Most people would have said that Lauren Kealohilani Cheape, who stands a petite 5 feet 2 inches tall, was too small to play water polo, let alone earn a spot on the University of Hawaii Water Polo team. Cheape persevered and not only made the team — she was #16 — but earned a scholarship.
That same perseverance paid off on Saturday for the 23-year-old athlete and filmmaker when she was crowned Miss Hawaii 2011 at the Hawaii Convention Center.
Running as Miss East Oahu, Cheape beat 11 other contestants in the 65th annual Miss Hawaii Pageant.
"(Persistence) is an important part of my life, learning to never give up…no matter what, you don’t give up," Cheape said backstage, moments after being crowned by her predecessor, Miss Hawaii 2010 Jalee Fuselier. It was Cheape’s fourth try for the title — she was second-runner up last year — and her last chance to go for it.
"It was a different feeling. I was really at peace this year. I knew that I’d worked as hard as I could, and I knew that whatever was going to happen was going to happen, and so I just had a lot of fun this year."
Cheape also won the awards for Community Service and Best Swimsuit.
Miss Garden Isle Shannon Dresser, another returnee from the 2010 competition, was first-runner up. She will assume the title if Cheape becomes Miss America. The second runner-up spot went to Miss Kahala Brittni Leina’ala Woodward.
Miss Kona Coffee Lacy Kawailapaimohalaikapuanani Matsuko Deniz was third runner-up; she also won Miss Photogenic and Talent. Miss Maui Maya Iida was fourth runner-up and winner of the Academic Achievement Award.
Judges scored the contestants on their appearance (swimsuit and evening wear), talent, and their ability to stay on point in answering a question on stage.
Unlike all the women who grow up dreaming of winning a beauty/scholarship pageant, Cheape initially saw it as an off-beat subject of interest while she was working on a degree in film production at the UH-Manoa.
"I was in the Academy for Creative Media at the University of Hawaii and we had to do a documentary on something in Hawaii. Everyone was doing hula or surfing and I kinda joked about doing the Miss Hawaii Pageant, because my roommate had been in it…There was a pageant a week later, I entered and did a whole backstage documentary, and I completed the last scene and ended up winning the preliminary (pageant) and was thrown into Miss Hawaii two months later, and here I am today."
She still has a copy of the documentary that started it all for her.
Cheape also did things differently in the talent department. Several contestants this year danced hula or a hula-inspired dance number. Two sang karaoke-style. Cheape did a jump rope routine to Jerry Lee Lewis’ rock n’ roll classic, "Great Balls of Fire."
I’ve been jump roping since I was five years old…I figured for my last year I’d go back to basics and go back to what I know best."
Her community service platform — C.A.R.E. (Collegiate Athletes Reaching Everyone) — enlists college athletes as mentors and role models for teens, encouraging them to "participate in athletics, excel in academics and live a healthy lifestyle. We’re already working with the University of Hawaii on a budget, and working to find a way to make it available for every single college."
She’d like to talk with Governor Abercrombie about the program and get his support.
Cheape admits that four years may seem like a long time to pursue the title of Miss Hawaii, but for her it has been time well spent.
"(The Miss Hawaii organization has) seen me grow from the tomboy that I was in the very beginning who didn’t even know what it was like to do a turn on the stage or what mascara was. They’ve really helped me grow, not only on the outside, but in the inside through service, and that’s what this organization truly is about."