Ashley Underwood put in countless hours honing her basketball skills. It paid off.
She was a 1,000-point scorer at Cony High School in Augusta and at the University of Maine.
You would think preparing for a beauty pageant pales in comparison with the work it takes to improve your rebounding, defense or jump shot.
Not so according to the 23-year-old Underwood, who won the Miss Maine USA pageant in Portland last weekend. The Benton native will represent the state in the Miss USA Pageant in Las Vegas on April 19.
“A lot of people have misconceptions about pageants,” said Underwood, who is a school nurse for three schools in Fairfield and Albion. “Now that I’ve gone through one, I’d like to have a conversation with those people.
“It’s really, really hard work. There’s a lot of planning and preparation that go into it. It was a great overall experience. It teaches you a lot about yourself,” said a passionate Underwood, who played professional ball in Switzerland last year.
That preparation includes working with two trainers and a nutritionist. She works out daily, before and after work.
“I thought I knew a lot about working out but they opened my eyes to different things you can do. They taught me a lot of different techniques. I had to learn how to walk and have a presence. I had to connect with the audience and, more importantly, with the judges,” said Underwood, who is 10 pounds lighter than she was at Maine.
She isn’t as muscular as she was in college but has more overall muscle tone.
“You want to look toned. You don’t want to look overly muscular,” said Underwood.
Her diet has also changed drastically. Sugar, bread and dairy products are out. Chicken, fish, vegetables, fruit and rice are in.
The affable Underwood said she had always enjoyed watching pageants but basketball kept her from entering one.
The Miss Maine USA pageant doesn’t require a talent, like some other pageants, but does involve interviews with each of the five judges, swimsuit and evening gown competitions and a final question.
She said the interviews with the judges “were more like conversations.
“I’m really comfortable talking to people,” she said. “I didn’t practice [for the interviews]. I just wanted to be myself. I didn’t want it to seem that my answers were rehearsed.”
Parading out in a bikini didn’t bother her at all.
“I was confident about my body and I was actually excited to go out there. It’s like basketball. You know you put the time in so you can’t wait to show people how much you’ve improved,” said Underwood.
“My whole family and a lot of my friends were cheering me on. I fed off their energy. It was a lot of fun,” said Underwood.
She said her fierce competitive nature and the love she has for her home state will ensure that she’ll be at her best at the Miss USA pageant.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I want to be in the best shape of my life when I go to Las Vegas,” Underwood said. “I’m going to fund-raise so I can have a great wardrobe. I want to be one of the best dressed girls there.
“I want to place in the top 15. I’d like to go even further than that. Maine is such a small state that they overlook us. But I want to try to put Maine in the national scene,” she said.
Underwood, who loves working with children as a school nurse, said she wants to be a positive role model to girls across the state — showing what hard work, discipline and perseverance can accomplish.