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Staffer Seeks Va. Crown

Fitzgerald Correspondent Competes for Miss Virginia

Gina Piek, a legislative correspondent for Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.) and contestant in this weekend’s Miss Virginia USA 2005 pageant, has gotten a lot of support from her boss.

When Piek told Fitzgerald of her plans to compete in the pageant, she said he told her, “It’s about time someone did something different in this office.”

Piek said when she sees the Senator about once a week, he asks her about how her preparations are going.

“I have been working for three years in a fairly competitive field,” Piek said. “I am confident that I have developed the skills necessary to be a good Miss Virginia.

About 30 women will compete in the event at Harrison Jones Auditorium at Virginia Intermont College in Bristol. The state competition is structured similarly to the national competition so the state winner is prepared for the national pageant, she said.

The state pageant consists of an evening gown competition, swimsuit competition and interview. The preliminary competition will take place Friday. Formal interviews will be held Saturday morning. The top 15 competitors will participate in the final competition Saturday night.

In preparation for the pageant, Piek said she has been fundraising, exercising, reading up on pageants, collecting her wardrobe and accessories, and figuring out the “girly things” like how to wear her hair and makeup. She also has been practicing walking in the requisite 4-inch high heels, she said.

Piek said she estimates that she will have spent a “conservative amount” of $2,500 on the competition, including the $975 pageant fees. “I am trying to be fiscal,” she said. “I didn’t want to go to the extreme.”

“Some girls can spend up to $10,000. I don’t know how some families do it.”

Piek said she has raised about $1,800 so far and is expecting some more donations. She said the support from her working-class family was “an extremely humbling source of motivation.”

“I owe it to them and myself to do my best,” she said of the competition. “If I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna do it well.”

Piek said her evening gown is “a classic, elegant style like you would see on the red carpet in Hollywood.” Sarah Nicol, a fashion designer and home interior decorator based in Fairfax, designed and created the medium blue gown from a pebbled satin material, Piek said.

Piek, who is 5 feet 9 inches tall, said her silver high heels have rhinestone sparkles to match the rhinestone jewelry she will wear with her gown.

For the swimsuit competition, Piek will wear a brown two-piece bathing suit with copper iridescence that she bought at Lord and Taylor. For the interview, she will wear a traditional, off-white suit with a black shell top that she already had for work.

Piek said she competed in a local, low-budget pageant when she was in the fifth grade. While she liked the pageant itself, she said the other contestants were too competitive and it was “a little bit out of my league.”

Piek has no professional modeling experience, but said she “had a lot of fun” modeling in an on-campus fashion show when she was in college.

“What sets the winners apart is their dedication to the community,” she said. “They look at winning as an opportunity, not a reward.”

Winning the pageant would be “a great opportunity” to devote time to her interest in education, she said.

Since the winner of the pageant spends the year traveling around Virginia, Piek said she would spend time visiting schools in the state to emphasize the importance of literacy and civics education.

Piek said she has “a passion” for civics education. “Many students don’t learn how to get involved and make a difference in their communities,” she said of the lack of a required civics or government course in many schools.

The nationwide platform of the Miss USA Pageant is breast and ovarian cancer research and fundraising, Piek said. Since Piek has had family members with breast cancer, she said she is excited that fundraising for “an issue close to my heart is part of the position.”

The winner of the pageant also goes on to compete in the Miss USA Pageant for two weeks in April. “It would be the experience of a lifetime if I got to go,” Piek said.

“There are days that I feel really nervous,” she said. “But I feel confident going into the pageant.”

Piek said she is excited to meet the other competitors and to participate in the pageant. “I’m gonna have a good time,” she said.

Piek said her friends and co-workers were surprised that she is competing in the pageant because she does not “spend a lot of time primping and leads an adventuresome life.”

“My friends have been a huge source of encouragement,” she said.

Piek is looking forward to sharing her experience with her friends and family. She said her mother, stepfather, aunt, uncle and best friend will attend the competition, and she plans to purchase the DVD to show the rest of her friends and family.

“About 20 of my friends who will be campaigning this weekend had wanted to come,” she said. “I told them that it was of a higher importance that they campaign and be a part of the political process than watch me compete in a pageant.”

Piek said she will be making long distance calls after the pageant to fill her friends in, and she plans to have a party for them to watch the DVD when they return.

Piek moved to the Washington, D.C., area when she began working for Fitzgerald in August 2002. She said she “fell in love with Alexandria, Virginia.”

“I love living there,” she said of the city. “I consider it my new home.”

Since the Senator is retiring this year, Piek said she is interviewing for her “dream job” at the Board of Education and is looking for a new job on the Hill.

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