hard work, trust, a stubborn perseverance and faith, God blossomed this caterpillar into a beautiful, young lady butterfly.  Confident. Strong. Firm in her goals and identity and ready to take on the world.  What’s holding you back?  What excuse are you taking as truth?  Run. Run towards your dream every day.  Because even if you’re at 0, and your goal is at 100, 1 + 1+ 1 eventually = 100.”

Follow Miss Nebraska 2014 Megan Swanson

on Facebook, on Twitter, and on Instagram

Click here to read a special profile on Megan and ‘predictions’ for the Class of 2015 from the nationally popular Pageant Junkies!

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

***

PREVIOUS.. Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2014 Morgan Holen

THANK YOU, SINCERELY, FOR FOLLOWING THIS YEAR’S SERIES ON THE 2015 MISS NEBRASKA AND MISS NEBRASKA’S OUTSTANDING TEEN CONTESTANTS!

GOOD LUCK, LADIES!!!

Click here for my recap of the 2015 Miss Nebraska & Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant

To read more about the Miss Nebraska Class of 2014, click on the ‘There She Is’ link at the top of the page.

Defining Outstanding

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

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MISS NEBRASKA’S OUTSTANDING TEEN 2014 MORGAN HOLEN

(Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography)

This is my 4th blog post I’ve written about Morgan.  I’m not a creeper (at least in this case), she’s just that incredible.  Beauty inspiring nationally renowned photographer Jenn Cady to invite Morgan to South Carolina for a premiere fashion show and photo shoot.

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Talent and a gift for dance that earned Morgan a state championship this year with Elkhorn South High, the dance award at Miss America’s Outstanding Teen, and acceptance and scholarship into the American Musical and Dramatic Academy and Dance Program.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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KETV: Omaha Teen Crowned Among Best In Country

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(Photo courtesy of The Mullers)

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

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

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

And I think Morgan’s own words confirm that:

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

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(Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography)

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

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

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

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

NEXT.. Miss Nebraska 2014 Megan Swanson

To read more about the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Class of 2014, click on the ‘There She Is’ link at the top of the page.

Sister, Sister

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

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

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

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

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MISS KEARNEY CRANE FESTIVAL’S OUTSTANDING TEEN 2015 MERRILEE PRILL

(Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To read more about the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Class of 2014, click on the ‘There She Is’ link at the top of the page.