Miss Wisconsin USA Life: The Best You

I think the biggest myth in pageantry is that in order to win you must fit a certain mold. You have to wear a white dress, or have perfect pageant curls. The girl who spends the most has the best chances or you must give the judges the answer that you think that want to hear. If I have learned anything in my preparation for Miss Wisconsin USA and now Miss USA it’s that the one way to take yourself out of the running for the crown is to try and be something you are not.

When I was preparing for the Miss Wisconsin USA competition I had lots of input on lots of different things. What colors to wear, how to wear my hair and do my makeup, which swimsuit fit my body the best, and strangely enough…how to answer questions about myself. Weird! I loved that input and I listened to that input and it helped me sort through what I was and what I wasn’t, but at the end of the day I took it for what is was, someone else’s thoughts on pageantry, life and me.

It would have been so easy to fall into a trap of comparison. What did the top 5 wear last year? What have the past 5 winners done with their hair? What “story” has been most compelling in the past? What did someone else answer in their top 5 that sealed the deal?  And I think it happens all the time, in all sorts of industries, that women start to play the comparison game and feel they need to become somebody else in order to find success. NEVER NEVER NEVER!

Let’s be perfectly frank, creating a fake version of yourself is a game you will have to continue to play. I have literally watched women create versions of themselves so outlandish that they become lost in their own creation. So focused on maintaining the façade they no longer remember who they are, what matters to them and what they really have a passion for.

I decided very early on in my preparation that the way I was going to win was to be completely sure of who I was, and if it wasn’t this year it would happen when it was supposed to happen. I needed to know myself inside and out. As I’m sure you all know at this point, I love to write and that’s exactly what I did. I wrote about myself, what I loved, what I didn’t necessarily love, how I felt about issues in my life, how I felt about issues in the world and when I walked into the interview room I knew Skylar Witte from head-to-toe. (Novel about the minutiae of my life forthcoming)

When it came to being on stage, knowing who I was gave me the confidence I needed to rock my secondhand bikini with my six inch heels. I did not spend thousands of dollars on a gown or an opening number outfit. I was fortunate that my wardrobe was sponsored by designers and fellow pageant friends. (That’s the blessings of relationships and a whole different blog) It worked for me because I loved every piece of it, just look at my face, this coral spoke to me. Not because anything was custom or the fact I wore red gown or because I wore a coral jumpsuit with gold accents to interview.

People often ask me, “what was going through your head when you were walking on stage?” As goofy as it sounds, I just kept saying over and over “I am Skylar Witte, I am Skylar Witte”, and I was so excited to let the judges see ME.

So to break some pageant myths. White doesn’t always win, the color, price and style of the gown doesn’t make a difference, it’s the woman in the gown and how she graces the stage. You don’t need to ever be someone different in an interview.  You don’t need to always be pushing a created agenda.  Sometimes the judges ask the questions you have rehearsed in your head a million times, but often they simply do not.  My state interview was filled with laughs about my distaste for kale (for real, not a fan) and how my dad and I do a mean rendition of “Fergilicious”! When I walked out of that room I felt so confident that those 6 strangers now knew who I was, and that was because I knew who I was.

I want to take some time to tell every young woman out there who feels she needs to be someone else, that the very best person you could ever be in this world is YOU!! When you find confidence in who you are, it changes your world. There isn’t a secret to ‘winning’ a pageant or ‘winning’ at life. Life is all about constantly learning and growing, but when you choose to start learning more about you everything and everyone that surrounds you will gain clarity.

Dream Big,

Skylar

Just Life: Being Respected

I recently had the most real conversation of my reign as Miss Wisconsin USA with two girls who must have been in the 7th or 8th grade. I was visiting a middle school to give one of my usual presentations about setting goals, living your dreams and choosing to be positive at an age where bullying just seems easier. Afterwards, in the lunch room these two bright-eyed beauties approached me and presented me a question I had never been asked…but boy, did it get me thinking.

Why is it that you are so beautiful and all the boys in our school listened to you and were so respectful of you when you were talking, they were calm and kind, no one made rude comments  but to us they are always disrespectful and sometimes just mean?

