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Teen pageant winner: ‘I never expected it to be me’

Pageant winner,17, is S.C. residentPageant winner,17, is S.C. resident

jmonk@thestate.comAugust 20, 2012 

Rachel Wyatt, newly crowned Miss America’s Outstanding Teen 2013,, said Sunday that she didn’t think she would win the honor that now makes her one of the nation’s most celebrated young people.

“After meeting all the girls, it was like, ‘Whoever wins, I’m going to be thrilled for them, and they will represent our nation in a wonderful way,’ but I never expected it to be me,” said Wyatt, 17, a rising senior at Wren High School in Anderson County.

“I think I knew all along I had what it took because everyone was so encouraging, but I never actually thought it would happen,” said Wyatt, interviewed by phone as she was driving back to South Carolina with her father, George, 51, and mother, Karen, 54.

Wyatt won’t soon forget how she felt on learning she won. “I was so excited and shocked, and then right after winning, I turned around and saw all the contestants come running, charging at me to come hug me — that was the greatest feeling.”

In July, just after winning the Miss South Carolina Teen contest, Wyatt got an extra burst of media attention by doing the prayerful move — down on one knee, fist to head — made famous by NFL quarterback Tim Tebow after he scores a touchdown. She hadn’t planned on “Tebowing” after winning Saturday night, but when all the girls began congratulating her, some began asking her why she wasn’t Tebowing, she said.

“They wanted me to do it, so I just kind of did it for them,” she said.

She danced her way to victory by performing — in a two-minute routine she choreographed herself — a lyrical rendition to Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb,” which has the words, “Ain’t about how fast I get there / Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side / It’s the climb....”

Wyatt said the lyrics speak to her. “I don’t think success is necessarily reaching the goal. Once you get there, it’s the journey up until that point, like it says in the song.”

As Miss America’s Outstanding Teen, Wyatt will be expected to travel across the country to promote academic achievement, creative accomplishments, community involvement and healthy living to young people.

Even without her honor, Wyatt — who watches virtually no television — is already an all-around teen: she’s senior class president, a yearbook editor, member of the school dance team, member of the school’s show chorus (a song and dance team that performs at school functions and travels to local elementary and middle schools). She also hopes to continue her dance therapy work with children.

“I have a full plate this year, but hopefully I’ll be able to balance it all.”

Her goal: to pursue a degree in children’s speech pathology. She hopes to do undergraduate work at Clemson (“I’m a Clemson Tiger, and so’s my whole family”) and get a master’s degree at the University of South Carolina.

Asked for advice to teens, she shared these tips:

•  Diet and exercise: ”Remember your portions, keep moderation in mind, and as long as you’re exercising daily , whatever it is — for me it was dance — as long as you’re getting physical activity, you’re good to go.”

•  Favorite class, song and book: English class, “Wagon Wheel” (sung by Old Crow Medicine Show) and “The Count of Monte Cristo” (“A captivating book; I loved it”).

•  General advice: “Be yourself. In meeting the contestants, they were all phenomenal, but I stayed true to who I was. In life, be yourself and that will take you far.”

It’s hard to pinpoint the most influential person in her life, she said, but she singled out her two older sisters, Hannah, 21, and Sydney, 23. “I’ve always looked up to them; I still do. Really, just my whole entire family — they have molded and shaped me into the person I am today.”

Wyatt also said she plans to keep her feet on the ground by reminding herself she won because “it’s only because of my Heavenly Father has chosen to bless me with this opportunity.”

Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.

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