A year ago, Theresa Vail's good friend Megan Bancroft urged her to enter a Miss Kansas local pageant so they could participate together. Vail declined — "not my thing," she said.
Then, members of her Kansas Army National Guard unit encouraged her to get involved in some kind of mentoring program. She had a change of heart, and decided pageants were the way to go, and if she could be Miss Kansas, she could impact young people all across the state.
True to her nature, once she set a goal, she planned to reach it. Even if the goal seemed at odds with what people already knew about the outdoor woman whose favorite hobby is archery and military woman who qualified as an expert marksman.
"I love the wow factor, surprising people, breaking stereotypes and breaking boundaries," she admitted. "This is perfect for me, this is my forte."
"This," of course is the glittering crown and sash that identify her as Miss Kansas 2013, a title she won on Saturday night.
Vail is the sixth of nine children of Mark and Joy Vail. Her father is retired from a 33-year military career that caused the family to move frequently. Leaving a school, leaving friends was definitely a challenge for a young Theresa, but she believes it also gave her an early maturity.
She's a "daddy's girl," she admitted, with obvious pride. None of her five brothers are outdoorsmen — they're "sissies," she said with a smile, who would rather stay inside playing video games. So it was Theresa who went hunting and followed her father into the military.
A military career was always part of her plan, she said, but joining the Army National Guard at the age of 17 has helped pay for schooling at Kansas State University. She's a year away from degrees in chemistry and Chinese.
"Someone told me it's the hardest language to learn," she said. "Challenge motivates me. So I said, 'OK, watch me learn it.'"
She's able to carry on conversations with K-State's large Chinese population, and has a perfect 4.0 grade point average.
Vail believes that many young girls and teens struggle with a negative self-image and self-confidence issues.
"I was there, I was bullied," she said.
The bullying stopped when she joined her school's Junior ROTC rifle team and surpassed all the guys on the team. She earned the nickname of Annie Oakley and aggressors learned they could no longer "get inside her head."
She wants to share her experiences of participating and competing in activities that typically attract more males than females, as a way of empowering young girls. She has established a Miss Outdoor Girl brand and blog and has done a small clinic for girls, teaching them about bow-hunting, while also talking with them about everyday life, feelings and dreams.
She looks forward to promoting her platform in school presentations. Talks at Leavenworth schools have been well received, she said.
"So many girls struggled with self esteem," she said. "They needed a friend, someone they could talk to. I know I can do that."
Her most immediate task, however, will be to prepare for the Miss America Pageant, which returns to Atlantic City, N.J., this year, and will be held in September.
"It's three short months of preparation, but I'm ready," Vail said. "Yes, I know I need to be polished a little bit, but for the most part I feel confident and ready to go."