Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters insisted her determination to help others won’t stop even after her reign as Miss Universe comes to an end.
In June 2017, the now-23-year-old was the victim of an attempted carjacking in Johannesburg, South Africa when she was approached by three armed men and held at gunpoint in broad daylight.
The model, who had just won Miss South Africa a month prior, immediately surrendered and gave up her car. She told The New York Post earlier this year one of the men attempted to push her back in. Nel-Peters punched her attacker in his throat and ran away.
But Nel-Peters refused to let fear paralyze her. She went on to win Miss Universe in November of that year and has used her platform to raise awareness of the importance of teaching self-defense to women.
As Nel-Peters gears up to hand over her crown to the new Miss Universe on Sunday, she spoke with Fox News about saying goodbye, being traumatized after her terrifying ordeal and how she has found happiness with new beau Tim Tebow:
Fox News: Your reign is coming to an end. How does it feel to say goodbye?
Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters: It’s definitely a bittersweet moment. This was just a once in a lifetime year and opportunity. And the experience is one where I have made many fond memories. It’s sad to say goodbye, but in the same sense, I’ve always known this day will come. I have already made plans for the future so I think the hardest thing right now is packing up!
Fox News: What do you hope to see at this year’s Miss Universe competition?
Nel-Peters: I’m just really excited to meet the next Miss Universe and welcome her. This show has a special place in my heart and I want to help make that moment just as special for the next girl.
Fox News: How has your traumatic carjacking experience inspired you to help other women?
Nel-Peters: I managed to escape a violent carjacking. It was a very traumatizing point in my life and it made me realized that many women in South Africa are affected by crimes like this. I originally took a self-defense course and I truly believed that saved me. And after I spoke out, there were women reaching out to me, letting me know that they wouldn't know what to do if they were faced in a situation like that. They would feel powerless.
They would say to me, ‘Is there anything that you can do to help us?’ Unfortunately, that helped me launched my campaign. It wasn’t something that I had planned. It just happened. So I launched my Unbreakable campaign and I went around South Africa hosting workshops for women, empowering them with skills and knowledge on how to handle a violent-related situation.
And when I won Miss Universe, I got a global platform, which gave me a louder voice to be able to reach more women from every corner of the world. No matter where we live, our circumstances or how we grew up, we want to feel love, we want to feel cared for, and we want to feel powerful. We want to feel that we are keeping ourselves safe. That’s something that I will always stand for.
Fox News: How are things between you and Tim Tebow? How are you making it all work?
Nel-Peters: You’re making it sound like it’s hard work *laughs* And it really isn’t! It’s wonderful to be able to share my life experiences with somebody who's so understanding and supportive. He supports me in everything that I do. He’s just the sweetest person ever and it’s such an honor for me to be able to get to share my experiences with him.
Fox News: Before you hand over your crown, what advice do you have for women?
Nel-Peters: I want to encourage women not to feel weak. Don’t be afraid to speak out. To ask for help does not make you weak. And that was something I felt after I was carjacked. I felt shame. I felt embarrassed. I felt weak about it. That’s not the case at all. Once I did get help, I managed to overcome it and make something special with it, instead of not doing anything about it.
The 2018 Miss Universe Competition airs Dec. 16 at 7 p.m. on Fox.