Nicole Kooyman

When I recently reunited with one of the Program Directors, it felt like coming home. Tears of joy, warmth overflowing your heart, every bit of my experience with the program came back as if it were yesterday.

It all started with an ad in a newspaper, one determined individual, and his literal home made crew. Seeing the ad in the newspaper I thought “Why not?” I had been out of high school for a couple years, it would be nice to meet some new people.

“This is not a beauty pageant” I was told enthusiastically. “This is nothing like you've ever seen before. There's no bathing suit competition, you're not judged on beauty – none of that counts. We are different.”

They proved right.

We were provided workshops on public speaking, encouraged to create a volunteer platform which we would present, along with many other projects to help grow self-esteem. All our scoring during preliminary judging was based on confidence, attitude, dressing appropriately, body language and knowledge of your subject.

I had no intention of winning. I was a nervous, shy young woman who had difficulty in social situations. What a way to get myself used to being social than throwing myself directly into the spotlight!

Winning the first title of Miss Fraser Valley was surreal. I was heading to Miss Canada International in Mississauga Ontario. We had quite the touring experience as delegates from our region, all the while being judged by our chaperones, with the same criteria as the Miss Fraser Valley Program.

Some of the most memorable visits was Niagara Falls, the CN Tower and Canada's Wonderland. My roommate was from Georgina Ontario, and she ever a social butterfly (ironic for someone like myself who struggled greatly with being social). She was a lovely girl, introduced me to everyone she met, which was everyone – including Miss Leamington, Ontario – who was an Opera singer that started every bus ride with an Operadic melody.

At the time, the winner of Miss Canada International had to reside in Ontario during her term. Every delegate had an equal chance to win – and during the week we were told often that if we did not want to win, to let the staff know. I couldn't bear being away from home for a whole year, so I advised the staff that I did not want to be in the finals. The same evening I was asked to a meeting with various chaperones and the head of the Miss Canada International program. They asked me to reconsider my position, as I was already guaranteed to be in the Top 10 based on what they saw during the week. I respectfully declined.

But what an amazing feeling it was to know that I had made Top 10! I couldn't take that away from someone else who really wanted to win and have them miss out on the experience of a lifetime. I often wonder “what if”... but I know deep down I made the right choice. Fraser Valley, British Columbia...that's my home and where I belong.

Miss Vancouver won the title of Miss Canada International. My cohort Miss Teen Fraser Valley won Miss Teen Canada International. Way to represent B.C.! And my roommate Miss Georgina...she won Miss Friendship, of course.

After my term as Miss Fraser Valley I continued working with (now) Hub International. I took a 5 year break and had 2 boys and 1 girl. In 2013 I became a step-mother to another beautiful girl.

After the pageant, it took awhile to make a connection between what I perceived as being an incredibly shy, socially awkward individual, to what was in fact the real medical truth behind my constant nervousness. Turns out I was actually suffering from severe depression and anxiety. I had been undiagnosed since my teens. Mental Illness was definitely not in the forefront of the public eye as it is now.

Luckily my then boyfriend (now husband) saw all the warning signs. I was marched straight to the doctor’s office. Without him, I wouldn't be where I am today. Thanks to his support, his patience, his stubbornness to never give up, we are able to manage the disease. I say “we” because it is a joint tactical effort that cannot be done alone. Mental Illness will always be a part of my life, but with the right tools and the right support – it can be managed and you can life a peaceful life.

Miss Fraser Valley gave me the tools in how to present a person that is true to myself, which does play a major factor in battling Depression. It may have taken a few years (okay a lot of years!) for everything to come full circle in from what I had learned - to ways that I can apply it to my present day life. The program honestly brought out the best of me and the person I really wanted to be.

My mantra was born, “Be Happy, Be Helpful and Be Kind” - something I tell all my kids often.

To anyone thinking of the program, whatever your thoughts or perceptions may be, I would say:

You are worth it. Don't let anyone tell you different. I have seen girls from all walks of life and social backgrounds leave poised as confident young women. Everyone has a beauty to them, what counts the most is what shines from within. Doesn't matter about your physical appearance, your hair, skin, weight, it what comes through from the inside, how big your heart is, your convictions and your passions. We are all different – and that is what makes you so amazing. If you're looking for a little jump start in bettering yourself somehow, this is the program for you.

Congratulations Miss BC on your 15th year! Your passion and dedication to a dream has turned so many into wonderful, compassionate individuals, much like yourselves. I am so proud of all you have accomplished and wish you many years of continued success!

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