I don't have the words to say thank you.
This journey has been four years in the making and has only just begun.
How do I say thank you to the mothers that have hugged my neck and whispered in my ear and told me that they would have followed me to Miss America because of the impact I've had on their daughters?
How do I say thank you to the little girls who have come up to me to tell me that I've inspired them to follow their dreams?
How do I say thank you to my incredible team of people who have spent countless hours preparing me for every second of competition and service?
How do I say thank you to my family and their undying love and support even when I don't deserve it?
From the bottom of my heart I can't tell each and every one of you how grateful I am-
For each and every hug, for every encouraging word, every post, every hand squeeze, I am forever grateful.
Rodney and Keith- where do I start? My wonderful, incredible, amazing pageant dads. I love you both so much!
Rodney, we walked into this week with the attitude and mantra of being calm, confident, and kind. But I knew no matter what, that I wanted to leave this week with the attitude of being gracious, humble, and grateful. Thank you for giving me a fearless, loving out look on life. It took me 3 tries to be a Rodney's girl but I guess that's the magic number, because this was the best year yet.
Keith, thank you for your paperwork guidance and your raw sense of humor, you never cease to put a smile on my face. I love your dry wit and how you make everyone around you laugh. I've loved getting to know you this year.
You have both become a part of my family and that will never change. There aren't enough words in the dictionary to describe how indebted I am to you both for your kindness and support. You have taken me in like I'm your own and given me so much love and selfless time and effort to prepare me. I can't wait to come see you soon! I love you both so much.
David Camp- thank you, thank you, thank you. For the weekly interview prep, my constant questions and midnight texts asking you about 1567 articles, for the hours you put in preparing me for the interview for the job of a lifetime. How do I say thank you for all you've done? Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to voluntarily prepare me to communicate my heart and my passions to my judges' panel. I have loved this year of getting to know you and spending time with you - you are an amazing and selfless human being- I'm a better person because of your impact on my life. I love you.
Ashley Grindstaff, I don't have words to tell you how grateful I am that God gave me you as a big sister. You've been my rock when I needed someone to be steadfast, my shoulder to cry on when I needed it, and you have had my back from the day I met you. I'll never forget the first time I Called you as a sophomore in college looking for scholarship money and the right local to compete at. You were so gracious to this nervous, blonde girl that had no idea what journey she was walking into. Your family and your community have welcomed me as their own and it's an honor to call you a friend. I love you so much. (I've got my bags packed for that Florida vacation btw!!)
Mom, I love you. I am so lucky to have a mother who supports me POSITIVELY and ENCOURAGES me every step of the way. Never have you ever pressured me negatively- you've always lifted me up and encouraged me. It cracks me up to hear that people say you're a "crazy pageant mom" because you're the farthest thing from it. You've taught me grace and poise and how to be a lady. You've taught me how to be graceful under pressure, and I will never know how to thank you for that. You've taught me resiliency, you've taught me to never stay down when you're knocked down, and most of all you've taught me to love. You have always taught me to go in a spirit of God's love and grace and to show that to every person I come in contact with. You've taught me that it's not what you say or how you say it but it's how you make people feel, because that's what they'll never forget. Thank you for loving me unconditionally, for the long car rides from one end of the state to the other, for your witty comments, for your constant reminders that I AM worthy, and for loving me when I'm not so easy to love. You're incredible, mom. I love you.
Dad, thank you for giving me the work ethic of a champion. You've taught me that hard work beats talent every day of the week and I can't thank you enough for that. You've led by example and given me the tools to KNOW how to work hard and that the best things in life don't come easy. Thank you for giving me all the tools I could ever possibly need to achieve my goals, and for giving me the worth ethic to do the same. Thank you for being there through the ups and downs and in betweens, I love you.
Christal, you're the best sister I could ask for. You're so supportive of whatever dream I chase and I can't thank you enough. Thank you for letting me make fun of your birth mark that turns purple when you get pumped because it's pretty fantastic. You are so bright and beautiful and I'm so incredibly excited to see what you do next. I love you to the moon and back little one.
Rocky and Tony- you LITERALLY came all the way across the country to watch me compete. TWICE. (one more time for the people in the back) TWICE!! I love you both so, so much and I can't thank you enough for your encouragement and love. From Amigo the golden doodle pictures, to memes, to witty come backs, you both always know how to make everyone around you smile. I can't thank you enough for the thoughtful gifts (that are currently being framed as we speak) and for your constant encouragement throughout the year. (and Tony for your fabulous pageant photos!!) I love you both lots. I can't wait to come see you in Palm Springs soon!
