In October 2019, when Punjab-born Shree Saini made it to Miss World America, she was just a few hours away from winning it and possibly qualifying for Miss World 2020.
But Shree, a graduate of the University of Washington, who had already won 5 out of 6 awards in the contest, collapsed backstage right before the final night of competition.
The 23 year old, who was dressed in a blue evening gown, had to be immediately rushed to hospital for treatment.
While Shree was out of the competition, what most people didn't know at the time was that she was a multiple-trauma survivor -- she had a pacemaker installed at the age of 12 and is also a burns survivor.
Giving up was never an option for this young girl who has been a motivational speaker and a visiting student at Harvard, Stanford and Yale Universities.
Shree has been invited to address audiences about her life experience and messages of resilience and kindness in more than 8 countries and 30 states in the United States.
In the last few years, ahead of appearing for Miss World America, Shree volunteered with various charitable foundations to spread the message of 'beauty with a purpose' -- also the theme for Miss World, one of the world's oldest running beauty pageants.
In e-mail interview with Rediff.com's Divya Nair, Shree Saini tells us why she is back in the competition this year and how she plans to use the opportunity to encourage more people across the world to dream big, take a stand, do good and inspire positive change.
What inspired you to participate in Miss World?
I didn't dream of being a beauty queen.
I dreamed of making a huge impact through serving as Miss World.
This dream began when I was just 5 years old, when I first watched Miss World in my living room.
The contestant's ability to uplift an entire community through service projects really inspired me to start creating change in my own community.
When and how did you start preparing?
'Beauty with a purpose' is at the heart of Miss World and raises millions every year for many humanitarian projects across the globe.
Serving others and inspiring others is a responsibility for me.
It is our duty that we shine with enthusiasm and serve others with love. That is 'beauty with a purpose' for me!
This year, I continued to reach out to new non-profits and create opportunities to serve.
Did you take any professional training?
I don't believe professional training is required to compete in pageants. You just need to have a heart to serve, to give and uplift others.
I am a dancer and have been training in dance since I was a little girl.
Dance is an optional round of the competition.
How do you stay fit? What do you avoid eating?
Miss World is more about living a healthy lifestyle and less about being 'skinny.'
As a heart patient, and heart health advocate, I encourage people to find activities they enjoy and be physically active.
For food, I continue to eat clean food, find a balance with the sweets and strive to drink a gallon of water each day.
How did your parents react when you told them that you want to participate in the pageant?
My parents have known about my Miss World dream since I was a little girl and have been supportive since Day One.
They instilled in me the values of sincerity, generosity, hard work, and being endlessly kind to everyone and always.
They have shown their support by attending my speaking events around America and the world.
In the last few years, I have had the honour to be invited to speak in many countries including Malaysia, India, South Africa, Guyana, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and more.
Why do you think you stood apart?
Some of Miss World America's technical eligibility requirements include:
- Being ages 18 to 26
- Be a US citizen
- Have never been married
- Never have given birth
However, the main criteria is being a person who cares about the community and wants to use the crown to create the biggest positive impact!
I believe my deep passion for service, my consistent hard work and the years of dedicated community work.
You've survived so many traumas and emerged a winner. What motivates you?
My ability to create a difference even when I was down kept me motivated.
Focusing on my purpose to help others helped me realise I can be of value, when dealing with my physical traumas of suffering burns or undergoing heart surgery.
What are some of the social issues that you care deeply about?
Heart health, anti-human trafficking, kindness and anti-bullying. I also care about providing basic human needs and equal respect/opportunity to each human being.
How are you staying motivated in the lockdown?
My passion for service motivates me. I LOVE finding new ways to give and brighten someone's day.
To stay organised, I keep a planner, write to-do lists, take random dance breaks, stay in touch with friends.
What will winning the pageant mean for you? How do you plan to make the most of the opportunity?
It would mean that no matter where you come from, what obstacles you face, no matter how you get treated, as long as you stay true to values of kindness, hard work, you can achieve a purposeful life.
A beauty queen who inspires you.
Every beauty queen is an inspiration in her own way.m Vanessa Ponce De Leon is one great human being. She was Miss World from Mexico.
She inspires me because of her kind heart.
Instead of waiting for others to approach her, she reaches out, starts conversations, and makes everyone feel like a 'somebody'.
She visited me in the hospital last year when I had collapsed backstage at the pageant.
Your message to aspirants who dream to a beauty queen.
Focus on creating beauty around you.
Focus on being kind in every conversation.