Theresa Vail isn't your ordinary Miss America beauty pageant contestant. The stunning blond Miss Kansas is also a tattooed Army sergeant, an expert M16 marksman, bow hunter, skydiver, boxer, and mechanic. She also speaks fluent Chinese.
The Huffington Post
calls her a "badass" whose drive to inspire young women comes from her experiences being bullied as a child.
Vail has one tattoo of the U.S. Army Dental Corps insignia and another of the Serenity prayer running down her right side. Tattoos are a long-standing no-no for beauty contestants. She said she has no shame in putting them on display during the swimsuit portion of the competition.
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"Why am I choosing to bear my tattoos?" Vail told People magazine.
"My whole platform is empowering women to overcome stereotypes and break barriers. What a hypocrite I would be if I covered my ink? My whole platform is empowering women to overcome stereotypes and break barriers. How can I tell other women to be fearless and true to themselves if I can't do the same? I am who I am, tattoos and all."
Vail, 22, is the second servicewoman to compete in the Miss America pageant, after Miss Utah in 2007, who was a combat medic in the Army National Guard. Vail is one of 53 contestants, and her commanding officer encouraged her to sign up. The leader thought Vail would make a fantastic role model.
"I never thought about [competing] until a mentor, in my unit, explained how the recognition could help with what I want to do as a role model," she told the Huffington Post.
Vail had originally planned to display her archery talents during the talent portion, but learned that "projectile objects" were banned. Instead, she will sing opera.
"I'd never sung opera in my life. I had an appreciation for it," Vail told People, adding that she spent part of her childhood in Europe. "I sang soprano in choir back in high school, but I hadn't sung since then and certainly never opera."
She learned Luciano Pavarotti's "Nessun Dorma" in two days.
"I've worked with five former Miss Kansas contestants and I've never seen anyone this focused and determined," Kim Brom, business manager for the Miss Kansas pageant, told People. "She has so many different qualities -- she's a hunter, she's in the military, she's fluent in Chinese, she's very educated and, even more than that, she has that unquantifiable star quality."
The 93rd edition of the pageant takes place Sept. 15 at 9 p.m. ET. Vail is trying to become the first Miss America from Kansas since 1997, when Overland Park's Tara Dawn Holland won.
But closest to her heart is the hope of empowering women to stay true to themselves, which grew out of her being bullied as a child.
“When girls learn they have what it takes to 'hang with the guys' they feel a sense of internal strength, like they can conquer the world and take care of themselves," she wrote on her website.
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