Theresa Vail is an sergeant in the U.S. Army who is a crack shot, can handily skin a deer, is an expert with a bow and arrow, and sports a couple of tattoos. And to top it all off? She speaks Chinese! The 22 year-old blonde beauty is also representing Kansas in the Miss America pageant which airs this Sunday night. (She’s only the second woman from the armed forces to compete in the pageant). Vail took time out from the competition already underway in Atlantic City to talk to FOX411.
FOX411: How on earth did you become involved in beauty pageants?
Theresa Vail: It was actually somebody from my unit who told me that through everything I did, I was a role model and I should really embrace that so I started thinking up ways of how I could really get involved and help people and then it dawned on me that if I happen to win a pageant I could have a state wide voice and really become a role model and hopefully a national voice.
FOX411: What is your message?
Vail: Empowering women to overcome stereotypes and break barriers. We all face challenges in society. We’re placed under certain convictions and we feel we have to stay under them and I want people to know, it doesn’t matter what society says. It doesn’t matter what the quote, unquote rules say. You can do whatever you want, whatever you set your mind to, that’s what I did when I showed my tattoos.
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FOX411: Tell me about the tattoos.
Vail: I have two. The Serenity Prayer down my side and the army dental insignia on my left shoulder blade. There’s a big taboo in the pageant, nobody shows their tattoos for fear of losing, but I said, ‘What a hypocrite I would be if I say be all you can be, embrace your individuality, embrace your differences, break barriers, if I couldn’t even do that myself.'
FOX411: You had to change your talent at the last minute.
Vail: I wanted to do archery, I wasn’t allowed. I had to pick up singing. I guess the Miss America organization has an insurance clause against projectile objects.
FOX411: But you’re really accurate right?
Vail: I am! That’s what I told them. In my defense, I’ve never missed anything I’ve tried hitting.
FOX411: You hunt too?
Vail: Yes I do and I’m a supporter of the N.R.A.
FOX411: You were bullied as a child.
Vail: Yes, I was about 10 years old. I’d been bullied pretty much consistently up to that point. We lived in Germany at the time and it got so bad that I nearly took my own life. Thank God it was my Dad who saved me. I remember I didn’t know the words of the Serenity Prayer at that point but I knew what I wanted to say to God, which was, help me find peace in these things that they’re making fun of me for, because I can’t change them, but on the other hand I also prayed for courage to just stand up for myself and change things that I really could. So when I was old enough I knew I never wanted to forget that story because I wanted to inspire people who may be in the same situation. That’s why I got the tattoo.
FOX411: Why did you join the Army?
Vail: My Dad was in for 33 years. I saw the benefit it gave him, serving his country. He had so much pride and I knew I wanted to do the same thing. He always told us the motto, others before self, so that’s what we live for. We live to serve other people.
FOX411: Are you in for life?
Vail: Yes! I just re-enlisted for another six years. The Army will pay for my dental school and then I’ll go on active duty.
FOX411: So you could speak Chinese while shooting a squirrel?
Vail: I could!