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For the next month, 23-year-old Keli Kryfko has just one goal on her mind: Becoming Miss Texas.
The recent winner of the Miss South Texas pageant, Kryfko will soon compete against 51 other girls from across the Lone Star State, vying for the Texas crown – as well as the chance to compete in the Miss America pageant.
But there once was a time in Kryfko’s life when the thought of strutting bikini-clad on stage seemed like an impossible endeavor.
Growing up, the beauty queen long struggled with her weight, reaching an astonishing 230 pounds by the time she was in the 8th grade. As a young teenager, Kryfko said middle school was a very isolating experience for her, as it was hard for her to make close friends or participate in physically demanding activities.
“When you look at me now, most people wouldn’t think I ever had been bullied,” Kryfko, originally from Dallas, told FoxNews.com. “But I’ve never been asked to a school dance. I would look at the cheerleaders and always want to be one.”
The tipping point for Kryfko finally came one day during gym class 8th grade year. She and other students were required to undergo a fitness test, but Kryfko failed to complete every single portion of the exam.
“I was so embarrassed,” said Kryfko. “I went into the locker room, and I heard a girl say, ‘Can you believe the fat girl couldn’t do any of it?’ I decided then, my 8th-grade-old self, that enough is enough. I didn’t want that to be my definition.”
Knowing it was time for a change, Kryfko vowed to finally start losing the weight. But rather than opt for a quick fix through surgery or adhering to a crazy diet fad, Kryfko decided to shed the pounds through hard work and dedication – by making small dietary cuts over time.
She said the first item to get cut was her favorite soda: Dr. Pepper.
“I was making small incremental changes to my diet,” Kryfko said. “So instead of having three servings at dinner, I’d cut it to two servings. Or when I went to Taco Bell, I’d get the burrito without the cheese. Stuff like that.”
Ultimately, the changes Kryfko made started to work, and over the next year, she watched as the weight slowly came off. To help further things along, she and her mother eventually purchased a gym membership and started doing 30 minutes of cardio every night.
Finally, nearly two years after that fateful gym class, Kryfko lost 70 pounds.
The road to the crown
Weighing in at just 129 pounds, Kryfko has lost a total of 100 pounds – but she said there is still more work to be done.
“The day it hit 100 pounds, it was really exciting to know that I had done it,” Kryfko said. “I’m still on that journey, and I love where I am right now, but I wouldn’t mind if I had a six pack one morning.”
Now, Kryfko is on yet another journey, one that she never thought she’d take. For the past few years, she has been heavily immersed in the world of pageantry, hoping to one day claim the coveted title of Miss America.
Kryfko said she first got the idea to do pageants as a way to make scholarship money for college, since the Miss America Organization is one of the largest providers of scholarships for women in the world.
“I thought that could be great,” Kryfko said. “I could put on fake eyelashes and tease my hair real big. And then I’d get to serve the community, by getting active with the Boys and Girls Club. It seemed like a great organization; it’s a lot more than being pretty.”
With newfound enthusiasm, Kryfko entered her first pageant right out of high school, which she noted was “a bit of a disaster.” But Kryfko kept on competing, telling judges her story of weight loss and promoting healthy nutrition and proper fitness for everyone.
Finally, after participating in 12 pageants, she won her first title – and soon, Kryfko began to realize just how much her story has been inspiring others.
“I always knew my platform and my story could be impactful, but I didn’t realize the magnitude that it would touch people’s lives,” Kryfko said. “I’ve gotten so many emails and messages just saying things like, ‘My kid has been struggling with their weight and they’ve been bullied, and they watched your story and it really gave me hope.’”
Given the significant response to her story, Kryfko now performs as a motivational speaker and keeps up a blog on her website, where she shares her dieting and fitness secrets. Today, she adheres to a paleo diet, eating mostly plant-based foods and lean meats, and she is very active at the gym, doing cardio and weight training almost every single day.
Now as she heads to the Miss Texas pageant next month, she said she will continue to spread her message of hope and wellness, long after the winner is crowned.
“When you’re overweight or not happy with the skin you’re in, you just feel imprisoned in your own body,” Kryfko said. “I’ve been there, and I’ve lived it. So there’s been a sense of hope across this whole story that’s been able to touch a lot of people, and I’m so humbled that the Lord would use me to spread such a message.”