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Beauty queen Byrd ready to strive for Miss USA sash

Steven Mark
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Angela Byrd is Miss Hawaii USA. She will compete in the Miss USA Pageant in Las Vegas, airing tonight on NBC.

Angela Byrd knows how to make the best out of a tough situation. Miss Hawaii USA has faced plenty of obstacles in her 23 years, including a nomadic existence growing up and an injury that sidelined her career plans. She’s emerged with a belief that hard work and a positive outlook can overcome anything.

That attitude — and a smile that can light up a room — should help when Byrd, a model and aspiring health care professional, competes in the Miss USA competition tonight. The pageant, to be held at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, has caused controversy in recent years because of the questions judges have asked the contestants and the resulting fumbled answers.

Byrd relishes the challenge.

"I say ‘Give me a good question,’" she said. "I don’t feel intimidated by interviews or anything like that because I feel it’s an open dialogue and a conversation. I think it’s important to have that background and the education behind what’s going on in the world. … I try to stay up to date with current events — but I don’t know everything."

It is a self-awareness about her life that she developed out of necessity. Byrd grew up in a military family and moved 15 times in her first 18 years. Perennially the new kid at school, she joined in all manner of school activities to fit in, from sports and student council to drama and band.

"I’d go through hard times where I’d hide in the bathroom stall because I had no one to sit with," said Byrd. "I learned quickly at a young age that you have to get plugged in, and very fast, because usually children are comfortable with your presence after a year, and I didn’t have that much time."

Byrd is of Korean, English and Scottish ancestry, and she has encountered discrimination: getting bullied by other children and being slighted by people who would treat her father politely but ignore her mother, a native of Korea who moved to the United States in high school. But there seems to be no bitterness as she recounts those experiences.


The 2011 Miss USA Pageant airs at 8 p.m. tonight on NBC.

"I’m aware that people are growing up in a small town and they’re taught in a certain way," she said.

Byrd attended college in Seattle on an ROTC scholarship, intent on a career in the military. But an injury she sustained playing high school soccer flared up, and she was unable to meet the military’s physical demands.

At about that time, she spent a spring break in Hawaii and was immediately enchanted by the islands, and she moved here in August 2007.

"It’s the longest I’ve been anywhere — four years — and I don’t have that stir-crazy feeling to go somewhere else because I’ve been such a nomad," she said.

She sees pageantry and modeling mainly as a vehicle to pursue a career as a physician assistant. The Miss Hawaii USA pageant was her first since a "Miss Daffodil" contest in high school, which she joined on a whim. For the Miss USA pageant, she will compete in swimsuit, evening gown and interview contests, with semifinalists facing a final question. Though there’s no talent portion, she could have competed playing piano, flute or guitar.

"I always wanted to be known for my intellect," Byrd said. "I thought I was pretty, but it didn’t really mean anything to me."

The Miss Hawaii USA pageant, she said, was especially good in helping contestants grow "stronger" and learn "who we are as women." For that, she credits pageant directors Eric Chandler and Takeo Kobayashi, who took them on outings as part of their character development.

"The other state pageant directors, they don’t do that," she said. "You just show up the day of (the pageant) and that’s it."

An avid outdoorswoman, Byrd enjoys hiking, swimming, camping and surfing. She is a devout Christian, attending Word of Life Christian Center.

As a youth, Byrd went to tornado-stricken areas in Oklahoma to work for Feed the Children.

"That’s where I saw struggle, hardship, the fight for survival," she said.

Byrd has also worked for the American Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity and UNICEF.

With modeling paying her bills, Byrd is finishing her clinical requirements to be a physician assistant. She will have to go to the mainland to finish the training and hopes to travel the world helping in disaster relief efforts. But she plans to return to Hawaii, "get a mortgage" and settle down.

"I’ve learned never to expect anything," she said. "So it’s good to have your game plan set."


Fans can help Byrd get to the semifinals of the pageant by voting for her at www.missuniverse.com/missusa/members/contestants.


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