And immediately, just like that, in a split second I was thrust back to middle school myself, there is a reason I talk to this age group and this was it. Suddenly my life advice could mean something. So I sat up straight and launched into my brief but hopefully lasting rant.

I was treated the same way, most girls in middle school are! Is it right? No. Is it OK? No. Is it part of everyone growing up and learning to build friendships and relationship? YES. Is it likely a boys way of getting a girls attention? 100% YES… but do you have to accept rudeness and mockery and cruelty? NO.NEVER.NOT EVEN ONE TIME!

So I told the girls to stand-tall, be strong and never let a boys words or actions get the best of them. I explained how even though it is easy to cry, to be cruel back or to simply go and tell on a someone for being disrespectful, the best course of action you can take is to not allow it in your life. Like all things hurtful or mean, the effect of the action is only meaningful if it elicits a response that the tormentor was seeking. I shared the story of being booed once at a pep assembly by a large group of nasty boys because I had recently broken up with one of their friends. I felt like running from the gymnasium but I didn’t, I did my part with a smile on my face and simply kept going. Once a boy was a jerk to me and I didn’t speak to him for a good three years, until he grew out of this unfortunate-jerky-phase. That is not a scientific phase of puberty but I believe it exists. He came around and later apologized for all the mistreatment when we were younger.

It is hard advice…not allowing your feelings to be hurt is a nearly impossible task, but choosing to not allow someone the satisfaction of slowly beating down your self-confidence is a necessity, in middle school and well beyond.

I told them that being that strong brings with it a new set of challenges. People will call you cold, snotty and much worse. People, especially mean ones hate to be ignored. But in the end the right people (and in the case of dating, the right boy) will rise to the surface. When you are older and have gone through all of the growing pains, those boys will start to respect your strength, your conviction and your independence. They are the people you will want in your life.

Dream Big,

Skylar

 

Miss Wisconsin USA Life: The Path Pavers

One of the most overwhelming ‘truths’  of becoming Miss Wisconsin USA was the fact I was suddenly launched into the same category as some of my idols. This is not hyperbole, the 12 women in this photo (Courtesy: Pageant Update)  who have come before me are, with all sincerity,  my lifelong heroes.

I have been fortunate to follow their journeys and some I have been blessed to personally get to know. Many have impacted my own path in ways they may have never even realized…but isn’t that what a blog is for…to share your inner most thoughts. So I’m about to tell them.

Kate Redeker, your pure beauty is incomparable. When I found out you would be competing as a miss the first year I was a teen contestant I tried not to ‘fan girl’ the moment I met you. Winning your title at 19 gave me hope and courage.  Just two months later while attending the Miss Minnesota USA pageant my mother and I got into a lengthy conversation with your parents. I told them how much I wanted to become Miss Wisconsin USA but thought I should wait, worried I was too young to compete. They were so absolutely inspiring. Your mother told me I had something special and the judges would see it at any age. They are such a huge reason this was my year, they planted a seed that grew all year long.

Haley Laundrie, there is a photo of you and Bucky Badger throwing up the “W” that was my ‘goal image’. Whenever I imagined my dream, what it meant to be Miss Wisconsin USA and how I envisioned it,  I thought of you and UW-Madison and that image. Bucky and I have yet to recreate, but I’m working on it. There will be a picture of Miss Wisconsin USA 2017 with Bucky, it will happen.

Bishara, I once referred to you as the “Queen of Queens”, and it is the truth. This year I finally had the chance to meet you and learn from you. I even had the opportunity to try  on the yellow dress you wore the night you were named into the Top 10 at Miss USA (fate anyone)!

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Your mother was on a mock interview panel that day and she gave me the best piece of advice I had gotten up until that point. She asked me about my dream job and I started by talking about becoming Miss Wisconsin USA and then Miss USA but quickly apologized for sounding too over-the-top. She stopped me and said “never apologize, be strong and confident in what you want and don’t be afraid to say it out loud!” I’ve thought about that moment many times since. When I completed the Miss Wisconsin USA interview I was disappointed that the judges never asked me that question. I’ve come to the conclusion they already knew the minute I walked into the room. Strength and conviction, they knew exactly why I was there. Thanks to your beautiful Momma for reminding me it’s ok to know what you want!

