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Tracy Frank, Published May 20 2012

Fargo woman chases Miss USA dream

FARGO – Fargo’s own Jaci Stofferahn is competing as Miss North Dakota in the Miss USA Pageant, and she needs your help.

Through June 2, fans can vote for their favorite contestant on Facebook, Twitter, missusa.com or nbc.com. The contestant with the most votes will earn a place in the semifinals.

The 23-year-old Stofferahn left for pre-pageant events and training on Friday, and the pageant will be held June 3 in Las Vegas.

“I’m super-excited,” she said. “It’s been a whirlwind of getting ready.”

To prepare for the pageant, Stofferahn has been keeping up on current events, working out twice a day, and eating healthier than usual.

“I have a huge sweet tooth,” she said.

She’s also had to make sure her wardrobe is ready and mentally prepare for the pageant, she said.

“I don’t know exactly what to expect,” she said. “I know it will be long days but full of things that we’ll never forget and things that will be amazing, so the sleep deprivation will be worth it.”

The pageant consists of an interview, swimsuit competition and evening gown competition, each of which make up one-third of a contestant’s total score, Stofferahn said.

Judges will choose 15 semifinalists in addition to the contestant who wins the fan vote, Stofferahn said. The contestants won’t know who wins the fan vote until June 3, when the pageant airs live on NBC from Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas.

Stofferahn has been using social media to try to drum up votes. Fans can vote up to 10 times a day per Facebook or Twitter account or valid email address.

Stofferahn started competing in pageants when she was 17 years old. She’s been first runner-up and placed in the top five several times, but Miss North Dakota was her first win, she said.

“It’s been a journey for me, for sure,” she said. “It was always so close I could taste it.”

While it was frustrating and difficult to make it so far without winning the crown, Stofferahn said her experience has helped prepare her for this pageant.

“If it’s something that you really want and it’s something that you’re really dedicated to, you’re going to persevere through that,” she said. “I feel that I’ve grown so much more, and looking back, I don’t think I would have been as ready as I am now had I won previously.”

Stofferahn attended North Dakota State University for two years before transferring to Western Governor’s University, an online university, where she is finishing a degree in business marketing.

She has also interned for North Dakota Sens. Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad. She works as a dance and fitness instructor at Red River Dance and Performing Company in Fargo.

Stofferahn was born in Oakes, N.D., and has lived in Fargo for most of her life.

When she’s not done up for competition, Stofferahn said she’s really laid back and likes to lounge on the couch in sweat pants with no makeup on, watching movies with her dog.

“A lot of people look at pageant girls and thing that we’re plastic-y and high maintenance, and I’m definitely not one of those people,” she said. “I went skydiving last year with my grandma and plan to go diving with sharks this summer.”

She said pageantry has helped her with job interviews and speaking in front of groups of people.

It’s also given her a microphone to advocate for the issues she cares about, such as the Children’s Miracle Network and the National Eating Disorder Association, she said.

Stofferahn is an eating disorder survivor who recovered five years ago, she said.

“I feel like pageantry helped to save me to actually reach out for help,” Stofferahn said. “I knew that when I was a title holder, I wanted to be a great role model.”

The swimsuit portion of the competition is now her favorite part of the pageant.

“I am at a healthy weight. I’m taking care of myself, and I’m proud of my body,” she said. “It’s not something I look at in the mirror and cringe anymore. I’m proud of the working out I do and how much I take care of myself and don’t hurt myself.”

To stay in shape, she tries to eat well and she does a lot of pilates, yoga, toning, stretching and walking, she said, adding that she doesn’t believe in hard-core dieting.

Stofferahn said she really wanted to do something during her year as Miss North Dakota and didn’t just want the crown so she could wave from a float.

“It gave me a platform to work with,” she said.

Stofferahn hopes to run her own nonprofit organization someday, she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526