Shree Saini of Washington State was crowned Miss World America 2021 at the end of the private ceremony, held on October 3, 2021. She succeeds Miss World America 2020, Alissa Anderegg and become the official representative of United States at the upcoming edition of Miss World pageant in December in San Jose, Puerto Rico.
The first Indian-American to win the crown of Miss World America 2021, Shree Saini, is among the most unique pageant winners to be crowned. An advocate for heart health, Saini has a permanent pacemaker since she was 12, and overcame a major car accident which left her with burns all over her face. But she rarely if ever, lets any of that hold her back or define her.
When organizers of the pageant announced October 2, 2021, that Saini. who has been their National Ambassador of #Beautywithapurpose, had won, Saini spoke to Desi Talk about how historic her win was for America.
“My win shows America stands for diversity and inclusion. We are already doing a good job with diversity, but we can always do more for inclusivity,” she added.
The winner of several pageants in the past, Saini is known for her advocacy on a range of issues from heart health to bullying, and is a motivational and inspirational speaker.
Her mother Ekta Saini, told Desi Talk her daughter still has one more year of battery left in the pacemaker and will be getting the replacement surgery done when that period is up.
Saini came with her parents from Punjab when she was just 5, and was brought up in small towns of Colville and Moses Lake in Washington State.
Over the last several years, Saini has been globe-trotting, taking her message of ‘kindness’ and a “possibililty mindset” spreading it through her eponymous website as well as her travels. She won the Miss India Worldwide pageant back in 2018. Since then, she has won a series of crowns including Miss World Washington (state), where she has lives with her parents and brother.
On winning Miss World America 2021, Saini recalled that her first pageant was at the age of 6, when she went dressed as Miss World to a school event.
Following her win on October 2, Saini sent out a WhatsApp message saying – “I am a heart patient with a complete heart block, I am a facial burns survivor and with your blessings, I have overcome many other problems in my life,” she said.
“I’m now your first American of Indian origin and first Asian to become Miss World America,” she noted, adding, “Because of the historicness of my crowning, I believe this is a collective win. … It’s not just my win. It’s a win for our inclusive “America”. … It is a win for our diverse America , for every race, for everyone. I am honored to represent that Inclusivity that America has.”
On Oct. 3, Miss World America announced Saini’s win and her story would be aired on KABC and shared on all ABC affiliates.
Currently Miss World America Washington, Saini also holds the prestigious position of “MWA National Beauty with a Purpose Ambassador”, a position she earned “by working tirelessly” to help those less fortunate and in need, Miss World America noted on Facebook. Among many other accomplishments, Saini’s work has been recognized by UNICEF, Doctors without Borders, Susan G Komen, the Secretary of State of Washington State, to name just a few.
“We are certain Shree will continue to immaculately embody Beauty With A Purpose, and no doubt will be successful in raising awareness and attention to the Miss World America mission,” organizers said, adding, “Stay tuned and follow the Miss World America 2021 journey!”
Saini, 25, who has been interviewed and featured over several years in Parikh Worldwide Media, told Desi Talk she has six weeks before the final Miss World 2021 pageant is to be held in Puerto Rico. It will be a gruelling 30-day event but it does not phase Saini.
“I am excited, energized, honored. With the title we have created history,” she told Desi Talk. “I have been preparing for so many years, I am already ready but you can never be prepared enough,” she added. “This is all about service. Miss World America is one of the largest giving pageants and they raised $1.3 billion.” It has given her the opportunity to serve, she said.
In 2019, Saini collapsed and was hospitalized the night of the Miss World America competition, in Las Vegas, when her mother Ekta Saini went on Instagram, “Please pray for my daughter Shree Saini. This is Ekta Saini, Shree’s mom. Shree collapsed right before Miss World America final night of competition, which started with evening gown.”
But, in one of her interviews Shree Saini told Desi talk, she has no time to dwell on her heart condition and that is not what defines her even though it was needed when she was just 12 years old.
After her Oct. 2 win, Saini said she has learnt over time that she is not ‘superwoman,’ and has been resting more over the week in the run up to the final day. “The best way to prepare is to take care of ioneself, so that you can take are of others,” she emphasized.
“I feel so endlessly grateful to everyone who has held my hand, encouraged me, corrected me and guided me on my life journey. … I want to share my life story and message that with hard work and endless kindness we can create a loving world,” Saini said after the Oct. 2 win.
“It’s not always easy to talk about my deepest pains but I will talk so that I can help and strengthen others,” she said. “I’ve dealt with 2 major life threatening events in my life. Each time I have tried to convert my pain into purpose. Few years ago, I suffered from facial burns due to a car accident. I am also a heart patient with a complete heart block, I have a pacemaker in my heart to keep me alive,” she said in the WhatsApp message sent Oct. 3.
At 14, Saini took to ballet dancing, and her eponymous website Shreesaini.org, shows the talent that she said got her accepted to the prestigious New York City Joffrey Ballet, an offer she did not take up. Instead, she took a gap year, and spent time in India, traveling to Kolkata, Punjab and other places, and studying in various higher education institutions after her return, like Yale and Harvard.
Since childhood the question that plagued her was – why are so many people so poor?. “And I still have that question plaguing me. I want to make a radical difference, and my dream is to be able to do that through this pageant and my experiences,” Saini told Desi Talk in 2018.
Through the Covid pandemic, Shree Saini was the National Ambassador for Miss World America which describes its underlying goal as #BeautyWithaPurpose. She raised thousands of dollars not just for India covid relief work but also for those in need around the U.S.
Shree Saini represented the state of Washington at Miss World America 2020, and was awarded with the title ‘National Beauty with a Purpose Ambassador’.
“Since June this year, Shree has worked tirelessly, visiting seven US states, promoting and raising funds for Beauty with a Purpose,” among them, raising $7,500 for Covid India Relief funds to be used to feed people in need there; raising money for other non-profit organisations including Boys Town Charity, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Vehicles for Veterans and the American Cancer Society to name a few. Her work has been recognised by UNICEF, Doctors without Borders, Susan G Komen and the New York State senate.
In a ten-minute video that Saini shared with Desi Talk, she is endorsed by several non-profits and educational institutions including schools, that she has worked with to inspire students, speak against bullying, and helped develop programs for teachers’ training to enable them to better cope with students in distress. Saini has worked with some 100 organizations.
On 21st April, Kittitas County created “Shree Saini Day” to support her continuous work for Beauty with a Purpose according to americasmissworld Facebook page.
Her mother Ekta Saini, has been Shree’s inspiration with her own steely resolve.
“When she was diagnosed at 12, for me it was like – no this cannot happen to us!” Ekta Saini told Desi Talk in 2018. “But clearly the machines were telling us what it was. It was a difficult time.”
Her next words are moving. “But I’m thankful that God gave my child a treatable disease and not an incurable disease because He knows how much I can handle, and I cannot handle that,” Ekta Saini said.
In fact, her daughter is an inspiration for her, the mother said.
“I have the capacity to really make change. It is such a gift to be able to give,” said the 25 year old.