Courtney we have yet to meet, however my mother and your mother have formed a unique mommy mojo that makes me laugh. Your mother has always let it be known she believed in me and she saw something in me before anyone else had quite yet noticed it. She was convinced of my fate and kept my biggest fans sane in their most insane pageant moments not one but two years in a row. She just knew, I don’t know how but she believed in me when others doubted! I have to think it is because she raised a double crown winner and astonishing human being. She once said something about me reminds her of you, there is no greater compliment in the world.

Jordan I remember meeting you at the tender age of 13 when you were helping Kenna Mia as we both enjoyed our first stage experiences…I remember being completely enamored by you and your smile. You were the most beautiful woman in the room and still are everywhere you go.

Alex Wehrley, you are living my dream by creating a successful career in the entertainment industry. Not only that, you are doing it with grace, style and remaining true to yourself the entire time. You are the woman I aspire to become. I hope we can meet in person one day, because my connection to you is strong and that’s all I can say about that. #empowerista

Caitlin, your undeniable commitment to the growth of young women is evident. You have been such a force in the Wisconsin pageant community. You and your mother are the mentors every woman hopes to find in this world. Your motivations are so clear and so genuine… to build up others. I feel like I look just a little bit like you in our reaction photos and that gives me happy chills (fate anyone)!

Finally, Melissa there are no words. You are a beacon of pure light and energy. For years I ‘just missed you’ while those around me shared your story of hope and inspiration. In the end I believe it was only fitting that we finally embraced in-person the night I was crowned. Your life, your persona, your ability to create a legacy so much larger than yourself is the stuff dreams and legends are made of. You are the real and forever Miss Wisconsin USA.

My path has been paved by each of these remarkable women and their families even those I have yet to meet and know; each laying stones of hope, guidance, inspiration and love.  I feel like I am somehow the end product of each of their time with the crown. I followed their each and every move, dreaming of my moment, while working hard to create my own destiny. I can only hope that some Miss Wisconsin USA hopeful is reading this right now and someday feels the same way about me! And whoever she may be, it is just as spectacular as you have imagined it in your dreams.

Dream Big, Skylar

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Just Life: Becoming You

There is not much about me you can’t find out by searching my name on Google or reading any of my blog posts. I am an open book. Some people find this perplexing, why would I share so very much of my life, my thoughts and my unsolicited advice. The answer for me is a rather simple one, something that I share will help someone, somewhere, someday.

My journey into modeling, my life goal of becoming Miss Wisconsin USA, heck even my frustration with the dating world have all been unique to me, however in each arena in my life I have gained some useful insights that frankly, I wish I had known when I started down that path. So I share. I do so without hesitation and sometimes without care for perfect grammar or AP style (apologies to every English teacher in my life). My writing for those who know me personally is probably more like a conversation you would have if you sat down and visited with me in person. Informal, candid and with a tone that always, always skews on the positive but not annoyingly sweet. That’s just me.

It wasn’t always me, it took me a long time to get here. When I meet young girls who are just finding themselves and struggling with finding the right friend group, the right team, the right ‘thing’ that they love, the right boy, the right path, even the right style that suits them, I can’t help but think…been there, done that. Add on top of that struggle the pressure of the world that you are somehow doing it all wrong. That pressure can come from your peers, your parents, your teachers, everyone you come across in life will have an opinion on who you should become. They all for the most part will come from a place of love. They will all want what in their minds is best for you. But becoming you is the most personal journey you will ever go on, and no one can determine the desired outcome. Becoming you is the only journey in life you must take solo.

The harshest reality out there is that the only person who can hold you back from achieving your wildest dreams is you! People will try, they will stand  in your way, they will give you a million reasons why you can’t do something, they will question you and they will judge your every move. But in the end those people will only control your destiny if you allow them.

People thought I was crazy for traveling every weekend on a shoestring budget to work with photographers for free, building a modeling portfolio for a career I didn’t have. They wondered why I would skip ‘the social event of the year’ to hit up a casting call a hundred miles away that would only last 5 minutes and likely end without a job! Everyone thought I was crazy, until that portfolio and a single 5 minute call ended in getting me a modeling job that any big agency signed model would die to have.

