Courage: “To tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.”
original definition as told by researcher-storyteller Brene Brown, PhD
By TIFFANY RONEY
Miss Kansas is often pictured in a gown and tiara, but on Monday in Abilene, Miss Kansas donned an Army cap and camouflage. Theresa Vail, Miss Kansas 2013, said her platform is “Empowering Women: Overcoming Stereotypes and Breaking Barriers.”
Vail, sergeant of the National Guard, is the second state winner in the Miss America pageant to have been part of the military. The first was Jill Stevens, Miss Utah 2007.
Dennis Weese, community relations and commercial sales director of Eagle Communications, interviewed Vail for his show, ‘Our Town,’ a Channel 2 television spot that focuses on Abilene’s economic development. Weese said this episode’s airtime is to be announced.
“She’s a beauty queen who believes that one of the best ways to reach young women and help them with their self-esteem is to teach them how to shoot a bow and arrow – I think that’s pretty interesting,” Weese said. “I think the normal picture of a beauty queen does not include an expert marksmanship badge with an M4 rifle or an expert shot with a modern compound bow, and she does both.”
Shooting down stereotypes
In addition to the stereotype of marksmen being male, Vail said she wants to break the stereotypes American culture has toward pageant participants.
“The stereotype of pageant girls is that they’re very one-dimensional, and I’m trying to show people that they are multi-faceted, that they are intelligent,” Vail said.
Vail’s intelligence is shown by her education: she is a senior at K-State, dual-majoring in chemistry and Chinese. She said she wants to use her role as Miss Kansas to promote Women in STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, which is also a goal of Miss America Organization.
“Theresa Vail is an impressive young lady – she clearly has a very good understanding of what it takes to succeed and reach her goals, and I think that people who have the chance to meet her either in person or on TV or have some other way of listening to her speak will see very clearly that she’s very bright, very articulate,” Weese said. “She knows what it takes to get where she wants to go.”
Telling the story of who she is with her whole heart
As part of her interview with Weese, Vail shared the National Guard’s motto: “Always ready, always there.” Weese then asked her what her personal motto was. Vail’s reply: “Be fearless.”
“She said that was the best advice from her dad – to be that as a person,” Weese said. “At the end of our interview, I said to Miss Vail – this was off-camera, after the camera filming was over – that there would be sometime during the Miss America pageant on a wider scale that she’ll be asked a question and she’ll know clearly in her heart what her answer is, but she may think that it may not be exactly the answer that the Miss America pageant wants to hear. I urged her to remember her motto to ‘be fearless,’ and answer the question.
“I think she has the courage to do those kinds of things,” Weese said. “She’s a very impressive young lady, and I think she has the courage to say what’s in her heart. I think we’ll learn more about Miss Vail as time goes by.”
The 2000 Warner Bros. Pictures movie, “Miss Congeniality,” illustrates this point. The movie follows the story of Gracie Hart (Sandra Bullock), an FBI agent who signs up for Miss United States to prevent a group from bombing the event, according to imdb.com. In one scene, on stage at the event, the pageant host, Stan Fields, asks Hart, “What is the one most important thing our society needs?”
Hart replies, “That would be: harsher punishment for parole violators, Stan.”
The crowd is silent. Hart then adds the phrase, “And world peace,” to which the crowd responds with a burst of applause.
“I think Miss Vail has some good answers to hard questions because I think she clearly knows what she thinks, and I think that’s a great value,” Weese said. “I don’t pay much attention to beauty pageants, but I’ll probably tune into the Miss America pageant and listen to Miss Vail answer her questions.”
Researcher-storyteller Brene Brown, PhD, said the original definition of courage was, “to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.” Weese said he thinks it takes a great deal of courage for most people to share their true selves.
“Most people give a very, very limited look at who they are, and they only do that in surroundings that they feel very comfortable in, which has a chilling effect on what we consider the freedoms of great speech rights that we hold dear,” Weese said. “If one doesn’t feel free to speak about who they really are in any setting they find themselves, it says quite a lot about the pressure that is put on people, on the use of their freedoms and free speech.”
Vail had never competed in a pageant before the Miss Kansas competition, and she had no formal public speaking experience. However, she grew up in a military family, moving every three or four years. She said her speaking talents grew by necessity.
“You had to be a public speaker,” Vail said. “You had to introduce yourself, go up to a group and make friends, so it came very naturally to me.”
Vail said she considers Manhattan her hometown, but it is evident she feels just as at-home in the great outdoors.
“I had five brothers, and my dad was a big hunter and fisher, so he took me to do all of those things,” Vail said. “I had always grown up as a tomboy and living in a man’s world, really. My sisters were much older than me – they’re 11 years older – so the influences I had were primarily from boys.”
Her lack of female role models as a child may have served as a springboard for her current position.
“A soldier in my unit … he told me, ‘Whether you see it or not, you are a role model,’ and he told me I should really hone in on that,” Vail said. “So I thought, if I won a pageant, I could really become a role model to women who need one.”
Since donning the tiara in June, Vail has already received feedback that she is living up to her dream.
“I get emails from young girls just saying, ‘You’re such an inspiration and a role model,’ and that’s why I got into this,” Vail said. “So, even in the two short months that I’ve been Miss Kansas, I already feel very successful.”
After graduating from K-State, she plans to attend Creighton University School of Dentistry in Nebraska. Why she chose Creighton: “It’s close enough that it would still allow me to work for the Kansas National Guard,” Vail said. “I’m very patriotic to my state. I’m loyal to my state. I love Kansas.”
In addition to her service in the Guard, Vail serves as a spokesperson for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. She teaches archery to Girl Scouts and meets the public at events.
On a national level, she is using radio station spots, restaurant fundraisers and T-shirt sales through her website, www.missoutdoorgirl.com, to raise funds for Children’s Miracle Network, Miss America Organization’s official national platform.
While she said she wants to empower all women of America, she has a special place in her heart for the people of Kansas.
“In Kansas, everyone is just so kind and humble – it’s a Midwest thing,” Vail said. “People smile at you on the street.”