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October 1, 2014

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Q+A: Miss Nevada Diana Sweeney arrives in Atlantic City for 2013 Miss America Pageant

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Miss America Organization

2013 Miss Nevada Diana Sweeney signs the contestant map at the welcome ceremony for the 2013 Miss America Pageant on Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013, in Atlantic City.

2013 Miss Nevada Diana Sweeney

2013 Miss Nevada Diana Sweeney, right, in Orlando, Fla. Launch slideshow »
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The 2013 Miss America Pageant welcome ceremony in Atlantic City, N.J., on Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013.

The big day has finally arrived for 19-year-old Diana Sweeney, who will represent the Silver State as Miss Nevada in the 2013 Miss America Pageant. She was introduced today along with her 52 rivals at the official welcome ceremony in Atlantic City, a return to its original seaside home after seven years at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas.

New Jersey Lt. Gov. and Secretary of State Kim Guadagno and Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford hosted the event. It kicks off two weeks of intense rehearsals, filming schedules and public appearances before the ABC telecast on Sept. 15.

Tonight, the Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce greets the contestants with a clambake on the beach at Trump Plaza Hotel. On Wednesay, Thursday and Friday, Diana is in rehearsals for the telecast. She joins the contestants Wednesday filming at Chickie & Pete’s restaurant and Boogie Nights Club at the Tropicana.

Then on Thursday evening, she’ll be filmed at dinner in Buddakan and shopping at the Caesars Hotel Pier Shops. She gets to relax a little for the first time on Saturday, attending the Blondie concert at the Golden Nugget.

I was in Atlantic City on Monday when Diana arrived via Reno and Chicago from her home in Moundhouse, and we talked one on one about the pageant and her preparations.

A graduate of Carson City High School, where she was named Miss Carson City, Diana is a junior at UNR, where she is completing her dual major in math and education. I reported her win of Miss Nevada when she was crowned by 2012 winner Randi Sundquist at Texas Station here in June.

She says it was "third time’s the charm" and told me that she began getting ready for Miss America the day after being crowned Miss Nevada.

“It’s always been a dream of mine — forever! I finished packing Saturday, the day before I left for the trip to the East Coast,” she told me. “I double-, triple-checked everything. It’s kind of crazy to think it’s all finally come together and already here.

“Even before the arrival ceremony, we have to all get checked in, have our first fittings. I know there’s going to be a lot of long days, long nights and many hours ahead of us all for the next two weeks.

“Whoever wins has to be ready to leave immediately from Atlantic City for the year’s reign. Being honest, I wouldn’t say I packed for an entire year, but I packed enough clothes to do laundry occasionally until next year if I need to. It wasn’t too tough to pack for several months. I had a few new items of my own and some from the Miss Nevada Organization they graciously gave me.”

2013 Miss Nevada Diana Sweeney

Her platform issue is “Special Olympics: Special Deeds for Special Needs.” She’s been passionate about the cause since age 8, when she had her first encounter helping a special-needs student who rode her bus to elementary school. Today, she aids in Special Olympic events in Nevada and has volunteered countless hours for their dance and piano class programs in Northern Nevada.

“We’re going to be so busy with rehearsals, filming and competition, I won’t get a lot of opportunity to promote it, but every time I can, I will,” she said.

I asked Diana to run me through the gamut of emotions she’s experienced in the past 24 hours now that she realizes her lifetime dream is real.

“I’ve been surprisingly very calm. I usually get very excited and nervous before big events like this, and this is the biggest event I’ve ever gone to in my entire life,” she said. “In the past 24 hours, I have been cool as a cucumber, which really surprised me. I don’t know what it is; I’m just calm. Maybe it’s because I had the total meltdown a few weeks ago and got it out of the way.

“I am over-the-moon excited! It’s so surreal and exciting to be here and truly an honor. People have asked me, ‘What if I lose? What if I lose?’ I don’t think they understand just being here is such an honor. I have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

“Just being here is so incredible that you don’t come here to lose anything; you come to gain knowledge, experience and connections. I’ve won already because I made it here, and it’s already been a life-changer for me.”

More than 100 people attended a Labor Day Weekend barbecue to send Diana on her way.

“It was so much fun to have all of my friends and family there supporting me and showing their love. It’s helped make the entire experience relaxing. I’m not formal, so the outdoor event in my parent’s yard was perfect, and, of course, I had to show my wardrobe. It was a very community-driven event.

“My gown is from La Casa Hermosa, and it’s an actual design by the owner. I didn’t know that until I went ahead and purchased it, so it was a little fun fact that she actually designed that gown. I felt really special that I’ll be able to showcase one of her designs.”

Her Miss Nevada predecessors Randy Sundquist and Cris Crotz have been encouraging her with tips, advice and confidence-booster calls every week.

She explained: “They are both coming to Atlantic City for the pageant. There’s a really strong sisterhood in the Nevada system, so it’s been really nice and helpful knowing that I can turn and trust any of them even if I had never talked to them before. They would drop everything they’re doing to help me. It’s nice to have that support and bond.

“I didn’t expect anyone from my family to come other than my mom and dad, but now there’s another seven joining them. It’s really cool to me because it’s such a long trip, it’s so expensive, it’s a long time away for people who are working. It’s been so surreal to think how many people are coming to support me. I feel so loved.”

When Diana graduates from college, she plans on a career as a math professor and will do as much volunteer work as possible for Special Olympics.

“I want to be a college math professor when I graduate from school,” she told me. “I’ve gotten really close to Special Olympics of Nevada, so hopefully now after I finish school and establish myself in a career position, I can go on helping them. It also would be amazing to help with Special Olympics internationally.”

I asked how she’s prepared for the dreaded judge’s question: “I don’t think there’s a lot of prep you can do because they can really ask you anything under the sun. I’m just making sure I’m well-versed in everything.

“You should be on top of current events whether or not you’re entering a Miss America Pageant. I’ll remember to stick with my gut. You can’t really practice answers to those questions; you just have to know and trust yourself.

“This has already taught me that I can push myself further than I ever thought I possibly could. I don’t think I’ve ever been more dedicated and motivated to do something in my life, and not just this year, but also the past four years of competing. This organization has brought the best out of me.

“I think it’s incredible to think that one organization can truly stretch you past what you thought you could be, and that’s what Miss America has done for me. It’s been a life-changing experience.”

On Wednesday, look for my candid and somewhat-controversial interview with Miss America Chairman Sam Haskell on why the pageant moved in 2004 to Las Vegas — and after seven years returned it, bigger and better, to Atlantic City.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Vegas DeLuxe on Twitter at Twitter.com/vegasdeluxe.

Follow Sun A&E Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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