CIRI shareholder Kassidy Whitley isn’t your typical beauty pageant contestant. The hair stylist and newly certified professional trainer dyes her short hair a vibrant shade of red and doesn’t bother to hide her tattoos or piercings. But that didn’t stop Renee Scott, director of the Miss Alaska United States pageant, from appointing 21-year-old Kassidy to be the next potential Miss United States.

“Pageants have never really been my thing,” Kassidy admits. But when Scott suggested Kassidy’s unique look might help set a new trend in the pageant world, Kassidy leapt into the realm of crowns and sashes with both feet. “Just this New Year’s, I was telling my mom it would be fun to do something different, something that would challenge me. Then this came along.”

Being a trendsetter may be something of a genetic trait: Kassidy’s grandmother, the late Rika Florence Murphy, who was an original CIRI shareholder, was the first recognized chief of the Kenaitze Indian Tribe. “As I got older and more into history, I understood what a big deal that was,” says Kassidy, “and I definitely took more pride in being from Alaska.”

The Anchorage-born contestant confesses that she sometimes wonders if she should conform a little to the traditional pageant image. “Maybe I need to dye my hair blonde? Or get extensions? Remove some piercings? Sometimes I want to mold into that image, but then I remember: As long as I keep real and true to who I am, everything else will fall into place.”

Kassidy is competing on a platform of youth athletics, health and wellness. An athletic high schooler who enjoyed cheerleading, track and volleyball, she grew more interested in fitness as a young woman but didn’t know enough about how to get the proper nutrition to bolster her exercise. It’s a problem she also sees with the high school girls who regard her as a sort of big sister, and it’s part of why she became a personal trainer.

“The girls are into cheerleading, but they’ll tell me how tired they are,” she explains. “So I ask them, ‘Well, what are you eating?’ I try to show them how your food is your fuel for your body. People don’t always understand that fitness and nutrition are a lifestyle, not some quick diet.”

Kassidy will travel to Washington, D.C., at the end of June to participate in events like a Fourth of July parade, luncheons and rehearsals for the July 6 pageant. Describing her pageant dress and how she’s been practicing for the interview portion of the contest, Kassidy projects an air of calm – impressive, considering that the national competition will be her first pageant of any kind, since she didn’t have to compete for her Miss Alaska title.

But is she nervous? “I feel a little bit of everything,” she confides. “Nervous, stressed, excited. But mostly I’m excited to bring something a little different to the pageant world.”

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