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Redmond's Searles is crowned 2013 Miss Washington USA
"Breathe. Breathe. Breathe."
That's what Redmond's Cassandra Searles said to herself when she stood at the front of the stage with fellow top-two finalist Whitney Young, waiting to see who would be crowned 2013 Miss Washington USA last Sunday at the Highline Performing Arts Center in Burien.
"Don't pass out."
Another thought that popped into Searles' head when the two women waited to see whose name would be called as the winner of the two-day event, which featured swimsuit and evening-gown competitions and private and on-stage interviews.
In her fourth year competing for Miss Washington USA, Searles, 24, finally grabbed the title, sending a wave of emotions through her body while the coveted crown sat perched atop her head.
"I think I had a pucker face, as if I'd just eaten a lemon," said Searles, a University of Washington, Bothell graduate who works as a commercial bank representative at Sterling Bank in Bellevue. "I really tried to not cry, but I don't think I was successful at it."
Searles achieved sterling results in all three phases of the competition, which started with 22 contestants on the first day and finished with 11 women on the second day.
"I was really happy to win this year. I worked really hard," said Searles, who finished as fourth runner-up last year and in the top 10 the two prior years. "I just kept coming back, trying to improve. I started when I was 20, and the competition helped mold me, helped me mature. Standing in front of hundreds of people gives you a lot of confidence."
As a 20-year-old, Searles said she was shy — now she's outgoing wherever she roams, whether it's at competitions or in her professional life. She wants to put forth a quality effort every step of the way.
Searles, who received an associate's degree in business administration from Bellevue College and a bachelor's degree in business (with a focus on marketing and management) from UW-Bothell, will next compete in the 2013 Miss USA competition in the spring. It will air live on NBC Universal; the date and location have not been revealed.
The Mount Si High graduate has owned a home in Redmond for three years and works out religiously at the Redmond Gold's Gym.
She's only participated in pageants for four years, jumping on board when a fellow Business Networking International member suggested she send in an application to compete. Pageant organizers gave her the nod all four years and now she's hooked.
Over the next few months, Searles will make a host of public appearances, including one at a hair salon that's utilizing pink hair coloring to mark October as breast-cancer awareness month. She'll also continue to speak with children about capturing their dreams through the Junior Achievement program.
One of Searles' dreams is to work for the FBI someday and help counter terrorist efforts, such as money laundering that funds terrorism, she said. She's become interested in this scenario while working in the banking industry and wants to be involved on a larger scale in the government realm.
Searles discussed this dream during her on-stage interview during the pageant finals.
During the interview with the judges, Searles also paraphrased a famous quote that she lives by: "God answers prayers in three ways: 'Yes,' 'Not yet' and 'There's something better in store.'"
"Not yet… not yet … I just kept coming back," Searles said of her pageant experiences. "And I tried to persevere."
Now she's wearing the crown of success.