As sophomore Claire Nieshalla stood upon the Miss East Central Indiana pageant stage to accept her first place award, she remembered all that had brought her there: a little bit of chance, a good amount of talent, but mostly a lot of God’s provision.
Chance greeted Nieshalla in the form of her piano and voice teacher Tamara Tati. She encouraged Nieshalla to compete in the Miss Fall Festival’s Outstanding Teen pageant her junior year of high school.
Nieshalla was unsure. “I’m a soccer player,” she thought, but the question of “What do you have to lose?” was louder.
As Nieshalla already had her talent, piano and voice, she began to practice her interviewing skills, honing in on her answers and selecting a platform to run on. In September of 2017, Nieshalla was on a pageant stage for the first time, but not the last, to accept first place.
“Having (the Miss Fall Festival’s Outstanding Teen) title just opened the door for so many opportunities,” Nieshalla said. “I had the chance to participate in a lot of appearances — that's what you do when you have a title. When you compete in a pageant, you have a platform; mine is substance abuse prevention. With that, we're encouraged to do stuff with our platform, not just to say, ‘This is my platform.’”
Since her junior year win, Nieshalla has competed in two more pageants, placing in all of them and winning again, all with the same platform.
Through her gift of communication, found both on the stage of pageants and ingrained in her multimedia journalism courses, she found a way to spread her message. Nieshalla describes it as direction from God.
“It’s just so cool for me to look back and see how God has been so faithful in that,” Nieshalla said. “(I’m) learning it takes just a step out of your comfort zone to say ‘yes’ because you never know what God's going to do with that. (From) learning to walk in heels (to) walking down the road, (seeing what) the future that will bring.”
Since her first pageant, Nieshalla has staged two prescription drug take-back days, one in high school and one in college.
On the first take-back day, she and her group collected nearly 300 lbs. of prescription drugs in eight hours.
The second one amounted to over 400 pounds.
At its heart, a pageant titleholder is a job, Nieshalla said. As much of the glitz and the glam as a pageant includes, it is so much more to competitors who run on similar and compelling platforms.
“There are these deep-rooted, educated, intelligent women and souls underneath those dresses and makeup, and they're not chosen lightly by judges,” Nieshalla said. “I think that's important to realize too because it's really easy to just look on the outside of what pageants are, but it is really so much more.”
As pageant season was approaching again this year, it snuck up on Nieshalla in an unexpected way. Two weeks prior to the Miss East Central Indiana pageant, Nieshalla was fully planning on sitting it out.
But over spring break, Nieshalla felt the Lord tug on her heart and the call to continue her mission of substance abuse prevention, and, on another whim, she decided to compete. Another chance she found herself taking, and soon enough, she reaped the reward for saying, ‘Yes.’
“As far as preparation goes, I believe that the Lord had been preparing me for this all along,” Nieshalla said. “It wasn't just those two weeks (of preparation); he knew that I was going to do it all along. I think I can probably look back and see the ways he was preparing me — the drug take-back day, talk(ing) about it with Taylor University — he was preparing me for this pageant.”
After hours of mock interviews, FaceTime calls with her pageant director and becoming knowledgeable of current events, Nieshalla was ready. However, as much as it involves physical preparation, she says it involves equal, possibly more, mental preparation. Nieshalla needed to complete the mental task of remembering to not get sucked into the hole of comparison.
To accomplish this, she’s taken to journaling her thoughts, specifically asking God for focus and strength, and memorizing verses.
“Comparison is the thief of joy,” Nieshalla said. “That's something that I really hold on to as well. I want to win this pageant, but my number one goal is, if anything comes out of this pageant, this experience, I want people to know God's love through me — that's what I value and (consider) successful.”
The day, moment and seconds Nieshalla had been preparing for arrived; with her notebook in hand and Psalms in mind, she took the stage. Later, she took home the title.
Nieshalla describes her reaction to hearing her name called for first place as simply one of gratitude for the Lord bringing her there, giving her a platform and for helping her remain true to herself.
She will move on to compete in the Miss Indiana pageant with her substance abuse prevention platform motivating her.
“What is awesome about having a title is you have this heightened platform,” Nieshalla said. “I've got so much to say about substance abuse. When you're Miss Indiana, you have the heightened platform — people listen. To humbly seek after and use that platform in the best way possible, and then say, ‘Okay, Lord, how do you want me to use this type of platform for your glory?’ is huge for me. I think sometimes it's hard to feel heard. (I am) seeing this position as an opportunity, (learning) how to use it to make his name known for his glory alone.”