SHREVEPORT, La. (News4Utah) – It’s been 58 years since Utah nabbed the title of Miss USA. But defying the odds is nothing new for Narine Ishhanov, who is the current Miss Utah USA.
Ishhanov said it took her six tries to win the state title.
“I remember the first two years that I competed, I was afraid to show who I was, where I came from, and what languages I speak because I was bullied growing up,” said Ishhanov. “It wasn’t until my third year when I proudly showed my identity that I made it to the Top 5.”
Ishhanov is the daughter of Turkmenistan immigrants, who came to the United States when she was 11 years old.
“It was a really hard process to come to the United States. We were apart from my dad for 4 years. I was afraid we weren’t going to be able to come here ever and I remember praying every night,” said Ishhanov. “There was no future for the kids at all in Turkmenistan. They did not have a voice. Coming to the United States, we knew for a fact you’re a free person here.”
Knowing only three words of English at the time, Ishhanov said that didn’t stop her from pursuing her dreams. 13 years later, she owns her own trucking company and is now on her way to dental school after graduating from the University of Utah in Psychology.
“She puts in a lot of hard work that commands a lot from one person. From managing work and school to pursuing her passion of becoming Miss Utah USA, she has worked really hard and come a very long way to get to the top,” said Jamil Hawatmeh, Ishhanov’s boyfriend.
Hawatmeh said Ishhanov is breaking stereotypes about Utah pageant titleholders.
“It’s not the same as it was ten years ago. That’s why you’re not seeing the stereotypical from Utah. i think it does nothing but great things for the state of Ttah as it shows how diverse we are, that we are not just the standard. We are definitely on the map,” said Hawatmeh.
“I am different definitely. I am not blonde, blue-eyed, or Mormon,” said Ishhanov. “But I think that’s what makes Utah great. I’ve always wanted to represent the state of Utah and I can’t believe I’m about to do that,” said Ishhanov.
Pageant officials said the odds are higher to have a son play in the Super Bowl than a daughter compete at Miss USA, a dream Ishhanov said is still surreal for her family.
“Even this morning, my mom told me, ‘I never would have thought…that chubby little girl at 11 years is going to be on the Miss USA stage!'” said Ishhanov.
She wants others to know that Miss USA is not just about beauty.
“Beauty alone will not get you far. It’s the beauty on the inside,” said Ishhanov. “The judges are looking for someone is smart, passionate, and dedicated to being a role model for women.”
Ishhanov will compete for Miss USA Monday night in Shreveport, Louisiana.