Even my biggest supporters (mom, calling you out) told me 19 was too young to attempt a run at Miss Wisconsin USA, “wait it out a few years, your time will come.” But I knew I was ready and I knew I was certain of who I was and where I was going. I knew they were right if it wasn’t my time it would be eventually,  but I knew something they didn’t… in the year between the 2015 pageant and 2016 pageant I had become Skylar Witte.  I was so certain of what was in my heart, and I knew that if I could just get that out to a set of judges I had already won. Apparently I did, they knew who I was in under 5 minutes. I showed them my heart!

Becoming you is a confidence that is hard to explain. It is the ability to believe in yourself when no one else does, it is wearing a full-length sequin bodysuit with huge faux leather cape sleeves when everyone else is wearing a cocktail gown. It is knowing who you are so beyond a shadow of a doubt that no one can change that vision; their words, their suggestions and their criticism will fly right off you like those cape sleeves in the wind. I am told that 19 is a young age to get to this place.  I don’t really apologize for that and I hope I never leave it. Becoming you doesn’t mean that you are finished, oh not by a long shot. You will change your life direction, change your goals, change your boyfriend, change your style, all of those things will happen as you continue to evolve as a person and that’s the way it is suppose to be. But once you find your peace, once you embrace that solo journey and learn to love who you are, the rest is all just growth.

My wish for all those I love and have yet to love is that they too can become who they are meant to be. It might not happen in a minute or a year, but it will happen if you allow it.

Dream Big,

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Miss Wisconsin USA Life: Now What

A month in and the biggest question on everyone’s mind is, Now what? Will you stay in school… will you stay on your path to become a lawyer… can you still come hang out… will you still model…are you going to the game on Saturday? The answer to all of the above is Yes…but!

Becoming Miss Wisconsin USA doesn’t mean I am no longer Skylar Witte, but  it means that God has given me the greatest opportunity and for one year only I get to be Skylar Witte, Miss Wisconsin USA. For those following my crazy, wild journey this year that involved 18 credit semesters, two jobs and launching a modeling and acting career it seems like one more huge endeavor seems impossible. If my life has taught me anything it is the only limitations in the world are those which are self-imposed. So here it goes.

I am staying in school, but I have reduced my credit load, my professors and UW-Madison administration have been helpful and accommodating, and for that I will be forever thankful. My goal of blasting through my double major undergrad degree in 3 years is being modified, but just slightly. Let’s be honest it was a hefty goal to begin with, the over-achiever in me is still adjusting to the idea but the realist in me knows I have one chance to be the best Miss Wisconsin USA I can be and like most things in my life I am dedicated to doing it well.

My modeling and acting career are not over, as a matter of fact I make my network television debut in two weeks. But my ability to shoot and do runway shows will have to come secondary to the ‘big job’ at least for a bit. I owe some people, there are a few photographers and designers out there who gave me everything when I had nothing. I did not nor will I ever forget about you. There is a list and I will get to all, I promise.

Will I become a lawyer, a model, an actress? Will I work in PR or in the fashion industry? Become a social media guru? The greatest joy in my life right at the moment is the door is wide open. But, I don’t have an answer. When life presents you with an unbelievable gift you graciously accept it, even if it means you open your heart to change and growth, at a level and speed nothing can prepare you for. Right now, I’m focusing on the new job and it will lead me into the direction of my dreams. The scope and power of those dreams continues to broaden.

Can I still hang out, go to games, live my life? You better believe it. Frankly, I am busy and my social life will take the hardest hit. My inbox is overflowing and I might miss a text or seven. But,  one of the resounding messages my parents have repeated my entire life is that your true friends, the people who love you and understand you will always be there. When you call them at 1 a.m. with a flat tire they will come rescue you. It won’t matter if you are on the top of the world or the lowest point of your life, the people who matter will be there. So many wonderful people have been on this journey with me up until this point, I love each and everyone of you. The next chapters are certainly going to be exciting and written as I go, but I AM READY!

“Only as high as I reach can I grow,

Only as far as I seek can I go,

Only as deep as I look can I see,

Only as much as I dream can I be!”

                                   ~Karen Raun

Dream Big,

Skylar

My roomie who I only actually get to live with part-time but keeps me sane full-time. A job she didn’t exactly apply for, but she is perfect at it and I love her for it.

