Despite spending a good portion of her freshman year at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale and leaving with unanswered questions, nutrition communication junior Jordan Wessel left the Miss Arizona USA pageant last December with a sash that read “Miss Arizona” and a crown atop her head.
Wessel declared a different outlook on her life following multiple tests and being told by medical practitioners and family members that she would never be able to function normally.
“My stomach looked like I was nine months pregnant,” Wessel said. “I got on my feet and started running — literally started running.”
Her interest in nutrition communications evolved as she began to improve her health with proper diet and exercise.
Pretty soon she was singing “Greased Lightning” and snapping her fingers during the interview portion of the Miss Arizona USA competition.
The pageant took place over the course of three days. She will go on to compete in the upcoming Miss USA 2014 pageant and will represent Arizona.
Civil engineering senior Brenda Soto was crowned as Miss Arizona Latina 2013 in June. The Miss Arizona Latina pageant took place over the course of a few months, Soto said.
Soto was endorsed by an anonymous sponsor during the pageant. She went on to compete in the Miss U.S. Latina competition in Riviera Maya, Mexico, where she did not place but had a great experience nonetheless, she said.
Wessel said the women who participate in pageants are great.
Soto mirrors Wessel’s sentiments and said her pageant was pleasant and absent of any drama.
“The girls were so nice,” she said. “(They) were all from the same culture and value the same things.”
Soto, who is also a model, said she enjoyed using pageants as a tool to build up her personal skills.
“I’m very shy,” she said. “It’s making me a more open individual.”
Soto said doing fashion shows and pageants helped build her confidence and people skills.
“I really believe (in) carrying on my roots and carry(ing) on my instilled values,” she said. “I value (family) a lot.”
The Miss Arizona Latina organization looks for a role model in the community, not just a model, Soto said.
She said she considers her older sisters role models because of their pursuit of higher education.
Soto hopes to be a role model in the community to young girls, she said, and she will continue to be involved with the Miss Arizona Latina Organization after her reign ends.
Sociology and political science senior Aysia Pennell earned the title of the Miss Black Arizona 2013-14 in August. The pageant was a single-day event and lasted several hours because of the many divisions within the Miss Black Arizona Scholarship Pageant organization.
Pennell said she was hesitant to enter the pageant world because of the rumors surrounding it. However, pageants are far from what people see on “Toddlers and Tiaras,” she added.
The best aspect of the pageant is the interaction between the contestants and the networking to which she’s been exposed, Pennell said.
Pennell said the way people treat one another makes them beautiful. Her hope is that at the end of her reign, people will remember her for her commitment to the community.
“A beautiful person can see a friend rather than an enemy,” she said.
Unlike Pennell, who said she had three pageants under her belt before the Miss Black Arizona competition, Wessel and Soto came into their pageants as newcomers to the pageant industry.
“(My family) kind of went into it with an open mind and came out of it with a crown.” Wessel said.
As a first-timer in pageants, Wessel went up against contestants who had been actively involved in the pageant world far longer than she.
Journalism freshman Victoria Mendoza, Miss Teen Arizona USA 2011, was one of the experienced contestants who competed against Wessel.
Mendoza was first runner-up at nationals as Miss Teen USA 2011, and fifth in the recent Miss Arizona USA competition.
“Jordan Wessel is an amazing girl,” Mendoza said. “She’s beautiful inside and out. We’re friends on Instagram.”
Wessel said she credits her drive, which has a lot to do with her upbringing, for her recent success in pageantry.
“I want to get my hands dirty,” she said. “I want to be very, very involved in the community.”
Wessel said even the “small stuff” that people may overlook is an opportunity that she will seize if given the chance.
People would tell Wessel being in the pageant against four of her sorority sisters would tear them apart, she said. She proved them wrong, and said the pageant only gave them a strong support system and made them closer in the process.
Wessel smiled as she said her best friend, who also competed in the pageant, nearly dropped to the ground and burst into happy tears when Wessel’s name was announced as the winner.
Wessel went into the pageant with the mindset of having a good time, win or lose.
“Believe it or not, I was never a pageant girl,” she said.
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or @ _KennedyScott
Correction: Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this story said Brenda Soto worked with a model agency that does not represent her. It has been corrected.