Maria Cecilia "Mitch" Nicolas is back in Thompson after her experience in the 2012 Miss Universe Canada contest in Toronto in May and glad to be in familiar surroundings.
"I'm happy I'm back again," she says, remembering that she felt the urge to be back in Manitoba as the pageant got underway, when she was a bit overwhelmed by the competition. "The first day, I was so nervous. I felt like I wanted to go home."
Nicolas didn't return home empty-handed either, having been one of the contestants named Miss Congeniality in a four-way tie, thanks to the votes she received from her competitors. That meant a lot to her, as she didn't want to come home with only her experience to mark her participation.
"It felt good. I really felt like, oh my goodness, I'm going to the front," she said, recalling the moment when she heard her name as one of those called. "I feel proud of it."
Nicolas isn't the only one who feels that way. Her partner, Chris Byrne, who accompanied her to Toronto, praised her performance in the pageant.
"I though he performed beautifully," he said. "I thought she really made Thompson proud."
Among the questions she was asked by the judges was one that was easy for her to answer - "Why did you join a beauty pageant?" - something Nicolas said she wanted to do ever since she was a little girl. Another, more unexpected, asked what she would do if, one day, she had a grown son tell her that he was gay.
"I'm going to be shocked, but whatever he wants to be I will support him," she told the judges.
One thing Nicolas knows now that she didn't before is how important good advice is when competing in this calibre of competition, an experience she's glad to have had
"It's worth it but at the same time I feel like I need more work," Nicolas explains. "You really need to have a coach."
The exposure she gained locally has thrust a bit of that role on her, as younger Thompsonites interested in entering beauty pageants have sought out her advice.
"I'm actually getting some people, talking to them, teenagers asking if I can help them be a part of it," Nicolas said.
That's something she's more than happy to do.
"I want to be a role model to other people to show that they can do what they want to do," she says.
She also plans to continue competing in pageants.
"I'm looking forward to another competition next year," says Nicolas, who already has plans to enter the Miss Physique contest next year. "That's my next goal. I'm not going to stop training."
Nicolas got to know the most famous of the pageant contestants while she was there – Jenna Talackova, the transgendered contestant who was at first barred from competing before organizers relented and allowed her to be a part of the contest.
"She's nice," said Nicolas, and "a very friendly person." Seeing a woman who was formerly a man was nothing new to Nicolas – transgendered people are not uncommon in her native Philippines.
Byrne said the interest in Talackova's presence was a double-edged sword, noting that media were everywhere during the Miss Universe Canada finals in Toronto.
"A lot of attention was paid to Miss Jenna," he said, which gave the contest more exposure but tended to overshadow the other contestants. "I've got nothing against the transgendered and gay community – nothing – but they do have their own pageants."
Miss Universe Canada contestants are much like everyday Canadians when it comes to their knowledge of Northern Manitoba geography, says Nicolas.
"They are like, where is Thompson?" she said, with the exception of one who came from Steinbach.
Nicolas appreciates everybody who voted for her in the People's Choice Award balloting leading up to the competition and who supported her participation.
"I want to thank the people that sponsored me and voted for me," she said.