Miss Wisconsin USA Life: HOME

They say, “Home is where the heart is.” and if that is true my heart is spread out across most of Wisconsin. But there is one place in this world that has the biggest piece, a small little community on the western side of the state, Altoona. On the outskirts of Eau Claire this little piece of heaven is where I grew up.

I lived in an idyllic neighborhood at the end of a cul-de-sac  in a big white house surrounded by trees and love.  The block where I grew up was home to the people who ultimately became my family. There were no less than 10 kids all about my same age who did everything together. Our families spent weekends around backyard campfires and large ‘family’ dinners on Sunday. Yes it sounds too good to be true, but it was the reality of my life and I thank my lucky stars that I was fortunate enough to experience a childhood filled with such positive memories and loving people.

From 1st grade through my sophomore year of high school I attended the Altoona School District, it was the very first place I visited with my new title and was honored that they asked me back once again to celebrate homecoming this past weekend. There are so many children growing up in areas of our nation where school systems are failing and education has become less and less of a priority. Altoona is not one of those places. A district with a strong commitment to making sure that children have access to the resources and support that they need.  A group of teachers who see beyond a child’s limitations and help them to discover their place in the world. I was given so many opportunities to find mine. I hosted a middle school weekly news program, performed with the award-winning show choir and participated in some of the most unique academic opportunities I kid could wish for…from Math Olympiad to National History Day, this girl took advantage of every opportunity presented. Altoona taught me that you can develop many skills in your lifetime and you don’t have to have only a single passion or dream.

Things in my life haven’t always been perfect or peaceful or idyllic, whose life has been. But every person who meets me knows I choose to focus on the positive. I am the type of woman that likes to make the most out of every day, every minute and every gift I am blessed with. Altoona and the people in it are among my greatest gifts I have been given in my life and no matter how far I travel or where this crown takes me it will always be my first home.

GO RAILROADERS!

Dream Big, Skylar

 

 

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Miss Wisconsin USA Life: Awareness

This weekend I was honored to be part of the 10th annual Down Syndrome Awareness Walk in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. The Down Syndrome Association of Wisconsin-Chippewa Valley advocates for a worthwhile cause and is a wonderful organization. I have supported multiple causes throughout my life.  Among the organizations related to celebrating all abilities, I have been an award presenter for Special Olympics, a judges coordinator and emcee for the Miss Amazing pageant and am so looking forward to participating in Best Buddies events around the state as an ambassador as part of the Miss Wisconsin USA organization.

But even more so, I have been involved in awareness events and walks since I could walk. My mother was a news anchor and was often asked to participate, so non-profit events were a true family affair. I am blessed to have been taught the importance of community involvement and giving back. We did it all, Alzheimer’s awareness, heart disease awareness, Epilepsy awareness, mental health awareness, and breast cancer awareness. The latter came to be when my Nana was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer when I was 12 years old. She wanted to attend events and we all got involved.  Something she used to say has stuck with me all of these years. We would all get dressed up in our pink shirts with our ribbons and pins and head to an ‘awareness’ event and she was bald and sick and going through chemo and would say….”AWARENESS, oh I am aware, I’m aware of what breast cancer is and what it does and what it means.” and she was, we all were. For my family it meant we would eventually lose our matriarch.

So when I go to an awareness event that is always top of mind. The families who attend, who live every day with ‘awareness’, choose to come to help the rest of the world understand, even if it is just for one day, for a few hours in a park, to share what it means. It is a time for them to come together, be together, to laugh and sometimes cry. My heart is full this Monday morning knowing that showing up with a crown and banner didn’t actually make anyone more ‘aware’ of the ups and downs these families face every moment of every day, but it did put a smile on a lot of faces. They are aware, and I am more aware and more educated than I was yesterday.

This will be my favorite part of being Miss Wisconsin USA. Please invite me to your ‘awareness’ event, I would be honored to be a part of something bigger.

Dream Big, Skylar

Miss Wisconsin USA Life: Tomahawk

Nestled in the Northwoods of Wisconsin is the beautiful community of Tomahawk. To most in the world it is known as a motorcycle mecca,  with not one but two Harley Davidson plants located in the city. It is home to one of the largest biker rallies in the nation, the event raises thousands of dollars for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, but to me it is my second home.

