Normal Girl in a Pageant World

Everyone has a bucket list. Whether it's a written list or a mental one, everyone has a list of things they want to do before they die.

For years, Wilmington University Marketing student Maria Cahill has been keeping a bucket list. Though she was recently crowned Miss Delaware this past August, Maria, 20, admits that winning the pageant was not on her list. While one might assume that her bucket list would include becoming Miss America, that assumption would be wrong. Instead, Maria's bucket list includes such things as going skydiving, riding a mechanical bull, driving a NASCAR car, riding the Jaws ride at Universal Studios, and many more completely “normal” things. That's what Maria wants to get across the most: Just because she and other Miss America pageant winners compete for a crown, it doesn't mean they are like the kids on Toddlers in Tiaras or the characters from Miss Congeniality. They are real people with real lives who like real activities. They even like (shock) real food.

Maria, originally from the Pittsburgh area, is one of seven siblings, which she considers a true blessing. “I always had a support system,” said Maria. “Whether I did bad, did great, I always had a support system of eight [people] that was there for me, at home, no matter what.”

Unlike many of the girls she was competing with in the 2011 Miss Delaware pageant, Maria had only competed in three beauty pageants. As a child, Maria focused on dance, specifically on Irish dance. She now uses Irish dancing as her talent for the Miss America pageant, and has placed twice at the World Championships of Irish Dance. In high school, she became involved in other sports, including volleyball, basketball, and softball, the latter two of which she was captain. It was also during her high school career that Maria competed in her first two pageants, placing in the top 10 in both.

After high school, Maria left the pageant world, and her Delaware home, to attend Saint Vincent College, a small Catholic liberal arts college in Latrobe, Pa. After two years there, Maria's parents suggested that she take a semester off to come home and look at colleges in the area. After reluctantly agreeing, Maria began visiting colleges throughout Delaware, but nothing was feeling right. “When I went to Saint Vincent for the first time, I just got this feeling that I was supposed to be there,” said Maria. “That was what I was looking for this time.” She finally found that feeling when she visited Wilmington University for the first time.

Due at work in just two hours, Maria grudgingly went to visit WU with her mother. “When we first got on campus, I had no idea what to expect,” said Maria. What she found was the feeling that had been missing at every other school she visited. After meeting with counselors to talk about her options at WU, Maria and her mom headed home. “I didn't want to let her know that I loved the school, so when she asked me how I liked it, I acted distracted and told her I needed to get to work,” said Maria. That night, she told her parents that she wanted to attend Wilmington University.

During her first semester at WU Maria entered her third pageant – the one that would be a life changer. When she received an email a week before the Miss Rehoboth Beach pageant stating that they were looking for girls to compete, Maria thought it was spam. After her mother looked over the email, they decided that it was, in fact, real. Since she already had a wardrobe and a talent, Maria scrambled to get her paperwork together and submitted. Going in with the attitude to have fun and be herself, Maria came out on top, which was something she had never expected. She had just been crowned Miss Rehoboth Beach 2011.

During the next five months, Maria worked with a director to prepare for the Miss Delaware pageant. As usual, Maria went into the pageant to have fun, never expecting to come out the winner – after all, it had been 10 years since a “newbie” won the pageant. But once again, Maria found herself in shock as she was being crowned Miss Delaware 2011. “As most people [could] tell by my complete lack of waterproof mascara, I obviously was not expecting to win,” said Maria. “You prepare so much, but you never expect to ever hear your name called as Miss Delaware, let alone on your first try … Hearing my name called was surreal.”

These days, Maria is busy making personal appearances as Miss Delaware. Traveling and speaking to crowds has provided her experiences she will never forget. While she has enjoyed every appearance so far, the most rewarding and memorable one was at the Georgetown Festival of Hope. There she met a little girl from a poor family who really stole her heart. “Within the first two minutes of meeting this girl she was hugging me and talking about how she had always wanted to be friends with a Miss Delaware,” recalls Maria. “She told me about her family situation, but it was like she didn't even care … She was just so happy to meet me.” It was that day that she realized what a positive impact she could have on the life of a child.

Through these life-changing appearances, Maria has also been able to check a number of things off of her bucket list. While at Dover Downs for an Oakley's Sunglasses appearance, Maria talked to the director of the business group from Monsanto about her list. “I told him that I cried when Dale Earnhart died and it has always been on my bucket list to drive a NASCAR before I die,” said Maria. The director then informed her that they were driving them the next day on the Monster Mile and invited her to join. Another appearance that helped Maria check an item off the list was at the Delaware State Fair. You may be thinking “The State Fair is an odd place to be able to cross things off your bucket list,” but they had one thing Maria had wanted to ride her entire life – a mechanical bull. “I guess that when a person with a ‘Miss Delaware” sash rides a mechanical bull, it can become a huge spectacle … which it did,” laughs Maria.

As a self-proclaimed big kid, Maria wants to reach the younger generation during her year as Miss Delaware. “This year I am trying to promote three things: my platform on safe driving, the Children's Miracle Network, and the fact that pageant girls are just like everyone else. I am trying to break the stereotype that we have to wave a certain way, eat salads three times a day and only talk about ‘world peace.” We play sports, eat fast food and live normal lives. I am trying to show that it is possible for a normal, down-to-earth girl to become Miss Delaware and, possibly, Miss America.”

Maria is a normal girl. She loves McDonalds, quotes Will Ferrell movies, does crazy things with her siblings – like going “land surfing” on skateboards while holding umbrellas during Hurricane Irene – and enjoys any chance to hang out with her friends. She does not fit the stereotype for pageant girls, and says that is true for most girls she is competing with, but she is a fantastic Miss Delaware. The second Maria starts talking, you feel like you've known her forever. I”m guessing that's what makes children so drawn to her. She is kind, well spoken, and has a great sense of humor. Most importantly, though, Maria is herself. She realizes that life is something that can't be taken too seriously. You just have to sit back, relax, and enjoy the (mechanical bull) ride.

Make sure to tune into ABC on January 14, 2012 to cheer on Maria in her quest to become Miss America 2012!

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