A Breathless Moment In Time

There are moments in popular culture that are seared into your memory forever; the kinds of moments that send chills up your spine whenever you recall them.  In real life, not everyone is a hero and not every day has a dramatic plot and picture perfect ending.  That’s why when special people do come along and miraculous things do happen, we tend not to forget them.

One of those events happened thirteen years ago yesterday.  When a flight from Newark to San Francisco was highjacked and 40 brave Americans paid the ultimate price to save countless others.  The men and women aboard that plane rose up against the evil that stood before them, and rather than go quietly to their graves, sent the wretched instruments of terror hurtling to earth in a blaze of glory.  We haven’t forgotten them, and we never will.

That’s the spirit of America.

The weekend of the Miss America Pageant is now upon us.  And tonight I want to take a break from the updates and predictions to remember one of those breathless moments in time.

The moment happened in last year’s Pageant.  At the tender age of sixteen, Myrrhanda Jones was crowned Miss Florida’s outstanding teen.  This honor is generally a stepping stone to the big pageant.  And sure enough, four years later, she was crowned Miss Florida 2013.  It was a title she had been working for her entire life.

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Myrrhanda Jones as Miss Florida Outstanding Teen 2009.

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Four years later, as Miss Florida 2013.

Myrrhanda had an usual talent.  She wasn’t a singer, dancer, or musician.  Her gift was the ability to twirl a baton.  In her pageant career, she wowed her audiences with her incredible ability to spin two, and sometimes three, wands at lightning speed, over her back and shoulders, and tossing them high into the air.  All the while spinning and twirling her body and entertaining the crowd with true showmanship.  She had even performed her talent at the London Olympics.   She was regarded as having one of the superior talents in the 2014 Miss America field.

After training for months on end to prepare for her one and only Miss America Pageant, she arrived in Atlantic City full of hope and energy.  Then, the unthinkable happened.  As she was warming up for her routine on the final night of preliminaries, her knee buckled and she fell to the stage in excruciating pain.  She had completely torn her ACL and partially torn her MCL.  The type of injury that would immobilize a professional male athlete in his prime for nearly a year, if not longer. Any rational person upon hearing that news would have assumed that her Pageant was over.

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Only it wasn’t.

Immediately after the injury, Myrrhanda announced that she intended to still compete.  Within hours of her injury, she was fitted with a knee brace.  She returned to the stage the same night and won the final preliminary talent award.  Since the preliminary competition is not televised, many assumed the award was given out of sympathy.

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Myrrhanda, on the right, with her preliminary talent award.

On the night of the competition, social media was abuzz with news that the girl with the torn ACL would be competing.  She quickly became a fan favorite and Internet sensation.  “I firmly believe if there’s a will, there’s a way. I willed myself to be here, I willed myself to win Miss Florida, and I’m willing myself to win Miss America,” Myrrhanda said.  She then added:  “I’m finishing this thing.”

It’s hard to imagine being 20 years old and walking out across a stage on national TV and a live audience of thousands, in the biggest moment of your life.  Knowing that your every step and gesture is being judged and scrutinized.  It is unfathomable to do that with a torn ACL and virtually no time to practice walking in a knee brace.  But that is what she was about to do.  And. It. Sounded. Crazy.

The millions watching the Pageant cringed at the thought of what they were about to see.  Would she trip and fall?  Would she aggravate her injury and collapse in pain?  Or was she going to pull off the most miraculous victory of all time?  The possibilities were limitless, and we couldn’t look away.

The Pageant began and Miss Florida was introduced.  Everyone breathed a sigh of relief as she made it through the opening routine without catastrophe.  Then it was time to call the finalists, and sure enough, Myrrhanda was on the list.

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The swimsuit competition began and Myrrhanda carried herself with breathtaking poise and grace, as if she had been walking in a knee brace her entire life.  After advancing to the next round, she elegantly strutted her evening gown like a pro.  At this point in the Pageant, there were only 12 contestants left.  Only ten would be chosen to compete in the talent portion of the competition.  Had she impressed the judges enough?  Would her name be called?

Over the next half hour, Myrrhanda listened as nine other contestants were called, but she was not.  There was only one name left to call, and three remaining contestants.  Myrrandha’s storybook journey was on the brink of ending and everyone held their breath.  Everyone could see and feel how much she wanted this — maybe as much as anyone had wanted anything.  Chris Harrison opened the envelope . . .

“The final talent performance, and moving on . . . I hope that knee can hold up a little longer . . .”

The rest of what he said was inaudible.  Atlantic City split open with such a deafening, ground-shaking roar that it must caused waves in the Pacific.  Myrrhanda pumped her fist in the air like she was about to win the Super Bowl!

The moment she had been waiting for her entire life was here.  The final phase of competition in the Miss America Pageant.  And there she stood, all alone, knee brace and all, in front of a country full of captivated onlookers.  An ordinary person in her place would not have been able to hold a glass of water without spilling it.

And then she set the stage on fire: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=BgOO6yjAoFg

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By the time she was done, I was sure we had our next Miss America.  Never had I seen something like that before.  I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that it was one of the most gritty and incredible live performances in the history of American television.

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Myrrhanda’s parents were emotional after witnessing their daughter’s inspired performance.

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Myrrhanda celebrates as she is announced as a Top 5 finalist.

Unfortunately for Myrrhanda, she had the bad luck of competing with one of the most outstanding young women of her generation, Nina Davuluri, and ultimately placed third runner-up.  But there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that she was a winner that night.  The 2014 Miss America Pageant will always be known for the girl Florida who shone like a star under the bright lights of the big stag against the greatest odds.  True to form, she kept a positive attitude despite coming up short.  Because she knew, as did everyone else, that she gave it all she had.

And that’s the spirit of America.

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