Courtesy of Victor Photography
Former Madera High School graduate Maria Manzo was recently crowned Miss United Continents Miss United States at the Miss Eco United States Pageant in Las Vegas. Manzo will represent the United States at the Miss United Continents pageant in Ecuador in September.
Madera’s Maria Manzo picked a perfect week to celebrate her birthday, which ended in getting crowned Miss United Continents Miss United States just 10 months after getting hospitalized for an intestinal infection that led to a heart ailment.
Manzo, representing Miss Eco California, celebrated her birthday the previous weekend in subdued fashion while preparing for the Miss Eco United States Pageant held Feb. 8-10 in Las Vegas.
“I’m incredibly happy, excited and still in disbelief,” she said “I honestly don’t think it’ll ever settle in. It took so much work and preparation to get on that stage and I’m so happy that it was finally my time to be crowned as a national titleholder. While in Vegas, I was up practicing/rehearsing my walks in full wardrobe until 3-4 a.m. making sure I was comfortable and confident in everything I was doing. This was my last chance to possibly represent our country at the international level and I wanted to make sure that I gave it my all and had no regrets. I feel that all my hard work, sleepless nights and efforts have finally paid off, and that’s a great feeling.”
However, after getting crowned, Manzo celebrated with candy and pizza, much to her chagrin.
“I made myself sick,” she said. “I regret it. After I won, on the way back to my room to put my things away, we went to the store and I bought two big bags of candy. Before we left the room to get my pizza, I ate half of the bag of candy. Then, we went to the M&M’s store and I had a ton of M&M’s. I had a bag of chips. My body wasn’t my best friend. It did not settle well. I was super sick that whole night. It was worth it. I’m ready to start being healthy again.
“I got to celebrate my birthday in Vegas. I didn’t have too many birthday festivities here (at home) because my mind was so focused on the pageant and I didn’t want to get distracted. I celebrated in Vegas with people I love most.”
When the announcements came Feb. 10, Manzo was fully prepared for any result, however she said she worked the hardest she has ever worked for this competition.
“Pageants are a combination of the fitness aspect, but you have to prepare yourself mentally,” she said. “There’s practice of the different walks, swimsuits and gowns. The other big part was the preparation for the interviews and being aware of everything going on around the world. You have to know where you stand on every possible question asked.”
On the night of the crowning, Manzo wasn’t sure what to expect. She had been practicing every night and not getting any sleep.
“I wasn’t expecting it (winning),” she said. “ I was on stage and had no sleep. I was taking naps. I was up all night preparing or practicing everything so I wasn’t sleeping. The night of the coronation, I was running on memory. My body was focused on that memory reaction. I was one of the last ones to be announced. By that time, everybody was already up, there was no more room for somebody to be crowned. I already thought I lost. I thought, ‘Oh great, another pageant lost and I didn’t get crowned.’ The next thing I know, they call Miss United Continents United States, Miss California. I wasn’t expecting it. I was distracted and excited that my family was there. I was staring at them. When they announced me, I was in shock. Nonetheless, I was excited. It’s a weird feeling. I kind of felt it in my gut that it was mine. It was a good feeling because I put a lot of preparation into this pageant that I finally felt that all the work paid off.”
There were 102 beauty queens in Las Vegas for three different divisions, including Miss United Continents United States, which Manzo won. There were 30 women in her division.
“The girl that won Miss Eco United States doesn’t necessarily mean she scored the highest,” she said. “I, personally, wanted this title because I felt it was who I am. It’s a Latin pageant. It will be held in Ecuador in September. It represents the women around the world. The reason why I love it is because it’s all in Spanish. Coming from my Latin roots, I’m already there. The pageant represents that Latin woman in the United States. The poise, the grace, the intelligence and everything the American woman embodies. I think even more amazing is it’s Latin. I’ll be able to be a great representation of the Latin woman in America.”
Running on the platform of California’s water problem and suicide awareness, Manzo was especially proud that her mother, godmother, boyfriend and sister, who survived a suicide attempt, were in the audience.
“They are the ones that have supported me and have been behind me the whole way,” Manzo said. “Seeing my little sister in the crowd watching her first pageant with her big eyes was the sweetest thing in the world.”
With Manzo winning the competition, she may have turned another set of eyes to pageants — her own sister.
“After the watching the pageant, all the insecurities of being too tall or too this went away,” Manzo said. “The reason why I love this organization is it brings in a wide variety of women. It’s not the tallest girl or skinniest or intelligent girl that wins. It’s so diverse.
"One of my sister’s insecurities was she thinks she’s too tall. I was one of the shortest girls on stage. Her seeing the tall women that aren’t considered the perfect woman, she saw them who they are in person. After the pageant, she brought up she wanted to compete next year. It was a beautiful thing.
"I try to explain to other kids or my sister there’s pageant or activities for everyone. This pageant portrays everyone. This pageant gives an opportunity to create outfits out of Eco-friendly elements like paper maché. There were people who used paper cups, newspapers and paper and a variety of things. Someone as creative as her, she saw she can do something like that. There were a lot of interesting outfits, to say the least.”
Manzo, who thought she was on her deathbed in March of last year, battled her way back for this competition and is riding a rush of emotions after winning the crown.
“It hasn’t even been a year,” she said. “I gets me every single day. Winning the crown was a rush of emotions. You don’t feel it immediately because you’re on Cloud 9. You can’t believe you have this crown on your head and banner with the United States across my chest. It hasn’t fully set in, to be honest. My family, my closest people that have supported me, have seen my preparation and hard work from where I’ve come. I’ve overcome a lot.
“I’m very humbled by everything. It still hasn’t settled in and probably won’t until I get ready for Ecuador.”
Manzo is ready for the competition in September. She will have some advantages because she already speaks Spanish and she is Latin.
“I’m excited,” she said. “I think a lot of systems think of the American woman as having beautiful blonde hair, blue eyed. I’m excited to go in and say, ‘Hey, America, we’re diverse.’ I’ll be that Latin woman who gets to be that example and representation of a strong, independent, poised and successful woman. I’m not blonde hair and blue eyed. I’m excited to represent that.”
In the meantime, Manzo is not going to rest. She was crowned Miss Eco California in December. She shot a commercial for Chukhansi Casino the week before she left for Vegas. After she won the Miss Eco California title, she will prepare for a triathlon in April and then start preparing for the Miss United Continents crown.
“I’ve been busy,” she said. “I did a commercial for Chukchansi. It will be airing soon. I had a speaking role and was one of the main talents for that one.”
In addition to the crown, one of the lasting memories Manzo had about her time in Las Vegas is she saw snow on the Las Vegas strip.
“It was one of the first times it snowed all year,” she said. “It was like a little miracle. I got to experience that with my candy. I was happy. It was snowing for 30 minutes and then mellowed out. It was a beautiful evening.”
“I’m grateful that my loved ones were there to witness my hard work pay off and now I am able to come home to the Valley and celebrate.”