Maria Cecilia (Mitch) Nicolas, a fitness and taekwondo instructor in Thompson and Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation at Nelson House, who will represent Manitoba in the 2012 Miss Universe Canada pageant, is currently seeking votes for the People's Choice Award, which would guarantee her one of the 20 semi-finalist spots at the national competition in Toronto later this month.
The award goes to the delegate who receives the most votes before May 17, when the People's Choice winner will be announced. Voters may cast up to four ballots per IP address a day for the delegate of their choice.
Earning an automatic spot in the top 20 would be a dream come true for Nicolas, who came to Canada from her native Philippines in 2003.
"I would be so grateful," she said. "It would help me boost my confidence to go all the way to the top because I know I have the love and support."
To improve her chances, Nicolas has posted a link to her Facebook page, emailed all her contacts and had some posters made. A Filipino newspaper in Winnipeg is running notices in print and online. Her family has also chipped in.
"My nanay [mother] Clarita went to the Philippines and made a big billboard in my home province's capital city."
Still,, she keeps it in perspective
"Whether it's me or another candidate I just feel blessed and thankful that I was part of the world's most prestigious beauty pageants and represented our province of Manitoba," says Nicolas, who is a first-degree black belt in taekwondo.
Nicolas says she enjoys the exposure, attention and photos that are part of the beauty pageant routine, but that the most valuable things she gains is the experience of competing.
"I get to meet lots of people and I am excited to meet more people and become friends," she says.
Her previous pageant experience includes a top 12 finish at the 2011 Miss America Latina del Mundo. Nicolas was also one of the local women nominated for the Thompson YWCA's 2012 Women of Distinction awards.
In addition to her work as a group fitness leader and wellness specialist with the Manitoba Fitness council and coaching taekwondo students, Nicolas also devotes time to serving others, at home and abroad. She started a fundraising kick-a-thon at LABAN martial arts and fitness studio to raise money towards the construction of an orphanage in the Philippines. She also worked with Father Prosper Lyimo, a diocesan priest from Arusha in Tanzania, currently serving as parish priest at St. Lawrence Church, to raise more than $1,100 for the purchase of medical supplies and medicine and for repairs to an orphanage and school in the priest's native country. Most recently, she hosted a wine and cheese reception with LABAN that raised $2,059 for the SOS Children's Villages.
"It is always nice to meet new people," Nicolas said. "I feel so blessed for all the help I received to make this event a fantastic night. Thank you most especially to the LABAN taekwondo family. They are always supporting me and helping me fundraise for charities. It means a lot to me when you know that they believe in you, support ins and helping you all the way to the competition."
The 2012 Miss Universe Canada national competition takes place May 17 and May 19 at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts - The Bluma Appel Theatre in Toronto.