Cal Poly alumna Heather Hays competed in the 2013 Miss California USA pageant over the weekend. Although Hays did not progress to the finals, she said “it was a good experience.”
Cal Poly alumna Heather Hays competed in the 2013 Miss California USA pageant over the weekend. Although Hays did not progress to the finals, she said “it was a good experience.”

Allison Montroy

All she saw were the judges.

She felt a jolt of energy in her elegant white and gold trim gown as she entered the spotlight. Her hair was big and each curl in its place. The lights hit her stage makeup and her faux lashes fanned across her eyes. With a big smile, Cal Poly business alumna Heather Hays walked across the stage, past the blur of an audience and took her spot wearing a “Cal Poly” sash in the 2013 Miss California USA pageant.

Hays was one of 230 girls competing for the crown at last weekend’s event. At the three-day pageant created by Donald Trump, women competed in three categories: interviews, formal wear and swimsuit competition. The top 20 contestants in the preliminary round continued on to Sunday’s finals performance.

Though Hays did not place in the finals, she felt she walked away from the competition having faced and accomplished a great personal challenge. That, to her, was an achievement all in itself.

“The pageant is looking for models, and I’ve never done runway modelling,” Hays said. “But it was a good experience. I really needed that. This was exactly what it needed to be.”

Hays said before entering the pageant world, she was a shy person who would never be seen in a swimsuit and knew next-to-nothing about curling her hair. Her experience with the business fraternity at Cal Poly and as Panhellenic president in greek life transformed her fear of public speaking into a much-enjoyed hobby. This weekend’s pageant blew her swimsuit-shy self to the wind.

“I went from nothing to, ‘Hi, I’m onstage in a bathing suit.’” Hays said. “I learned so much. It was a big personal accomplishment and a great lifestyle lesson.”

While Hays said her favorite part of the pageant was the interview portion, she called her formal wear gown a “dream dress.”

“I just felt so elegant,” Hays said. “My grandma said she got tears in her eyes when she saw it on me.”

Joining her grandmother in the audience was Hays’ mother, Roberta Hays, who described Hays as “very poised” onstage and called the pageant a “confidence-builder” for her.

“Heather was a child that used to dress in her closet,” Roberta said. “I had almost never seen her in a bathing suit, and then she did that in five-inch heels. I don’t know many people who would walk across the stage in a bathing suit.”

Roberta said she was very proud of her daughter.

“Of course, I’m holding my breath the whole time hoping she’d do as well as she practiced,” Roberta said. “And she did.”

Though Heather did not go on to compete in finals, Roberta said, “(Heather) told me, ‘I did what I wanted to do and I’m so happy.’”

“It was the final finishing touch on college,” Roberta said. “(The pageant) was the transformation between being in college and a confident business person.”

Sociology senior Rachel Lorber represented San Luis Obispo two years ago in the Miss California USA pageant. She gave Hays a few tips before Hays took the stage.

“We talked about fashion, hair and makeup advice, the girls there and not to be intimidated,” Lorber said. “You learn a lot about nutrition and living a healthy life.”

Lorber said her pageant experience was a good one.

“The truth is, it’s just a bunch of girls going in there to have fun,” Lorber said. “The only person you’re really competing against is yourself.”

The most important part of the pageant, Lorber said, is “gaining self-confidence and making yourself feel beautiful.”

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