Zehr, Smeathers both overcome obstacles to claim Daviess County pageant crowns, hope to inspire others

August 15, 2022 | 12:10 am

Updated August 14, 2022 | 11:42 pm

Miss Daviess County Mattie Zehr and Miss Teen Daviess County Presleigh Smeathers both overcame life obstacles on their way to winning their respective crowns, attributing some of their success to time on the pageant circuit. Both girls hope their inspiring stories can help others gain confidence to be their best self.

When Zehr was crowned Miss Daviess County earlier this month, it was a dream come true for her. The Uniontown native said she has gained self-confidence and public speaking skills from participating in pageants. 

Zehr, who was diagnosed with autism when she was 2-and-a-half years old, was non-verbal when she was young. Zehr’s parents took her to therapy to help her learn to speak. Today, she is speaking with confidence and boldness, attributing her past 2 years of pageant experience as a big contributor to that success.

“It was hard to learn everyday tasks,” the 17-year-old Zehr said. “I love speaking to strangers now. Three years ago, I would have been scared to death. Autism does not affect my communication skills as much now. Sophomore year was tough in classes like geometry. Pageants have helped me to develop my communication skills.”

While she does not currently have a platform that directly promotes autism awareness, Zehr hopes to become a voice for this cause in the future.

After not placing in the 2020 Miss Teen Daviess County pageant, Zehr is proud of how far she has come.

“This is definitely a confidence booster for me,” Zehr said. “I went to 10 county fairs to get a bid to state, to meet other girls, and to experience what their county is like. I feel blessed to have this title.”

With an older brother who attends college at Brescia University, Zehr said Owensboro already felt like a second home to her.

“I feel very welcome here,” she said. “The pageant director and my sister queens are amazing.”

Smeathers, who was crowned Miss Teen Daviess County this year, experienced a similar story, using pageantry to build her confidence despite the odds once stacked against her. 

“I have dealt with thyroid issues for several years. I was diagnosed with Graves Disease in 2018 when I was just 11 years old,” Smeathers said.

Three months later, Smeathers had her thyroid taken out.

“Ever since then I can’t get my labs to a normal level. Sometimes I can’t function,” Smeathers said. I don’t feel good, I need to take naps, or feel like I could sleep all the time.”

Perhaps equally challenging to being physically drained is learning to live with the scar on her neck left behind from the surgery.

“I was always self-conscious about it, but especially that first year following surgery,” Smeathers said. I wear a necklace to help cover it.”

Participating in pageants opened a door for Smeathers, who says she is finally regaining confidence. 

“Once you get on that stage, you have to take the necklace off,” she said. “You can’t wear it, and I’m finally okay with that. I took my necklace off to try on my dress, and didn’t put it back on for 6 days and that was a big step for me.” 

Smeathers said this year was extra special for her, thanks to her contestant number. 

“I was given number eight which is my papaw’s birth month,” she said. “He passed away 2 years ago and when I saw I had that number, it was like grace for me.”

Smeathers hoped for a top-five finish and was pleasantly surprised to win the title, attributing relationship building as the biggest benefit of her new position.

“The people I’ve met are always there, supporting me in everything I do. I try to be comfortable and tell my story. It could help someone else who is self-conscious and does not want people to see their scar,” Presleigh said. 

Both girls are excited to work together towards a common goal, inspiring others with their story. 

“To a little girl wanting to do pageants, I encourage them to go out and be their best self. In my interview, I opened up about my autism and my struggles,” Zehr said. “To me, that’s what it means to show your best self.”

August 15, 2022 | 12:10 am

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