When I was a little girl, I always dreamed of being a movie star. I can remember playing with Barbie dolls and rolling out a bright colored sock and pretending it was a red carpet for my Barbie to walk down. My parents always encouraged my dreams, but wanted me to enjoy being a kid before I pursued them.
I was a major tomboy growing up. Being in the middle of two brothers, it seemed only natural to do whatever they did. I played multiple sports at a time — even boys baseball! I was an athlete. I loved playing sports.
In middle school, my life took a confusing, downward turn. One day, I passed out at my Grandma’s with no warning or explanation. Then it happened at a soccer game, and eventually I had chest pain so severe I was rushed to the hospital. Something was wrong with me. I would get dizzy and pass out. My heart would race and skip beats. I would also have severe chest pain. The sports that I loved were now impossible to play.
By high school, I had a cardiologist, a neurologist, and any other kind of specialist you could think of. My medicine cabinet looked like that of an eighty year old. I was defeated and heart broken. What would I do now? Sports were my life. They defined me.
Around this time, a family friend encouraged me to compete for Miss Oregon Teen USA. She just so happened to be Miss Oregon USA at the time. My parents agreed I could do it and I set out to get sponsors, get in shape, and tried my best to prepare for the pageant. Much like the movie Miss Congeniality, I had no clue what I was doing. I made the top ten and was determined to come back and win. I was hooked.
The next year of high school I tried again and made the top five. I didn’t understand what I did wrong. I studied pageants. I wore my hair and makeup the same way the previous winner did, and I also had a dress like they wore. I did everything I thought a beauty queen was supposed to do. The thing I was missing was me. I was trying to be something I wasn’t.
My senior year of high school was my last chance to compete as a teen. I wasn’t even going to compete in the pageant, but I got some last minute encouragement from the state director. This time, everything went wrong. I had a horrible highlight job done and the only way to fix it was to bleach all of my hair platinum blonde. I dropped my beautiful evening gown in the parking lot into a puddle of oil. I got into a car accident before the pageant and had horrible back spasms while walking on stage. I was a mess. I knew when I arrived to compete that I had nothing in my control. I had tried my best to prepare and now all I could do was be myself.
I sat backstage and listened to Shine by Newsboys. The lyrics say “Shine, Let’em shine before all men, Let’em see good works and then, Let’em glorify the Lord”. This time I didn’t pray to win. I prayed that I would shine. I was giggly and goofy, but most importantly, I was me. I won Miss Oregon Teen USA that year.
Nine months later, I went on to compete at Miss Teen USA. With a heart condition and an overload of medications to take every day, I decided I would not let any illness defeat me. I often prayed Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Jesus Christ who strengthens me”. To spite my medical limitations, I set my mind that I was going to win Miss Teen USA. I would close my eyes at night and imagine that crown being placed on my head.
However, once I arrived to Miss Teen USA, that confidence quickly faded when I saw the true beauty and glamour of all the other girls. I called my parents and told them not to come. I didn’t want them to waste their money to come watch the pageant, I knew I wouldn’t even place. My Mom gave me the same advice God revealed to me when competing at Miss Oregon Teen USA. She said to just be myself and have fun.
So, I stopped worrying about what the other girls had or what I felt I wasn’t. I focused on who I was in Christ. I didn’t need to be anything other than me. I humbled myself and prayed that if anything, I just wanted to shine on stage. I wanted people to see Christ in me. Even if they didn’t know what the light within me was, that they would seek to find it.
On August 12th 2003, I was voted to win the Miss Congeniality award and a few minutes later was crowned Miss Teen USA!! As I saw the beauty around me, I knew God had reminded me that I was enough. “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made” Psalm 139:14.
I knew God had given me the strength to compete and blessing to win Miss Teen USA so I could help other girls who struggled with self-esteem and any medial condition that was limiting them from pursuing their dream.
In my first meeting with Paula Shugart (The President of the Miss Universe Organization), she asked me what charities I wanted to work with. I shared a story about a local children’s charity called Sparrow Clubs that help kids in medical need. I had been that sick kid and here was my opportunity to give back. At the end of my reign, I had raised over twenty-one million dollars for charity. I didn’t understand why I had to give up on sports, or why I couldn’t be healthy like all my friends, but God knew why. Had I never gotten sick, I never would have done a pageant; and had I never done a pageant, I wouldn’t have been able to help so many other kids who were struggling with health issues.
Tune in tomorrow to see where Tami is now and the obstacles she overcame to get there…