Megan Riehle got into pageantry about a year ago.
Now, she is in Mansfield preparing for the Miss Ohio competition.
Riehle graduated from Edgerton High School in 2017 and, like many students, started looking for scholarship opportunities to help ease the burden of college tuition rates.
“I started out by Googling ‘Scholarships for women in Indiana,’” she said. “So, Miss Indiana popped up and that’s where I started.”
Riehle is a full-time nursing student at Indiana University Fort Wayne, but lives in Defiance County, so she is eligible to compete in both Indiana and Ohio beauty pageants.
She started competing last May, participating in nine pageants in Indiana and another five in Ohio before she won.
“It has been so surreal getting to use all of my work and doing so many pageants — I did 14 local pageants before winning,” she said. “It was the very last one in the state of Ohio before state. So, it was my very last chance, my very last ticket and my very last possibility. And they called my name.”
That was on March 16, when she was crowned Miss Cuyahoga Valley.
The win came as a surprise.
“It was absolutely amazing, I cried a lot,” she said. “I kept telling myself that someday my work would pay off. I knew how much heart I’m putting into this and how confident I am and how much I am working for my platform and who I am as a person would pay off.”
She had to remind herself of that every day as she went to voice lessons, a pageant coach and dress fittings.
That was only part of the work Riehle put into being a pageant contestant. She also had to learn how to do hair and make up and also how to walk in high heels.
“I’ve been walking in heels, like every girl, since high school dances, homecomings and stuff,” she said. “But having to actually walk in them and not just take them off five minutes afterward was different. Standing in them is the hardest part, but the foot cramps eventually went away.”
She also had to learn how she wanted to market and brand herself.
Branding herself, or more precisely being true to herself, was one of the bigger lessons she learned in her year on the pageant circuit.
“When anybody stereotypes a pageant girl they just think of the movie ‘Miss Congeniality,’ and it’s nothing like that,” Riehle said. “We’re all so true to who we are and what we believe in. The biggest part of that is our platform, it’s something that defines us and how we want to make a difference.”
Despite what people think, being authentic to yourself is something that can be seen through body language, facial expression and even how you speak.
Riehle started out presenting herself not as she was but how she thought the judges wanted her to be.
“I was like, ‘This isn’t getting me anywhere, this isn’t who I am. I don’t want this,’” she said. “I put myself into it and working harder on my platform, working more on my interview skills and realizing ‘This is who I am and I love this and I want them to see that. I want them to know this is me.’”
Her platform is called “Serving Those Who Served for U.S. Proudly Supporting Our Local Veterans.” The basis of the platform is giving the respect to veterans they deserve but don’t always receive.
The idea came from her father, Ross Riehle, who served in the Navy during Desert Storm.
“He didn’t get the respect and the thank you he deserved for the longest period of time because of the time period he was in,” Riehle said. “A lot of people didn’t think that (Desert Storm) was a war, but it was. Many veterans went through the same thing and I think it’s awful ... They deserve the world for us and we need to work on giving that to them.”
The Miss Ohio Competition will take place in Mansfield over three days later this week, with the crowning happening on Saturday.
However, she’s been in Mansfield since Thursday for a week of events prior to the competition proper.
“We’re rehearsing everyday until the competition,” Riehle said.
On Sunday, she participated in the Miss Ohio Parade and a “Show me your shoe” competition, wherein each contestant decorated a shoe to some theme.
Her theme was her platform, so she decorated a combat boot in red and blue with white poppies.
She will compete on stage question and a production number on Thursday with her talent, evening gown and impact statement on Friday. Saturday is the finals.
“So, the top 10 will compete, then it goes down to five and then they crown from five,” Riehle said.
She is looking forward to the competition, saying she’s “so excited.”
Most of all, she wanted to thank her parents who have been there since day one.
Her father said he supports her “120 percent in everything she does.”
“My title is now ‘pageant roadie,’” he said. “I drive her to all her competitions and help her get everything around.”
Ross Riehle said the experience has been “a whirlwind” and “chaotic” and was in Mansfield, cheering her on louder than anyone else.