Tomahawk is where a majority of my extended family lives. It is the place I have worked since the age of 14! On the shores of Lake Nokomis there is a supper club that has been owned by not one but two sets of my great aunts and uncles. It has been in our family for 23 years. Rumors say the building was once financed by the mob as a rum running operation and the tunnels and false walls in the basement would lead me to to believe that is true.

I have been a busser, a hostess and a waitress there for summers as long as I was allowed to work. I believe no job in the world teaches you the value of hard work more than, literally, serving others. When it is your job to provide vacationers with a memorable experience and your tuition bill depends on it, you learn the importance of customer service, kindness and hustle. A smiling, happy customer is one of the most rewarding feelings in the world.

My summers in Tomahawk have prepared me for my job as Miss Wisconsin USA, to the thousands of locals and tourists I’ve had the pleasure to meet over the years, thank you. I wish I could share the true essence of the ‘Fish Fry’-Wisconsin experience with the world, but that batter just doesn’t travel well. So everyone from this point forward will have to take my word for it.

From apron to crown, proud to represent Tomahawk, Wisconsin

Dream Big, Skylar

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Miss Wisconsin USA Life: My Time

I once wrote how it wasn’t my time and how I was completely at ease and peace with that, and today looking back,  I realize the why…because right now is MY time.

Everything in life happens for a reason and I now understand the reasons for the blessings and lessons in life. My past year preparing for Miss Wisconsin USA was a year of tremendous growth where I learned so much about myself and exactly what having this job meant to me. I knew exactly why I wanted it and what I would do if given the honor. On Sunday night a group of judges decided it was my time to represent Wisconsin. It excites me that I now get to do this job every day. It is my time and I plan on living every single minute of it to the absolute fullest.

A couple of big things have hit home, I am now the representative of the 40 other women standing on that stage with me Sunday and I do NOT take that lightly. Among them was a PhD candidate, a collegiate level volleyball player, countless entrepreneurs, women who work tirelessly to promote organizations they are passionate about and freely share their stories of both obstacles and unparalleled achievements. When that crown went on my head it did not elevate me above that amazing field of contestants and friends, it only made me the official representative of them all. As I continue this journey, a piece of each of them is with me and will strengthen and motivate me daily.

The other reality, and this one makes me tear-up every time I say the words, I am now an ambassador for the State of Wisconsin. What greater honor could there possibly be? As a girl who grew up in the Chippewa Valley, moved to Central Wisconsin, spent countless summers working in the Northwoods and now have the privilege of attending UW-Madison, Wisconsin is the core of who I am. I will be writing more about my adventures around the state in my new role and there will be much gushing, it’s all just too much to write in one blog.

My goals are simple: represent Wisconsin and the Miss Universe Organization in the best possible way each and every day and continue to promote a strong and powerful message throughout my reign as your Miss Wisconsin USA.

I was told I could do as many appearances as I could handle and I say…BRING IT ON! I have done 7 media interviews and already have appearances booked into November. This is what I want to do, this is what I’m ready to do. If you would like me to appear at your event or if you are connected with a school (middle schools in particular) please fill-out an appearance request form.

I can’t wait to live this dream, meet all of you and relish my time as Miss Wisconsin USA 2017.

Dream Big,

Skylar Witte

I end every blog  with the same words and have for the past year you have all been following me and if this isn’t proof of my DREAM BIG mantra I don’t know what is.

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Just Life: Starting Over

When I was a sophomore in high school my family had a conversation about moving to a different city. I think it was the most terrifying and exciting thing to happen to me in my lifetime. If you go on social media you are likely to find any number of teenagers posting about wanting more than anything this very opportunity:  I wish I could move, I wish I could start over, I wish I could get out of this town, I wish, I wish… I think everybody thinks about it at one point or another. But let me tell you there is a cold, hard truth about starting over. It is hard, the hardest thing I have had to do.  But had I not experienced it I would be a completely different person today. Sometimes getting pushed out of your comfort zone as far as you can go changes everything about you.

