You won the title of Miss Teen Texas Intl 2016. What does it entail? What inspired you to walk on the course of beauty pageants?
My year as Miss Texas Teen Intl was absolutely amazing! It is a platform based program and I had been a partner player for Special Olympics for over a year at that point, and had developed a huge passion for volunteering and making a difference. I was able to use my platform, Breaking Barriers Through Sports, which is now officially a nonprofit cooperation, to help level the playing field for individuals with intellectual and financial disadvantages and promote inclusion across the state.
I worked with the Make a Wish foundation to help a terminally ill little boy realize his dream of meeting his favorite pro soccer player and attending his first MLS game with sideline viewing and a locker room visit. I also attended Special Olympics games, practices, dinners and other events, and was able to speak to and encourage the athletes to always believe in themselves and to never give up. I worked with Carry the Load as an event volunteer and aided and cheered on disabled veterans who wanted to “carry the load” for others. I also worked with the American Heart Association, Best Buddies, The Rise School, NFL Play 60, among other charitable organizations.
Tell me something about yourself and your work. What do you actually do, and have done in the past?
Currently a full time student at Southern Methodist University, I also enjoy working as a part time spokes model, print model, and blogger. I am a brand ambassador for NFL Women’s Apparel and have appeared in print ads in Teen Vogue, Seventeen, Sports Illustrated, Elle, Glamour and Girl’s Life. I recently launched my own website, GraceImagined.ME, a lifestyle blog focused on fitness, fashion and serving others.
Social media seem to play a major role in pageantry nowadays. Do you think this is advantageous to you? Why or why not?
Social media is a wonderful tool for reaching the masses with important information or messages. I think it’s important to all of us and we need to be using it to make the world a better place by promoting ways that people can speak up, get involved, and make a difference. We all have a voice, and each story is important because your life has a purpose and you were born to make an impact.
Did you face any moment of disappointment with yourself during the pageant journey, and how did you overcome it?
My family is in the sports business and initially many of them saw success only in terms of winning or losing. It has been an education for them in how much there is to gain in the process and the journey of pageantry. From my 14 years playing soccer, I learned the value of teamwork and many other important lifelong lessons. Similarly, since I’ve shifted my focus to pageantry, the time I spend forming my opinions on issues, working on interview, poise, and public speaking is incredibly valuable.These are skills that I will use my whole life.
I have been extremely blessed and motivated by my journey in pageantry. I won Miss Teen Texas International and was 3rd runner up at nationals. I then competed in Miss Texas Teen USA and was 4th runner up in my first attempt and 3rd pageant ever. This year, I’ve worked even harder, and when I compete at Miss Texas Teen USA next month, I will know that I’ve done absolutely everything I could have to prepare. If it’s meant to be, it will be, if not, I’m still blessed and better for the experience.
Photos by Austin Ryde
We’ve all seen the stereotypical portrayals of pageant contestants, a la Miss Congeniality, spreading peace, love and beauty throughout the world. How do you think you'll make a difference?
My goal is to be a unifier and to help shine a light on the joy that comes from inclusion and spending time as a humble servant to those who have needs greater than our own. Through continuing my work with Breaking Barriers Through Sports, Special Olympics, and the other organizations and causes I am passionate about, I know I will leave the world a better place than I found it.
What would you advise any young girl out there who has a dream of being a queen one day?
I want her to know that anything is possible if you set goals and work like you’re in charge and pray like God’s in charge. We must go “confidently in the direction of our dreams,” as Thoreau said. Enjoy the journey, even the mistakes, as they help us grow. Remember the only way to make sure you’re living your best life is to do what makes you happy and fulfilled. Don’t waste your days…every second is a chance to do something big. Work hard, serve others, love yourself, and you can change the world.
Who is your ideal beauty queen and how has she helped you to evolve as a beauty queen?
Other than my mentor and mother, who was 2nd runner up to Miss USA, I might say Gal Gadot. As a former Miss Israel, the Wonder Woman actress has used her platform to champion women’s rights. She’s speaking out on the importance of love and kindness as well as strength, with a message that we are all wonder women!
This is an excerpt from my blog entry entitled “My Story,” on my website: www.GraceImagined.ME
My passion for the game and for giving back to my community eventually led me to try out for the FC Dallas Special Olympics soccer team—a decision that changed my life. I was a little reticent at the onset of my time as a partner player on the SO team, as I had limited experience serving those with intellectual or physical disabilities. I have several family friends with children with special needs and I always loved spending time with them, and after that first practice, I knew it was where I was meant to be. What amazed me was how quickly I formed deep friendships with my athletes. The game of soccer brought us together in a way where all of the barriers that society and circumstance can impose do not exist. The barriers were essentially “broken,” and my two years as a partner player, and now as an ambassador, have forever changed me.
My junior year of high school was filled with the excitement of winning the state soccer title with my varsity team, but not long after, I was struck by a new reality that rocked my world. I suffered my fourth concussion and the future I had planned would have to change. Female soccer players suffer the highest rate of concussions among all high school athletes in the United States. I knew that each time I went to challenge for a header or even just went out on the pitch, there was the possibility of hitting my head, incurring yet another concussion. That last concussion ended my dream of playing the sport I loved—the game that blessed me with community, taught me determination, and gave me the assurance that being confident means believing in who you are as a person. Soccer showed me that we are not defined by our hobbies, and that one’s character is the ultimate measure of a person.
For most young people it is a common struggle to know who you are, stand up for what you believe in, and feel secure in your own skin as a unique individual. I recognized the power sports gave me early on. On a field, every player is judged and plays by the same rules and standards. Sports level the playing field both literally and metaphorically. After traveling on mission trips to slums in Rio de Janero and shanty towns and orphanages in South Africa, I saw first hand how many barriers exist that can be divisive: language, race, ethnicity, culture, religion. I was struck by the fact that even though we came from entirely different worlds, walks of life, and spoke different languages, the sport of soccer itself served as a universal language and broke down those barriers. That’s when I decided that I wanted to use sports and its lessons as a mechanism to break barriers, bond people together, and promote inclusion worldwide.
When my neurologist said I couldn’t play soccer again, I was extremely sad and disappointed, but I’ve always believed that God has a plan and when He closes a door in your life, he opens a window. For me, pageantry has been that window. Although I love the outdoors and all things sporty, I also love fashion, glamour, and most of all the opportunity to have a platform to leave the world a better place than I found it.
In April 2016, I competed in my first pageant, Miss Teen Texas International, and was blessed to win the title. During my year, I served with Special Olympics, Athletes in Action, Kicks for Kids, NFL Play 60, The American Heart Association, Carry the Load, The Rise School for children with disabilities, and many other philanthropies. Pageantry has proven an incredible journey of further self-discovery, endless opportunities for service, and amazing new friends and possibilities. My story is still being written day by day. We are all a work in progress, and thank goodness God’s not finished with any of us yet!
Thanks to the beautiful Gracie for the interview. Pageants News wishes you all the very best for Miss Texas Teen USA pageant.