Activity gets a new queen: Miss Louisiana

Newly crowned Miss Louisiana Lacey Sanchez wants kids to become physically active. It’s a platform she is uniquely qualified to push.

When Sanchez, a Baton Rouge resident, was crowned on June 28 in Monroe, she became the first collegiate varsity athlete to become Miss Louisiana, according to the pageant’s executive director, Dewana Little. Sanchez was a pole-vaulter at St. Michael High School in Baton Rouge, then at Southeastern Louisiana University and LSU. At Southeastern, she won the Southland Conference pole-vaulting championship in 2010, and she produced the third-best women’s vaults indoors and outdoors in LSU history.

“Lacey is definitely not the stereotype ‘pageant girl,’” Little said. “We have never had such a successful athlete to capture the title of Miss Louisiana. Lacey is definitely a first to blend a competitive athletic lifestyle and skills with six-inch heels and an evening gown.”

Then again, she may be a trend.

Although 2012 Miss Louisiana Lauren Vizza didn’t compete in college, she played soccer in high school. While being an athlete is not a traditional route to the beauty pageant runway, it certainly isn’t a roadblock to reaching the Miss America Pageant, which will crown a new winner on Sept. 14 in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

“Really, Miss America is striving to empower these modern women to break the mold and think outside the box and be whatever you imagine you want to be,” Sanchez said. “I think that’s what I’m doing as an athlete going into the pageant world. ... You can be anything you want to be. That’s the message to empower women.”

This hadn’t occurred to Sanchez before 2010, when sorority sisters encouraged her to enter the Miss Southeastern Louisiana University pageant. She saw herself as an athlete, not a beauty queen.

“But what really pushed me over the edge to do it was at the time my mom (Paula) had just been diagnosed with breast cancer,” Sanchez said. “She did pageants when she was younger, but never pushed it on myself or my sister, and I just decided this was going to be my project for us to do together to sort of lighten the mood of starting radiation therapy and the cancer news.

So, we did it and fell in love with it.”

Sanchez won the SLU pageant and continued to compete, qualifying this year by winning the Miss Lafayette pageant. Her mother recovered and is part of the entourage of family and friends who will follow Sanchez to Atlantic City.

During her reign as Miss Louisiana, Sanchez will encourage children to walk away from their computers and exercise — and for adults to do the same, if only to set a good example.

“If we can catch kids between this critical age of 9 and 12 years old, they are more likely to be active for the rest of their lives,” she said. “They’re more likely to learn those lessons, reap those benefits and, in turn, to create this upward social trend and become more successful and productive members of society as adults.”

Her commitment to the cause is likely to extend beyond her year wearing a crown.

Sanchez, who earned a bachelor’s degree from LSU in English, is a year into pursuing a master’s in mass communication, also at LSU.

Her thesis will be on how to more effectively advertise the benefits of physical activity.

“I want to develop different ad appeals and test what kind of ads are most effective in motivating kids to move, so we can insert them into the games they’re playing and the sites they’re visiting and hopefully become a part of that world and motivate them through their technology to get up and move,” she said.