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PAWTUCKET â€” Kelsey Fournier spent the last three years rallying fans to cheer for the New England Patriots and now it's time for locals to return the favor and root for her. The 23-year-old Pawtucket native was recently crowned â€śMiss Rhode Island 2012â€ť and will represent the Ocean State in the national Miss America competition in January.
The petite, green-eyed blonde was chosen among the other contestants during the preliminary contest, the Miss Rhode Island Scholarship Pageant, held at Rhode Island College. She will go on to compete in the nationally televised Miss America Pageant that will take place in Las Vegas.
Despite her beauty queen â€ścredentials,â€ť which include a three-year stint as a Patriots cheerleader and 20 years of jazz dancing and performing, Fournier said she entered the local pageant primarily for the chance to obtain a scholarship. Her win now provides her with a full scholarship to Salve Regina University, where she hopes to obtain a master's degree in health care administration.
It's been a busy spring for Fournier. In addition to her pageant win, she just graduated from Rhode Island College with a bachelor of science degree in community health education. With her own interest in fitness and health (she worked part-time at the RIC gymnasium and is a fitness instructor at the Mind Body Barre in Rehoboth, Mass.,) she wants to pursue a job in the field of workplace health education.
Her career direction was further sparked by an internship she did through RIC at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island. â€śI delivered health programs at worksites on things like nutrition, exercise, stress management...all aspects of health,â€ť she stated. â€śI really enjoyed doing that.â€ť
Part of being Miss Rhode Island requires having a â€śplatformâ€ť and Fournier intends to make hers the prevention of child obesity. Using the theme of â€śEat Right, Feel Right, she said she will be visiting local schools, social service agencies and youth organizations to â€śeducate children on the importance of eating right and staying active.â€ť
One of the differences between the Miss America and Miss USA pageants (in which another Rhode Island beauty, Olivia Culpo of Cranston, recently took home the national title), is that there is a talent portion required to become a Miss America contender.
For Fournier, this meant putting to use her jazz dancing skills that she learned at the Shannon O'Brien School of Dance in Seekonk, Mass. â€śI have been training there since I was three years-old, Fournier said.
She later became a company dancer for the school and performed in national and international dance competitions.
Fournier's dance background helped earn her a coveted spot on the New England Patriots Cheerleading squad. She had to audition each of the three years she belonged to the squad and just completed her final season (there is a three-year limit).
As a Patriots cheerleader, Fournier attended last year's Super Bowl at Indianapolis. She also journeyed with the cheerleading squad to the Middle East, taking part in performances for U.S. military troops stationed in Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and Qatar.
Her time spent as a pro-football team cheerleader, which involved frequent traveling throughout New England for special appearances, has readied her for the whirlwind, year-long schedule of events that accompanies the Miss Rhode Island post. (Fournier appears this weekend at the Naval Air Show in Quonset.)
â€śI feel that because of cheerleading, I am prepared for this. I'm used to having to speak publicly because we had to do a lot of charitable events. And, you are representing an organization larger than you so you have to hold yourself to those standards,â€ť Fournier said.
Fournier, who was born and raised in the city's Pinecrest neighborhood, is a 2007 graduate of St. Raphael Academy. She is the daughter of two Pawtucket natives, Heather and Ron Fournier, and has an older sister, Alicia.
Fournier said that entering a pageant was something she had dreamed about doing when she was in high school, but her mother urged her to wait until she was older. As such, she went into this year's local Miss America contest not knowing what to expect, unlike many of the other contestants. â€śSome of the girls had been in pageants from the time they were very young,â€ť she said. â€śSince this was my first pageant, I just thought, 'What happens, happens.'â€ť
During the local contest, the all-important interview question Fournier was asked to respond to was one that she could answer easily: â€śWhat past experience have you had that prepared you to be Miss Rhode Island?â€ť She provided an explanation of her role and duties as a Patriots cheerleader. However, Fournier said she knows that the questions asked of the contestants in the national pageant will be more difficult or tricky. She said she intends to closely watch the news and read about current events and social issues so she can be knowledgeable about a wide variety of topics.
As for the stereotypes of scheming and conniving pageant women, Fournier said this couldn't be further from the truthâ€”at least at the local level. â€śThe Miss America organization is the largest scholarship program for women in the country, so most of the people get involved for this reason, especially with how expensive school can be now,â€ť she said.
Fournier also characterized her fellow contestants as â€śtalented, intelligent women,â€ť and said they had formed a bond that grew out of rehearsing together for the last three months. â€śI actually made a lot of friends during the process,â€ť she said.
Would she recommend a Miss America pageant run to other young women? Without hesitation, Fournier says 'yes.' â€śYou have to put a lot of work into it, but it's a great experience. The public speaking, getting involved in community events...and you can apply for extra scholarships that are available. Plus, it makes you a role model for a younger generation.â€ť