A vision of success
Miss Wyoming Teen USA preps for national pageant by imagining she's won.
By Johanna Love, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
July 25, 2012
Although the Miss Teen USA Pageant finals aren’t until Saturday, Sydney Graus has already walked down the runway in a bikini countless times. In her head, that is.
To keep herself disciplined about eating the right foods and to psych herself up for being on an international stage, Miss Wyoming Teen USA has been using creative visualization.
“I’ve been to Miss Teen USA about 1,000 times already,” Graus said. “It’s OK; I only forgot my gown about four of those times.”
Visualizing success is a technique that Graus, 17, learned as a varsity basketball player at Jackson Hole High School. Before important games, she would picture herself making free throws.
Before the Miss Wyoming Teen USA pageant, held Sept. 25, 2011, in Casper, Graus’ strategy was straightforward. She watched “Miss Congeniality” about 50 times and pictured herself winning. It worked. Having only competed in a single preteen pageant, Graus beat several girls with more experience for the crown.
That victory catapulted Graus into the big-time. All of a sudden, the Jackson teen had a publicist, a production company, requests for appearances on the other side of the state and tickets for her first airplane flight. Preparing for a national competition turned out to be a bit more involved, but Graus has thrown herself into it headfirst.
Every Halloween since preschool, Graus didn’t bother brainstorming a costume. She was always Miss America.
Her father, Green Turf Lawnscapes owner Todd Graus, said in April he wasn’t worried about the beauty queen fantasy transforming his sensible daughter.
“Sydney’s not vain,” he said. “She’s fulfilling a childhood dream of being a princess.”
Pageants also pay big bucks in college scholarships, he said, which encouraged Sydney to enter. Winning the Miss Wyoming Teen USA earned Graus a $40,000 scholarship. She is considering studying film or broadcast journalism. Modeling also is one of her career aspirations.
Being Miss Wyoming Teen USA required dozens of trips across the state. Graus visited with senior citizens in Casper, spoke at a Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation banquet in Cheyenne, served as the grand marshal for the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Cody and thanked veterans for their military service.
Riding home with her mother, Holly, from her first appearance Nov. 5 in Casper, Graus had an intense stomachache. By the time they got to Jackson, the pain was so so severe, they went straight to St. John’s Medical Center. She was rushed into emergency surgery for an appendectomy. She was forced to sit out the first month of basketball practice and now has a scar that will show when she wears her bikini in the pageant.
In January, Graus flew to Minneapolis for Future Productions’ Pageant Power Week. She tried on dozens of gowns, learned makeup tricks and got interview tips.
Her production company handlers took one look at her “basketball shoulders,” she said, and designed an entirely new exercise program for her.
“I couldn’t run,” Graus said. “I’ve had to speed walk for the past seven months. I had to find ways to reduce the size of my muscles without getting rid of muscle tone.”
Every Friday, Graus had to don a swimsuit and pose for front, back and side photographs, which she emailed to her production company. Her advisors looked at the photos and her food diary and made adjustments accordingly to her exercise or diet regimens.
She’s lost 10 pounds from her 5-foot-9-inch frame, which equated to three pant sizes.
“They wanted me to have a Victoria’s Secret body, as opposed to an athletic body,” Graus said. “I didn’t know I had any fat or weight to lose, but I started cutting out sugar, and that’s when my muscles started to be able to show. Everybody has fat they don’t know about.”
When a craving for dessert would strike, Graus said she would summon all her willpower and visualize herself posing on the national stage in her bikini. That was enough to make her put the yearnings aside.
The discipline needed to transform her body has helped with her confidence, Graus said. She also worked with premier pageant interview coach Don Baker, whose clients have captured state and national titles for the past 20 years, her mom said.
“He teaches you to not look like a deer in the headlights in the interview,” Holly said.
The way the pageant is structured, the interview accounts for a third of the total score, but since it’s the first time the judges meet the contestants, that impression is most important, Todd Graus said.
“They’ve got to fall in love with you,” he said.
To help pay for all the gowns, appearances and travel costs associated with representing Wyoming for a year, Holly Graus came up with an idea for a fundraiser: a massive garage sale.
“I thought, in this economy, a lot of people can’t donate money,” Graus said, “but they may be more willing to donate their junk.”
Unable to sell it all in one weekend, the Graus family raised the garage doors of their South Park shop three different times, raising about $1,800.
The money helped the Grauses fly to the Bahamas on Monday for the national pageant, which began Tuesday. The Graus contingent includes Holly, Todd, little brother Gage, 11, and sister Rebekah, 14. They skipped their spring break vacation to afford it, but the trip is costing them $11,000 more than they saved by not taking a trip in March. Sydney Graus’ grandparents also made the trip.
As she readied for the pageant July 18 with her production company in Minneapolis, Graus sounded poised and ready for the stage at Atlantis, a hotel on Paradise Island in Nassau, Bahamas.
“It’s something I never thought I’d be doing, and now I’m getting ready to walk down a runway,” Graus said. “The best part of it has been all the confidence I’ve gained. I’ve been able to meet so many incredible people. I’ve grown a lot as a person. I’m a lot stronger than I thought I was. I can talk to people and know what I want to say and how to get my point across.”
If she wins, Graus plans to spend her year’s reign being a role model for youth, promoting abstinence from underage sex and drinking.
“It’s one of those huge issues for teens,” Graus said, “but I think it’s achievable.”
If Graus doesn’t become the first Miss Teen USA to hail from Wyoming, she’ll return home, play basketball during her senior year at Jackson Hole High School and continue pursuing her dreams, she said. And eat some cheesecake.