The new Miss India USA hails from George
A journalism major at the University of Washington and the daughter of the owners of a travel plaza in George, Shree Saini is the new Miss India USA.
Saini and her parents, Sanjay and Ekta Saini, met the mayor of George, Gerene Nelson, on Dec. 29 to celebrate Shree Saini’s accomplishment.
“We are extremely honored to call her one of our own,” said Mayor Nelson at the informal meeting at City Hall. “It’s not every day you have someone who gets such recognition from such a small town.”
Saini, 21, won the award on Dec. 17 in New Jersey, overcoming some mighty long odds.
At the age of 12, Saini underwent surgery to install a pacemaker on her heart because of a congenital heart defect, and she endured bullying at school for years. And because of her heart condition she was once told she would never be able to dance again.
“I was very shattered by that,” she said. “I have always been very passionate about dancing. It really shook me.”
Instead of resigning herself to not dancing, she told her mother she would get the pacemaker and “safely and slowly” return to dance class.
At Miss India USA, she shared her story of endurance and perseverance.
“I was teased a lot because I had this massive scar because of the pacemaker,” she said.
A participant in contests such as the Miss Moses Lake (first runner-up), Miss Seattle (first runner-up) and Miss East Cascades (second runner-up) pageants, Saini has used her pageant career as a platform for a variety of causes, including putting an end to abusive behavior among students in school.
In addition to her work as an anti-bullying advocate, she has served as Miss Washington Hope Heart 2017, a brand ambassador for the Hope Heart Foundation, which raises awareness about the dangers of cardiovascular disease and ways to prevent it.
Saini said she always wanted to do pageants but never got the chance until she was a senior at Moses Lake High School. She said she recently found a piece of paper from 2009 tucked inside her Bible, that read “Shree Saini, the future Miss America.”
“The reason I wanted to do pageants is, I was so impressed by these girls,” she said. “They were so involved in their community, they were highly educated, so talented. I knew that I wanted to really focus on community service.”
She credits her parents for instilling a passion for education, and credits pageants for giving her a passion to advocate for a cause.
The road to the crown of Miss India USA began in August, when she competed in a field of about 25 in the Miss India Washington contest and won. As Miss India Washington, she has hosted public speaking events in places such as Wenatchee, Spokane, Tri-Cities and Moses Lake.
Then in December, she was among 50 women in the Miss India USA pageant. Some states had more than one contestant in the pageant, she added.
In the talent portion of the contest, she performed a dance that told of her experience growing up and coping with a pacemaker. She said she thought the message really resonated with the audience.
She was also a favorite with the other contestants, and they voted her Miss Congeniality, before she won the Miss India USA crown.
“I was just so lucky to be selected to represent USA,” Saini said.
She has a lot of travel coming up in her new role as Miss India USA, making appearances and being interviewed. And she will compete in the Miss India Worldwide contest, which has yet to announce where it will be held.
“Hopefully I will bring that sash back to George,” she said.
More than 30 countries will participate in the Miss India Worldwide contest, including France and Australia, she said. Candidates must be of Indian origin, between the ages of 17-27, never married, and citizens, residents or born in the country they represent. Miss India USA has won the last two Miss India Worldwide pageants.
By Sebastian Moraga and Dave Burgess
It was a long way to the title
The four hours of the Miss India USA pageant were anxious hours for Ekta Saini, who lives with her husband, Sanjay, in George.
Ekta was in the audience to support their daughter, Shree, a contestant for the crown of Miss India USA at the pageant held in New Jersey on Dec. 17. Shree’s younger brother, who attends New York University, was there to support Shree too. Dad Sanjay was ill and stayed home in George.
When it was finally time for the winner to be announced, Ekta said she could not hear over the crowd and did not know that Shree had been named the winner. Others in the audience told her it was Shree, but it took a long time for the fact that her daughter had won to sink in.
“Until the next morning I could not believe it,” Ekta said.
The happy parents were at George City Hall recently, with Shree, chatting about the pageant and Shree’s achievement with George’s mayor, Gerene Nelson, and Tina Evenson, city clerk, and Betty Simon, deputy city clerk.
There are photos from the pageant on Shree’s webpage, www.shreesaini.org, as well as on her Facebook page, www.facebook.com/missindiausashree. Her Facebook page also has a two-minute video of the pageant that shows the announcement of the winner, followed by Shree’s reaction as she receives the crown and sash of Miss India USA.
Shree has competed in many pageants and recently won the Miss India Washington contest.
“I am constantly behind her,” encouraging Shree, Ekta said.
“She is doing good,” Sanjay said.
But their poised and confident 21-year-old daughter has not had it easy.
When Shree comes home from college, it is to George, but she graduated from high school in Moses Lake. Her parents moved from Moses Lake to George to be closer to their business, Shree’s travel plaza.
While in high school, she wrote a lot for newspapers about how to be positive through life’s challenges, and those clippings are on her website. As a teen she had to cope with a pacemaker and bullying, and her experiences inform her advocacy work on several issues today, which is also detailed on her website.
She is passionate about helping others and making a positive impact in people’s lives.
“That’s why I wanted to compete for this title,” she said of the Miss India USA crown, “because it gives me a platform to talk to so many… . I’m so thankful that I can use this to help others.”
She credited her parents for supporting her in pageants and through tough times in high school, when she might not have continued to dance or compete.
“But they always said ‘stay true to your values,’ ” Shree said. “Always be more kind to people who are less kind to you, because they need it the most.”
She has plans to be very public in her year with the Miss India USA crown, advocating for good causes, with a goal of appearing at and contributing to 100 events, in Washington, in India and around the globe.
By Dave Burgess, firstname.lastname@example.org