By Julia Crouse
Two women from Southeastern University are competing for the Miss Florida title.
Justina Freeman, 19, is a sophomore at the school studying communications. Megan Ortagus, 23, graduated in 2005 with a major in music and works as a grassroots political consultant.
Neither are blond, ditzy or have crazed stage mothers intent on winning or else.
"The idea that there is negativity surrounding the pageant is such a misnomer," Ortagus said. "Whatever sport, whether it's football or a pageant, it's competition."
There may be one or two stereotypical beauty queens in the Miss Florida bunch, but Ortagus credits the competition for her acquiring a healthier lifestyle, creating lifelong friendships and getting a recent job.
"It opens so many doors," Freeman said.
Freeman competed in the pageant circuit when she was young and got back into the competition a few years ago. She's worn the winner's crown as Miss Orlando Teen and Miss Winter Park Teen. Now, she's eligible for the Miss Florida tiara after being named Miss Central Florida.
This is Ortagus' first time competing in the Miss Florida competition. Now as Miss Polk County, the Polk native is hoping to win the state title to honor the memory of a former local winner who died in a car crash 10 years ago.
The Miss Florida pageant will be held July 5-8 in Miami. The winner of Miss Florida will compete in the Miss America pageant later this summer.
The competition isn't about who is prettiest or has the best body, Freeman said.
The pageant is about finding a young woman who represents all the best aspects of life: intelligence, poise, physical fitness and talent, she said.
Those who win have a public platform to advocate a cause, share their faith and instill self confidence in young girls, she said.
Freeman's cause is Charlie's Lunch, a worldwide nonprofit organization founded by 1985 by Southeastern graduate Samuel Stewart and his wife, Janey. Ortagus' issue is Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Participation yields the same sort of positive results as any sport, Ortagus said.
Like football, softball or soccer, participants learn determination, self confidence, discipline and the art of being a good loser, she said.
The competition is divided into four parts: interviews, talent, evening gown and swimsuit.
Ortagus' favorite is the interview because she gets to talk about politics, one of her passions. Freeman enjoys the evening gown portion because it is the most elegant.
Initially, Ortagus was terrified of the swimsuit competition, which is about physical fitness not sexiness, she added. But she lost 20 pounds last year with the help of a personal trainer and overhauled her diet to remain svelte and in bikini shape.
"I've never dieted for any pageant," she said. "I just lead a healthy lifestyle."
Julia Crouse can be reached at email@example.com or 863-802-7536
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