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Winner Gives It All

By Reetika Khanna Email By Reetika Khanna
December 2021
Winner Gives It All

Shree Saini is the first Indian-American to be crowned Miss World America. The 2021 winner is as valiant and giving as she’s beautiful. Despite getting a pacemaker at the age of 12, Saini pursued dancing—and she continues to overcome challenges with grace. She suffered face burns in a car accident, but that didn’t stop her charitable work. And though Saini collapsed before the pageant in 2019, she went on to become Miss World America Washington in 2020.

Take us to the aftermath of the horrific car accident.

My face was so swollen for weeks that I could not see my ears. My tears would burn my wounds so I could not even cry. I attended university with a fully hidden face. Between classes I would wipe my wounds and apply healing ointments in the bathroom.

You suffered heart blockage and had to endure a surgery at 12, with subsequent surgeries every 10 years. How did you manage to dance, considering the physical demands of ballet?

My parents raised me to be a solution-focused and possibility-mindset individual. I focus my work on right now, moment-to-moment decisions. I make annual, monthly, weekly and daily goals. I break daily goals to hourly time slot goals. I would dance long hours in my garage to match the skills of healthy students. Each evening I access my day for productivity and service work.

How have your adversities influenced your approach to life?

Adversities helped me to have a bigger perspective. I do not get consumed by my challenges now. I find solutions. I ask myself: what are the top five solutions to this problem? Will I have the courage to apply them? Or stay stuck in indecision? I challenge myself to be decisive and rise up from a setback quickly.

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Did you really dress up as Miss World when you were six years old?

Yes! My KG teacher Mamta ji still remembers that. She reached out to me on Facebook after 20 years! She said that I was the only student of hers who told her in childhood that I wanted to be Miss World.

You are a University of Washington alumna. You also attended Harvard, Yale and Stanford as a visiting student. What made you want to compete in the Miss World pageant as an adult?

Miss World is the biggest and the oldest beauty pageant in the world. It is in its 70th year. More than 125 countries compete for the crown. It is a charity based pageant—I was fascinated by the work done by contestants all over the world. All contestants are required to do community service work and present their work through Beauty with a Purpose videos, and those are the most important component of the pageant.

What do you like most about being Miss World America?

I like being able to meet heads of nonprofits and work with them, serve with them and talk about their projects on my social media. I am especially grateful to American Heart Association. I am alive because of the inventions done by the medical professionals.

Where has been your favorite place to travel when touring?

South Africa. I was invited to speak in SA and the event organizer there took me to visit Nelson Mandela’s office. I also visited India and the Mother Teresa ministries. They allowed me to go to her room and sit at her desk!

What’s next for you after being crowned Miss World America?

I will continue serving with a lot of love in my heart. I want to serve over 1000 nonprofits during my national title.


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Author of Kismetwali & Other Stories, Reetika Khanna is an Atlanta-based freelance writer who likes to spotlight people with purpose. She has worked with ELLE as a senior features writer, and as an associate features editor with ELLE DÉCOR, Mumbai. For more, go to ReetikaKhanna.com

 



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