Steve Roten - I have never, ever, ever been so comfortable in my own skin before. Thank you for teaching me food is not a reward and exercise is not a punishment. Thank you for teaching me to love cardio and to relish the weight room. (even when people make me jump 3 feet in the air from their screams during their lift.) Thank you for pushing me to my limits and encouraging me to be my best. I almost cried when I tried on a size zero dress and it zipped up seamlessly. I've never experienced that before while taking care of myself, in addition to eating and exercising the RIGHT way. I felt so confident putting on my swimsuit this year and knowing that I gave my body 110%. Thank you for every lift session, putting me on tuna instead of tilapia, and for giving me an attitude of never giving up, even when it gets hard. I've loved getting to know you and your family these last 2 years and getting to know your love of bettering people's health. You truly have the magic touch - because you've made me love the stair master and hate fried food haha! Thank you for everything these last two years, I'm forever grateful.
Paige Dennis - for four years you have dressed me To the 9s (I'd even argue a 10 😉) and have made a scared, shy, nervous girl feel like a queen. You truly made me have my Miss America moment when you made me cry my mascara off in that beautiful pink Sherri Hill gown that I swore up and down I'd never put on. I've loved every minute in your store; thank you for putting up with me even when I run around in a Sherri hill couture gown flapping the chiffon like wings and looking like a loon and you still told me I looked lovely- thank you thank you thank you. Thank you for your patience, encouragement, hilarious snapchats, and support. I love ya Paigey.
Jonah, Grace, Kendall, Georganna, Teresa, Rob, Carter, Aubrey - how blessed am I to have such an incredible friend group? God blessed me with some incredible friends and I don't know how to say thank you. You all have shown up and shown out over the last four years - from Miss Collierville our senior year in High school to Miss Tennessee 2017 after graduation, you have been there. George, Rob, Teresa, Carter, and Aub- thank you for being there through it all. I can't wait till January when we all get to stand together and George and Rob's Wedding! Jonah, your kind supportive spirit have gotten me through this last year. Whether we're on the floor of my room laughing until we can't breathe or working on swimsuit walk in my parent's entryway, we always have so much fun and you make everyone around you smile. I love you. Grace, you have been there since 8th grade and I can't begin to tell you how blessed I am to call you my second sister. (Sometimes you and Christal remind me a little too much of each other 😏) You're always there with encouraging words - and sometimes wine when it's needed - and a hug. I'm so excited to watch you change the lives of children at St. Jude with your sparkling demeanor and radiant smile. I know they love you and I do too! Kendall, I don't know why it took us so long to finally become friends but I'm so glad we did- I can't believe we lived ten minutes from each other growing up and didn't meet until college, but WOW am I so glad that the Lord brought you into my life! You are immeasurably valuable as a precious person and friend. You are so selfless and move mountains for others when anyone asks for your help. I have loved getting to share Oxford with you and I can't wait to come visit you (and cheer for you) in Knoxville soon. I love you so much sister friend.
To everyone who has taken the time to tell me how I've impacted your life or of someone around you- thank you. It's because of you I've been changed for the better. I've had tears in my eyes reading these texts and cards and letters all of you have sent- from Pastor RJ in Iowa who took the time to encourage me from his home state and pray with his congregation that I might shine my light and impact the lives of others affected by Alzheimer's disease to my sweet Iris princess who sent me daily gifts of encouragement. From the woman who grabbed me in the Ronald Reagan Airport to tell me her story about how her friend smiled for the first time in weeks after seeing me at the Alzheimer's forum to the woman who let me hold her child as she receives her chemotherapy treatment in the NICU. Sitting here reflecting on this last year truly reminds me how grateful I am for all of the love and support from people that barely knew my name but came up and hugged my neck after events to tell me that my story changed them for the better. All I ever wanted in this organization is to inspire others, to bring hope to families with Alzheimer's and tell them that they're not alone.
Thank you to everyone who has poured into me these last four years, mentored me, encouraged me, supported me, or sent positivity my way. I promise it hasn't gone unnoticed. So thank you THANK YOU thank you for every second of this journey 💜
So, what's next?
I have no idea.
But I know it will not affect my Advocacy work for Alzheimer's.
That will never change. I'll fight for a cure until Alzheimer's is nothing more than a distant memory.
The next step isn't even known to me yet.
But I am resting in the fact that there's a plan that's so much bigger and brighter and more beautiful than my own that I don't even know yet.
And that's the beauty of this journey.
It's only just begun.