Today, we begin the discovery of the candidates for the next edition of Miss USA. This 70th edition will be held in Tulsa, Okhaloma in November. For these meetings, we mixed the interviews by Zoom or by email at the convenience of these very busy young women. For this first interview, Inside Pageant puts its bags in Kansas to meet Gracie Hunt.
Occupation: I work in public relations and brand development for the Kansas City Chiefs. I’m also a lifestyle blogger, spokesmodel, philanthropist, Global Ambassador, and pursuing my Master’s in sports management.
Introduce yourself in few words for our readers who don’t know you.
I’m a unique mix of all things sporty, fashion, fitness, and philanthropy. My lifestyle blog, Living Gracefully, centers around those key components that have shaped my life. From growing up on sidelines, becoming an athlete myself, modeling in New York City, and ultimately finding my voice and self-assurance through pageantry, I’ve gained immense life experience from the nonprofit, modeling, pageant, and sport industries.
Who is your idol?
When I was little, I wanted to grow up and play just like US Women’s National team star Abby Wambach. She not only established herself as a force to be reckoned with on the field, holding the all-time scoring record for the Women’s National Team, but made the extra effort to encourage me in the pursuit of my dreams when I was able to be a ball girl.
What values of your idol do you wish you could inculcate in your own life, and teach the next generation?
Abby is not only an incredible leader, but also has worked tirelessly to continue to break the glass ceiling for women in the sports industry. As a woman who has grown up in this male-dominated industry, I am working to promote inclusion, respect, and continue to break barriers for women in sports.
What do you feel grateful for every day?
I keep a gratitude journal and begin each day with something I’m thankful for. My journal is quite full, but I’m especially thankful for faith, family, football, and pageantry.
In your spare time, you enjoy: …
When I’m not running or getting a sweat on in the gym, I enjoy spending time with my Special Olympics athletes, helping others navigate their health using my nutrition accreditation, and creating healthy recipes in the kitchen.
What is the one thing you can label as your guilty pleasure?
Lily’s chocolate or white chocolate–their cookies and cream and birthday cake flavors are life changing.
How would you define beauty?
Beauty is knowing your worth isn’t tied to your external appearance but instead the condition of your heart. Beauty is about being comfortable in your own skin. It’s about self-love and being confident enough in who you are to make others feel confident.
Could you describe to us why you are proud to represent your state?
Kansans live by the motto, “To the stars through difficulties.” Kansans have a progressive history. They rejected slavery by popular vote, joined the US as a state three months before the Civil War, and incurred more casualties than any other state in the war. Kansas approved equal voting rights for women almost two decades before it was ratified by congress. I’m proud of what Kansas has stood for in the past and am prouder of what we stand for now and where we’re going.
What do you like most about this state?
The people! And of course, the barbecue. My state is filled with hard-working resilient people who also have the kindest hearts. Having traveled to 45 of the 50 states, I know that there is something special about Kansas and its mentality to do the right thing and to overcome whatever struggles you may face in life. The sunsets are amazing and when the sunflower fields are in bloom it’s otherworldly.
How did you start in beauty pageants?
Five years ago, after suffering four serious concussions, my soccer career ended far before I was ready. My dreams and plans to play in college evaporated, and suddenly I felt a loss and void in my life—along with searching to know who I really was. I had long found my identity from my ability on the field. This time in my life coincided with attending the first pageant I ever watched—Miss Kansas USA. I knew that the women on that stage exuded an intangible sense of self I knew I wanted. Thus, my pageant journey began.
How did competing in pageantry helped your life?
I didn’t even own a blow dryer or a curling iron before I started competing in pageants. My story began a lot like the movie “Miss Congenitally.” Aside from the skills developed surrounding hair and makeup, I have gained friendships that are invaluable along with developing a strong confidence in my abilities.
What made you drawn to joining the Miss USA system?
My mother was Miss Kansas USA 1993 and second runner up to Miss USA. I started my pageant journey in a service-oriented system which was a natural fit given my lifelong passion for giving back and leaving my community a better place. However, since she has been my mentor and coach throughout this process, it has been my dream to follow in her footsteps to Miss USA.
What was the first thing you thought about when you received your current crown?
“I am going to Miss USA!” I felt an overwhelming wave of love and support as I set out to embark on a journey my mother walked 28 years ago. It was such a special moment for me—I had lots of family and friends there the night I was crowned and felt as though each of them deserved a piece of the crown since they played a part in helping me get to that moment.
