Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014 | 2 a.m.
2014 Miss Nevada USA/Richard Corey
Globetrotting Henderson resident Nia Sanchez will be “grounded” here for the next 12 months after winning Sunday night’s 2014 Miss Nevada USA Pageant — unless Donald Trump moves his 2014 Miss USA Pageant, airing on NBC in June, away from Las Vegas.
The 23-year-old hazel-eyed world traveler who once lived in a women’s shelter with her newly divorced mom has worked at Hong Kong Disneyland. Now when she’s not on modeling assignments, she’s a volunteer and supporter of our women’s shelter Shade Tree.
“I’ve always had this wanderlust. I have a love for learning about new cultures by traveling to exciting countries,” she told me moments after being crowned by 2013 Miss Nevada USA Chelsea Caswell at Artemus W. Ham Concert Hall at UNLV. “I guess I got it from my father because when he was in the military, he traveled everywhere.
“I just travel like crazy. I came back full time to Las Vegas after Hong Kong, but have still been all over. As a model, you travel a lot of places, and it gives you a flexible schedule.”
It’s a first-time big win for the 5’ 8” martial-arts student and fan. “When I was 13, I did a little pageant called Miss San Jacinto in California. I grew up going to middle school and high school in California. At 19, I entered the Miss Citrus Valley Pageant, and that got me to the Miss Latino contest in Ecuador.
“When I lived in California, I got a second-runner-up win. But this is my first big state title ever. I’m so excited. I cannot believe it’s happening. It’s a dream come true that I can’t even explain.
“I prayed for this to happen. I’d been working at it for over a year now. Ever since I got home from Hong Kong, I knew that I wanted to be Miss Nevada USA. My family prayed. My friends prayed, and all weekend they kept sending me messages saying, ‘We’re praying for you.’ Those positive vibes worked!”
Nia, who spent two weeks in Kenya when she was 17, also visits Mexico for three months every year on mission trips. She heard about an audition for Hong Kong Disneyland.
“Every time they have an audition, there are about 4,000 girls who show up for maybe just five openings. I didn’t know if I’d get it. I went on a fluke and was lucky enough to be picked, so I lived there for 7 months. I was a face-character friend with the princesses, so I took part in the parades, the shows and the meet-and-greets there for Disneyland and loved every moment of it.
“It has been one of the best experiences of my life. I’ve been to the one in California many times, but going there was just completely different with the culture, and the food was very interesting. Always the traveler, I got to go to Thailand and the Great Wall of China while I was there.”
Her parents, who are divorced, were at Sunday night’s pageant, as was her grandmother. “I’m Latino,” Nia said proudly. “My dad is half Mexican and half German. My grandmother is full Mexican, and my grandfather is full German. They met in World War II when he served overseas. My mom is all mixes of European and Spanish.
“My mom was a full-time stay-at-home mom. When she went to get a divorce, she didn’t have an income to leave. Women’s shelters are really good at helping women get on their feet and be able to stand on their own. We went there while she was finding a job.
“I donate my time to the Shade Tree women’s shelter. The director of volunteers was one of the contestants here. I didn’t know she was competing for the pageant. I got here for the group orientation, and it was like, ‘Hey, I know you!’
“I can relate to the organization, and I chose it because it’s a place that empowers women and helps them get off the street and out of abusive relationships.
“My mom, who lives in Washington state, and dad, who lives in Southern California, are divorced, but they’ve become good friends now. They both came here for the pageant, along with my grandmother, who flew down from Washington, too, as she hasn’t been to Las Vegas in years.”
I was one of the judges along with model, reality TV star and producer Nicole Murphy (Eddie Murphy’s ex-wife), 1989 Miss USA Gretchen Polhemus, plastic surgeon Dr. Aaron Rollins and fashion designer Jason Hee Chui Kim.
The 2014 Miss Nevada Teen USA Pageant was held simultaneously with Zowie Bowie’s Chris Phillips and 2012 Miss Nevada USA Jade Kelsall among the judges. Miss Summerlin Teen Alexa Taylor won Sunday night’s pageant.
Pageant director and reality TV star Shanna Moakler, once married to Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker and the 1995 Miss USA, told me, “You had an incredibly difficult assignment when it got down to the final five after the swimsuit, evening gown and interview voting.
“Then came the question, but you chose well, and I’m thrilled with Nia and with Alexa, who will go on to the Miss Teen USA Pageant this summer in the Bahamas. I have great confidence that Nia will do really well in the Miss USA Pageant.”
The Top Five, following Miss South Las Vegas Nia, was Miss Spring Valley Stephanie Cook, 24; Miss Clark County Jessica Davis, 21; Miss Southern Highlands Brittany McGowan, 24; and Miss Sunrise Manor Cierra Jackson, 25. Las Vegas radio DJ Chet Buchanan and 2011 Miss USA Alyssa Campanella hosted the pageant.
Nia, who has studied jazz and ballet for five years, summed up: “As Miss Nevada USA, I would love to bring awareness to subjects that are close to my heart like helping children and empowering women.”
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.
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