IT’S HARD to believe that Theresa Vail ever was bullied.
And yet her life once became so terrifying, she thought about suicide.
You’ve probably been reading or hearing all about the upbeat, competitive, bow-hunting, rifle-shooting, tattoo-proud Miss Kansas — and how she’s become a role model to young women during her wild ride through the Miss America pageant.
Vail might be the most talked about contestant in recent memory — especially considering she didn’t actually win.
Besides speaking Chinese, field-dressing deer and displaying the Serenity Prayer inked down her side while parading in a bikini at Atlantic City, Vail has been busy with studies at K-State, serving in the Kansas Army National Guard and, of course, taking a run at the country’s most famous crown.
Vail zipped into the semifinals of the Miss America shindig Sunday night — which she probably would have made in any case, but her spot was clinched when voters nationwide chose her as the most popular and fascinating contestant from an introductory online video.
Even though Vail won hearts and fans with her passion, patriotism and insistence on remaining true to herself by displaying the tattoo, she hasn’t always been the strong, fight-all-comers soldier that we’ve seen since she popped up as Miss Kansas.
In fact, the Serenity Prayer became part of her life when she was bullied as a child.
“It was so bad that when I was 10 years old, I considered taking my own life,” Vail said.
Here’s how this overachieving, seemingly fearless 22-year-old explained her struggles:
“AS I WAS growing up amidst the bullying and neglect, I found myself asking God on a daily basis to give me peace in knowing I cannot change certain things about myself, but also asking Him to give me the strength to change things that I had the power to.
“Thus, I chose to have it tattooed onto my body.”
Vail’s rather dramatic display of the tattoo on national television during the Miss America pageant, and her victory over the terrors of growing up, come at a critical time for many young people.
WITH THE advent of the Internet, and the non-stop texts, posts and relentless insults that kids hurl at each other, bullying never has been more frightening.
A 12-year-old Florida girl recently committed suicide after a barrage of online posts from other youngsters convinced her that she was ugly and that nobody liked her.
Somehow it feels like Theresa Vail, the beautiful, tattooed, bow-hunting soldier in a bikini, provided a powerful and timely message.
“I’m not afraid to admit that there was a time when I thought I wanted to die,” Vail said. “Being bullied is awful.
“And it’s OK to ask for help.”
Steve Cameron is a Mercury columnist. He will become the paper’s executive editor on Sept. 30. Follow Steve on Twitter at @stevecameron100.