How do you define your style? What’s your strength?
I met Oscar de la Renta when I was an impressionable girl and he said, fashion is trendy but style is how you make it your own. I love couture, but I often dress sporty with on trend accents. Contemporary pieces are my favorites, but always tempered by a feminine fit and I feel strongly about chasing my dreams in really cute shoes!
You are an inspiration to all the girls out there. How does it feel?
Like a privilege and a responsibility. It’s a blessing to wear the crown, but most important to me to be the person who helps their light shine brighter.
What’s the most rewarding in your role of titleholder?
The people I meet and the impact I have in raising awareness for important issues and causes.
What are you looking forward to the most at the 70th Miss USA pageant in November?
With Crystle Stewart leading the Miss USA organization into the future, there are many things to be excited about! She has excellent vision and direction. I am especially looking forward to the return of red carpet glamour and the state costume show.
What aspect of your preparation for Miss USA do you find to be the most challenging?
I am thankful for a high level of discipline and a strong work ethic that my parents and competitive sports instilled in me at a young age. As a result, I’ve worked very hard to turn my weaker points into strengths, so I actually enjoy all aspects of preparation.
Can you describe what it’s like holding a title during a pandemic?
Fortunately, I was crowned once the vaccine was already widely available, so it is my hope that we continue to move toward the world safely returning to normalcy.
As a pageant winner, you’ve worked on several projects. Could you brief us about it? What’s your focus advocacy?
Founding Breaking Barriers Through Sports is my greatest achievement. Since its inception in 2016, I have spoken in schools about teamwork, respect, inclusion, and hard work. I have helped host NFL Play60 clinics reaching children from all backgrounds and walks of life. I’ve also had the opportunity to put on soccer clinics and aid underserved communities from Zambia and South Africa to Russia and the slums in Brazil. Promoting inclusion worldwide is my passion.
What are some of your achievements?
I graduated early with honors from Southern Methodist University with degrees in journalism and sports management. I am currently pursuing my Master’s in sport management from the University of Kansas.
I helped launch the NFL Teen and Women’s Apparel lines in 2012 to marry fashion with football and serve the NFL’s female fanbase. With campaign shoots in New York City, I’ve had the privilege to work on set and shoot with Patrick Demarchelier, Bobbi Brown, Peyton List, Miranda Cosgrove, Erin Heatherton, and Zendaya to name a few.
I founded my own nonprofit, Breaking Barriers Through Sports, in 2016 to level the playing field and give back. Sports are a powerful mechanism to create change.
I serve as a Special Olympics Global Ambassador and also on the Special Olympics Texas and Special Olympics Kansas Boards. I have had the opportunity to lobby before Congress on Capitol Hill for increased funding for Special Olympics.
I also serve on the board of New Friends New Life, a nonprofit that combats human trafficking. I was recruited to the board after undertaking a journalistic report to dive deep into trafficking in my surrounding area.
Are desperate if you lose your portable/phone?
I am! I lost it on a hike recently and felt completely disconnected and oddly, a little unsafe. But I grew up going to camp every summer for two weeks and phones weren’t allowed. It was wonderfully liberating, allowing for more connection with friends and nature. It’s a lesson that’s stayed with me and taught me the importance of taking online breaks.
What is your favorite social media app or tool?
I use Instagram mainly. I manage my personal account, as well as the Miss Kansas USA account, and my charitable account, Breaking Barriers Through Sports. But I link my posts to my Facebook and Twitter, although I don’t interact on those. A few months ago, I checked the Facebook account and to my great surprise realized I had over a million followers!
What do you think about the power of social networks today?
Social Networks are amazing. They connect people from different backgrounds and cultures and allow us a broader view of the world. In the beginning they were incredible for giving a voice to those who might not have one in society or in the marketplace. I think it’s important for them to stay open without censorship or banning accounts, whether we agree with them or not. This has adversely affected governments here and abroad and has serious economic ramifications. It’s essential to support freedom to allow individuals to do the research, read everything that’s out there and make up their own minds about issues.
Finally, is there anything else you would like to share with us? These final lines are yours.
My favorite quotes, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.” And the Golden Rule: “Treat others as you want to be treated.”
Thanks for your time Gracie. Good luck for your preparations and see you in November at Miss USA pageant.