Bellows Falls girl represents Vermont

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BELLOWS FALLS — Madison Cota says her involvement in pageants began as a fluke. She received a flyer in the mail in 2012 when she was a sophomore at Vermont Academy in Saxton's River. Originally Cota threw the flyer out but her mom, Jennifer Cota, took it out of the garbage can and told her daughter that she thought she should give it a try.

Cota, who considers herself a competitive person, decided that it might be fun, but that she wasn't simply going to try it out. She was going for the win. She didn't place that first year; however, that didn't distract her from trying again. Her tenacity paid off and she went on to win Miss Vermont Teen USA in 2014.

The competition for Miss Teen USA brought her to the Bahamas, which she considered a great experience, saying, " It changed me and impacted who I am today as a woman. My self-confidence grew and I learned to not be scared talking to those around me. I found my voice and I am able to spread my platform."

Cota's platform is encouraging individuals to become an organ donor. The catalyst for her platform was her Uncle Jim who had a kidney transplant that added an extra 10 years to his life, allowing him to spend more time with his family. Unfortunately, in 2015 her uncle passed away as he was awaiting another kidney donation.

"Less than half of those people eligible to be a donor are registered," said Cota. She is hoping to change that and help people realize that they can make a difference in someone else's life. She not only talks the talk — she became a registered organ donor herself two years ago with Donate Life, a national non-profit agency. The month of April is National Donate Life month.

Cota is going to be planning a motorcycle benefit ride to honor her Uncle Jim. The actual date has not been set yet but she is aiming for the event to take place in June or July of this year.

Cota currently attends Lasell College in Newton, Mass., where she is majoring in fashion merchandising, minoring in event management and is the captain of the women's basketball team.

Depending on how she does in the Miss USA pageant will determine if she will take time off before she finishes up her degree.

During her first two years in college she was focused on her studies and in 2016 included a six-week exploratory summer program in London, England, learning more about history and mass media. During that time she was fortunate enough to make a brief visit to Ireland and Scotland. The highlight of her time abroad was the friends she made there, many of whom she still keeps in contact with.

The pageant life was still something she was interested in pursuing so she decided to try for Miss Vermont USA 2017. The pageant was held at the Spruce Peaks Performing Arts Center in Stowe, Nov. 23 and 24, 2016. Cota won on her first try, which she humbly claims she didn't anticipate.

Her win gave her an opportunity to travel all over Vermont and the United States and participate in what she describes as a variety of incredible events.

One event was held in Austin, Texas, at Camp Mabry for Operation That's My Dress. The website states that "The Operation That's My Dress experience is just one of the many ways the USO connects to service members and their families. The USO provides thousands of new gowns/dresses to teenage girls, female service members and spouses from international fashion designer, Sherri Hill, among other notable designers in the fashion world just in time for the homecoming and prom seasons, military balls and the holidays. Hill is a prominent pageant and prom dress designer who will be designing Cota's evening gown for the upcoming Miss USA competition.

Cota acted as a dress consultant during the event and shared how much she enjoyed making that connection with the girls from middle school through high school.

"It was humbling to see how excited they all got to be able to have their own dresses."

Cota will be participating in a Girl on the Run event in Windham County and is very excited to be a part of this non-profit program aimed at 3rd through 8th grade girls that teaches them life skills through experiential education culminating with a 5K running event.

"I want to show girls that we are so fortunate to live in the time period that we do. We as women have so many opportunities. Look at me. I grew up in a small town in Vermont with a population of 3,000 and became Miss Vermont Teen US, a college student, captain of my basketball team, and Miss Vermont USA. I want other girls to see what I have been able to accomplish and know that they can do the same. They can be a combination of anything they want to be."

There is a lot to do to stay competitive in the pageant world and Cota invests her time with some of the best talent to get her mind and body pageant ready. She has participated in pageant retreats with sponsors such as Victoria Duke Beauty and Pageant Smart, where the girls and women learn how to walk, pose for photos and speak.

Cota describes it as, "going away to sleep-away camp."

She works with Jorge Estaban of Pageant Smart, an "interview consulting company that offers professional pageant interview consulting from the interview room to the stage."

Cota uses the nutrition and fitness consulting company, Healthy Green Athlete. She likes that they understand the higher physical demand her body has based on being an athlete and captain of her basketball team as well as needing to be in shape for the pageant.

Besides the professional services Cota receives she says she couldn't do what she does without her huge support system, especially her mother who she says "goes above and beyond in making sure I get everything done on time so that I can be mentally prepared."

She also credits a great network in her basketball teammates who support what she does and assists her with her interview process and help her with walking. They remind her that all this hard work will pay off and is not in vain.

The Miss USA pageant is a two-week process that will begin on May 1 with the actual pageant taking place on May 14 and airing on FOX. During the two weeks contestants will be learning the routine they will be performing for the show, picking out their swimsuits and enjoying activities around the city the pageant will be held. As of this writing the location has not been announced.

Cota will be missing finals week at college and had to make arrangements to take her finals early and move out of her college home earlier then everyone else to accommodate the May 1 start date.

Cota grew up in Bellows Falls with her mother, her father, Casey Cota, her brother, Logan Cota, 17, her adopted brother, Jahyde Bullard, 18, and their cocker spaniel, Bruschi named after Tedy Bruschi

There is a send off party for Cota at the Harpoon Brewery on Sunday, April 23, from 2 to 5 p.m. This event is open to the public and all ages are welcome to stop in and help her celebrate as well as give her letters of encouragement for her to read while she prepares for Miss USA.

You can show your support by watching the pageant on May 14 and if a fan vote is offered be sure to vote for her.

You can follow her on Facebook Miss Vermont USA, Instagram, Twitter and on Snapchat, all @missvtusa.

Laura Wilson is a regular contributor to the Reformer. She can be contacted at lawtrekking@gmail.com.

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