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Wingate student, grad among 42 competing to be Miss North Carolina

by Luanne Williams


The Miss North Carolina Contest, kicking off June 19, will include two candidates with Wingate ties. Kylee Russell, a May 2019 graduate and cheerleading alumna, will head to Raleigh for her third attempt at the crown, while Brianna Rochford, a rising sophomore, is a first-time competitor in the Miss America preliminary. The finals, set for June 22 at 8 p.m., will be televised on

Both Wingate women see the event as a personal challenge and a chance to serve others.

Brianna Rochford

A biology major from Kings Mountain, Rochford entered her first pageant at age 14. She didn’t place but walked away motivated to compete again and won the swimsuit category of the Miss Belmont pageant. After competing in the Miss Queen City/Metrolina pageant, she was even more determined to reach Miss North Carolina, and in December she found her path by bringing home the Miss Gastonia title.

“I’m so stubborn, if I want something, I will try my best to go get it,” Rochford says. That persistence has helped her hone her skills in Irish dance, a passion that she has enjoyed since childhood, and the talent that she hopes to showcase at Miss North Carolina.

She is also looking forward to sharing her social impact initiative, Type One of a Kind – an effort to educate the public about Type 1 diabetes and empower those who have it. Rochford has dealt with the chronic condition, in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin, for a dozen years.

“When you’re diagnosed with something like this, what you go through is kind of like the stages of grief, with denial, acceptance,” she says. “There are some weeks when I am so angry; then some days when I know this thing can’t stop me, I’m going to win. It’s kind of scary to think of that, that if you stay in that depression or anger, you will end up sick. So I try to stay in the positive so that there is no negative outcome.”

Part of that “staying in the positive” is volunteering with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and with Camp Kudos (Kids Understanding Diabetes With Our Support) – a day camp where children and teens see that they are not alone in their daily responsibilities of tracking their food intake, monitoring blood sugar and taking insulin.

“I usually work with kids who are 8 or 9 years old,” Rochford says. “Most people with Type 1 diabetes are diagnosed between ages 8 and 12, so it’s really cool seeing some of these kids learn to check their blood sugar for the first time and learn to be independent.” The first time she went to KUDOS as a camper, she says, she forgot she had diabetes for the weekend. It’s that total acceptance and empowerment she wants to give others who have Type 1 diabetes.

Kylee Russell

Miss Mecklenburg County, Russell also has a platform that is very personal.

Growing up, Russell knew she looked a little different from the rest of her family, but it wasn’t until she was 13 that she started asking questions and getting more details about her biological father.

“I found out about the whole situation and my mom was open about it, but at first it was still kind of uncomfortable, and I preferred not to ask,” says Russell, who earned her Wingate degree in marketing. “But because of the Miss America organization, I found it kind of hard expressing to the judges who I really was when I didn’t know myself.”

This year, she’s more comfortable in her own skin – the tone of which she now knows is part of her Cherokee heritage. She’s sharing that newfound perspective through what she calls the Missing Pieces Quest for Self Identity, an initiative designed to encourage others to acknowledge their own need to embark on a more-thorough process of self-discovery.

“It’s about people owning up to those missing pieces, not hiding them, so that they can begin feeling confident and comfortable about who they are,” Russell says. She said having the loving father who raised her, plus her grandfather and uncles, ensured that she never felt a lack of connection or a lack of male role models. But she did need more information.

“For me it wasn’t a feeling of being incomplete, but the missing pieces for me were that feeling of curiosity,” she says. She’s enjoying exploring her Native American heritage and even plans to incorporate it into her performance in the Miss North Carolina talent competition. She’s working on a modern lyrical dance to an arrangement of “Home on the Range.”

Russell and Rochford got to know each other at Wingate, via their sorority, Alpha Xi Delta. They will join 40 other candidates in the quest for the crown. The first goal will be to make the top 15 to have a chance to perform their talent and onstage interview live in front of the ABCII audience on the final night of the contest. Finalists will be chosen by judges and by popular vote, as one of the 15 will be the People’s Choice Award Winner. To vote for your favorite candidate, go to ABCII, click on her name and enter your email. Only one vote per day per email is allowed. Before voting, you can watch one-minute videos from each candidate on YouTube.

June 11, 2019

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