First, I was completely on board with the move. In Wisconsin we have open enrollment so I had the opportunity to choose the school I would attend in our new community. I based my decision on two elements only, who had the best academic courses and who had the best dance team. The latter part of my decision making process would determine the course of my last two years of high school. It would give me both some of the biggest opportunities and the biggest lessons of my life.

The best dance team in the area we moved, wasn’t just a good dance team, they were the best and had years of competition trophies to back up the claim. Problem was, I was a mediocre dancer. I was the captain on my previous dance team, but I was also the dance captain of the show choir,  played roles in the drama department, in local community theatre, sang in multiple choirs and was involved in several volunteer organizations and I pretty much knew every other student at my high school, plus their parents (and their dogs). That school afforded me the opportunity to do lots of different things and be really good at some of them and mediocre at others, it gave me the chance to be involved in a million things and the small community supported my ‘all over the place’ attitude.  I didn’t have to be the best I just had to do my best. My new school would teach me that to compete with the best, when you are not the best, means you have to work hard and harder than you ever imagined you could.

I missed tryouts for that team but the coach(es), there were three, agreed to let me tryout a few weeks before summer practices began. I made the team, still to this day I am not sure how. One of the coaches of the team recently wrote it was because she knew I had the “heart of a champion”, and that had to be it, because I had the feet and skill level of a newborn calf. Making the team was the easy part, that summer I struggled to keep up. After a few months I was made an alternate on the competition team. From a captain to an alternate. It was a brutal awakening. Now, school hadn’t even started yet, I could have been done right there, heck I could have very quickly enrolled at another school and pretended the whole thing never happened. But I didn’t, I stayed. I had grown to love my fellow dancers and I knew alternate or not, at least I would be starting in the fall with a group of new friends.

Somehow that first year on that team taught me almost everything I would need to know about life. Don’t quit when you hit your low point, ask for help when you need it, work harder than you think you can, don’t expect things to be handed to you or to be easy, set goals and priorities, find a good mentor or two, believe in the process and don’t settle for being an alternate (in dance or in life).

That summer I asked for a lot of help. I was fortunate to find it in my coaches and a few older dancers who were willing to stay after on their own time to help me learn. By the first fall football games I had accomplished my first goal, just fit in, don’t be the girl who falls or is off by two beats or looks crazy compared to the whole team, just fit in. I did. No one could pick out the new girl from the crowd. I wasn’t in the back, but certainly wasn’t in the front. By the time we started to prep for competitions I had been moved to the competition team and was no longer an alternate. The dedication and skill it took to be on a team like this is hard to explain. The team not only practiced daily but sometimes twice a day, once a week we had an a.m. practice before school and we did strength training, LOTS of strength training. It was all summer, most of the school year and tryouts happen about a month after the last competition and the process began again. There was not time to be in a hundred other activities. This team became my priority.

By the time the team went to state that year,  not only was I up to the caliber of the team but I was able to lend some perspective.  This was my third year dancing and my first time at the ‘big show’ and I appreciated that fact and shared it with everyone who would listen. I think my pure joy was a reminder to the others on the team that the accomplishment was truly something special, even though the team expected to go to state and has done so every  year under the current coaching staff. It was a triumph hundreds of dancer in the state would never experience.

By senior year the newness of the school and the dance team had worn off but the lessons continued. That year we would go on to not only be among the best in the state but earn the championship title for our pom routine, for you non-dance team folks a D1 Pom title is the ultimate, and it is some fierce, brilliant and amazing competition. A title not lost on a girl who moved half way across the state and worked her tail off just to make the team. Among the many defining moments of my life, this was one. I think it was the first time I saw really, really, really, hard work, big goals and dreams realized. For me it was never a dream I even thought was a possibility in my life, so it also made my scope open up widely. After that day becoming a model didn’t seem so far fetched, becoming Miss USA didn’t seem completely unthinkable. I never had fathomed that I would someday be a state champion dancer so certainly all the other things I had never thought about suddenly became possibilities.

Starting over gave me a lot of gifts,  the greatest of which was the confidence to believe that if you want it badly enough, accept that you aren’t perfect and sometimes need a lot of work, are willing to do that work and earn your place you can pretty much accomplish the unimaginable.

(If you are interested in that championship routine you can actually watch it here, years later and I still get chills!)

 

Dream Big, Skylar

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