Los Lunas teen competes nationally

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The New Mexico Distinguished Young Woman, Sierra Harland, is a petite young woman with long, thick hair, gracious manners and a delectable smile.

Deborah Fox-News-Bulletin photo: Sierra Harland, the New Mexico Distinguished Young Woman of 2012 and a Los Lunas High School valedictorian, will compete for the national title in Mobile, Ala.

She is a 2012 valedictorian graduate of Los Lunas High School who took a chance on a whim and applied for the regional Distinguished Young Woman competition, formerly known as Junior Miss.

Now she is in Mobile, Ala., preparing herself for the 55th Distinguished Young Women National finals. The surprise victory of the state title gave way to full throttle workouts and preparation for the big event, she said.

Harland flew to the balmy city of Mobile on Sunday, June 17, to participate in rehearsals for the contestant performances to be held on June 28-30 at the Mobile Civic Center Theater.

Harland is one of 50 state representatives competing for a share of about $130,000 in cash scholarships and the opportunity to represent the program as the Distinguished Young Woman of America for 2012.

The brainy, dark-eyed girl has been hard at work this past month with little time to spare.

She received a DVD of the fitness and dance routines last month, and they are very extensive, she said.

She has been learning and practicing the routines with her long-time school friend, Israel “Izzy” Servantes, a Zumba instructor at his family’s business, the Ritmo Latino Dance Studio in Los Lunas.

For the state competition, Harland had only one fitness routine to learn, but in the national competition there are three dance routines. One for the opening act, the closing dance numbers and the fitness routine.

All 50 girls will be on stage for the opening segment, and then they will perform in groups to introduce themselves, she said.

For the fitness routine, the girls will be broken up into four groups, designated by color.

Harland’s group is green and will perform on Friday, June 29.

“I couldn’t do it by myself, because I’m definitely not a dancer by any means,” she said. “So, I went to my friend, Izzy. He graduated with me this year. He agreed to help me and we’ve been working on it every morning for about a month.”

She doesn’t know what the music for the dance routines will be, and most of the young women have been in correspondence on Facebook speculating about it.

“They wanted to keep it a surprise until we got there,” Harland said. “It seems a lot of the dances for the opening number might be a Flamenco-type dance, because there’s a lot of Flamenco style moves.”

The girls also don’t know what outfits they’ll be wearing, she said.

“There’s a lot of things they take care of,” she said. “It’s pretty impressive.”

The program paid for all the contestants’ air fare to go to and from Alabama, and all the girls will stay with host families in Mobile.

Harland and another contestant, Michelle “Miso” Jang, will be staying with the Wysong family.

“They seem like a really nice family,” said Harland. “The purpose of the host family is just to shuttle the girls around to all the rehearsals, all the events. Of course, you get a room to stay in, food … and I think there’s some extra time for them to show us around.”

Some of the scheduled program events include a meet-and-greet at a golf club fundraiser, and an autograph session at a local shopping mall.

The girls will be busy going to team-building events, outdoor obstacle courses at Camp Grace, beach excursions and an oyster eating contest.

In 2009, another Los Lunas Distinguished Young Woman, Shae Muller, won the oyster eating contest, Harland said. Muller downed 44 of the little creatures.

One of the facets of the Distinguished Young Woman program is, “Be Your Best Self.” It is an outreach program contestants participate in to encourage young people nationwide to commit to being their best selves in academics, physical fitness, morality, character and civic participation.

It supports young people in developing the tools to transcend negative peer pressure.

The Distinguished Young Women participants draw on their own personal experiences to deliver helpful messages emphasizing the importance of striving to be healthy, involved in community service, dedicated to academic success and to live responsibly by moral principles.

Contestants wrote essays about what they did to promote the program, and Harland said the winner will get a scholarship.

She wrote her essay about the importance of good role models for children, who show them how to cultivate positive attitudes and practice healthy behaviors.

She used her experience as a volunteer at El Ranchitos de los Niños, a nonprofit organization that provides children with a home as an alternative to foster care.

She noted the lack of good role models in the lives of the kids who arrive at El Ranchitos de los Niños.

“Being there and doing activities with them, I could see how they just need a little encouragement and then they can be just as healthy, studious and responsible as any other child,” Harland said.

But ultimately, being your best self is up to you, she said.

“Only you can choose to eat healthy or stay in school.”

In the talent portion of the national finals competition, Harland will play, “Fantasie Impromptu,” by classical composer, Frederic Chopin, on piano.

“It’s the same piece I did for state,” Harland said, “because it’s my favorite piece.”

She said she had to be careful not to over-practice, and spent only an hour a day at her piano.

There are five categories of evaluation, including scholastics for 20 percent of the score, an interview for 25 percent, fitness for 15 percent, talent 25 percent and self-expression 15 percent.

Distinguished Young Woman is a huge event in Mobile, with lots of city decorating and fanfare, she said.

The program was founded in 1958 in Mobile, and is the largest and oldest national scholarship program for high school girls.

The pageant will be live via webcast at www.local15tv.com at 6 p.m., Saturday, June 30.

To see photos of participants during their time in Mobile, visit www.fusionpointmedia.com.


-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.