NEW GLOUCESTER, Maine — Less than 48 hours after returning to Maine, Katie Whittier, a New Gloucester resident and the 2010 Miss Maine USA, is a hot commodity in her home state. Whittier, who graduated from Gray-New Gloucester High School, placed fifth at the Miss USA pageant Sunday in Las Vegas.
“It’s been crazy,” said Whittier, 24, a University of Maine graduate and former basketball player. “It’s been so busy ever since I first got out to Las Vegas. It’s been a wild couple of weeks.”
The year before, her friend and fellow UM teammate, Ashley Underwood, also competed as Miss Maine USA. Underwood encouraged Whittier to compete this year.
“Katie came out to watch, and it kind of piqued her interest,” said Underwood, who lives in Benton. “When it came time for me to give up my crown, I knew she’d be a great representative for Maine. I definitely encouraged her to do it.”
As a 6-foot 2-inch forward for UMaine, Whittier made her mark on the team during her senior year, maintaining an average of 9.2 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. Aside from pickup ball, however, she no longer plays, focusing instead on her current job working with autistic adults in a group home. Competing in a pageant was just something fun to do, but much to her surprise, Whittier was crowned Miss Maine USA in November 2009. She headed out to Las Vegas to compete on May 2 and spent what she called the “craziest two weeks of my life” preparing for the event.
“We got up at 5 a.m. and just worked all day,” said Whittier. “Rehearsal, press events, interviews, charity work, learning the dance routine. I had never danced with a choreographer before in my life.”
When Whittier’s name was called out during the competition as one of the top 15 finalists, she remained cool and collected.
“Honestly, I was just very, very calm,” said Whittier. “I had no idea I would make it that far. And then when I was in the top 5, it was just the biggest thrill ever.”
She had a leg up on the competition, however, thanks to her experience playing basketball in high school and at UMaine.
“It was all very similar, the whole competition aspect,” she said. “I’m a very competitive person. It’s just this time I was doing it in a pair of heels and a bikini.”
Underwood was out in Las Vegas to support her friend and was still recovering from the excitement when she returned to Maine on Tuesday night.
“I’m still trying to get my voice back from screaming so loud,” said Underwood. “It’s a very mentally and physically draining experience, so I tried to support her as best I could. I’m just so proud of her.”
For the remainder of her tenure as Miss Maine USA, Whittier will make appearances at charity and youth events around New England, including next weekend’s Pink Tie Pageant in Boston, a breast cancer fundraiser. Aside from making her family and friends proud, the best thing she got out of competing were the friends gath-ered along the way.
“I made so many new friends along the way,” she said. “Everyone in the pageant all has this bond after doing it, and I really loved hearing about what brought them there and their goals and ambitions and stuff. One person wins it all, but I always felt like we were all becoming really good friends.”