Tears glistened in Cara Mund's bright blue eyes as Savvy Shields lowered a silver crown onto her head, officially transferring the title of Miss America to the woman from North Dakota.
"It's going to be OK. I'll talk to you in a month," Shields whispered in Mund's ear, giving her a hug before the new Miss America crossed the stage in Atlantic City on Sept. 10, celebrating her new role.
For Shields the week had been emotional -- about three months before, people had started asking her if she was sad she was going to be a "former," and as new candidates flooded the stage, it got real -- she would no longer be Miss America.
"It's not a real-life job, and you go by a different name for a year," Shields said. "You become this person who it's not just me but it's 100 other women before me that people think of Miss America as."
In the days before the pageant, Shields got to know the contestants at their orientation. Crowning Mund was her final act as Miss America, said Chelsea Mineur, a representative of the Miss America Organization.
Shields, 22, has spent the last couple of months adjusting. She has achieved the dream she has had since she was 8 years old, and now she is transitioning from the glamour of life as Miss America to being simply Savvy.
Her Miss America life was a whirlwind -- a new state nearly every other day. She lived in hotels for a year. Airports became almost a second home, where she would sometimes be camped out for hours, pulling a small sketchpad out of her purse to draw passers-by.
"Pageants and art, in a Venn diagram, I don't know if there's much overlap, but I'm in that overlap," she said. While doing her job as Miss America, she didn't have much time for art. "It's something where I missed it a lot, and I'm excited to get back into it."
Shields re-entered the Fine Arts Building at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville at the beginning of the month, the sharp scents of oils and paint wafting around her for the first time in 12 months.
She has saved every hotel key card and coffee sleeve from her reign and plans to create a piece with them.
Former Miss America winners have 10 years to use their scholarship money, for undergraduate degrees, graduate school or professional training, Mineur said.
Shields plans to use her scholarship to finish her remaining year of college. She said she might attend graduate school, too, because getting her undergraduate degree won't use up the $90,000 she won from the Miss America Foundation.
But her plans are a moving target. She wants to open a flower shop. She wants to sell her art. She wants to do philanthropy work for a medley of nonprofits.
"Your goals and your to-do list just gets like irrationally long, and I'm a hopeless romantic so I think that's why it keeps growing," Shields said.
Miss America is tasked with being a goodwill ambassador for the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals, which Shields said was the part of her year that affected her most. The network supports hospitals that treat children who have illnesses such as diabetes and cancer. It relies entirely on donations.
"That was the best part of my job, but it was also the most emotionally taxing part of my job because I would get to walk into hospitals across the country ... You walk into room by room by room and, a lot of the kids, you don't know how much longer their future has," she said.
Shields said she is looking for ways to stay involved with the network as well as continue promoting her platform, "Eat better. Live better."
She also said she will never be done with pageants, whether that means attending state pageants or encouraging contestants during their orientation weekends.
"I mean it changed my life, and I'm always going to get to be a part of it in some capacity without a doubt," she said.
In the meantime, she is spending this semester before returning to school doing many of the things she did as Miss America -- hosting events and public speaking, although most of these are in or near Arkansas.
She is working to slow down. These efforts began with a camping trip she calls "The Pilgrimage" that she and her boyfriend, Nate Wolfe, took after she crowned Mund and he passed the bar exam.
They loaded a tent into Shields' Honda CR-V, which she calls Phoebe, and drove. From Denver to Moab, Utah. From Zion National Park, Utah, to Yosemite National Park. From Napa, Calif., to Los Angeles. From Orange County to the Grand Canyon. From the Grand Canyon back to Fayetteville.
"Getting to totally submerge myself in something different than what my year was with like no makeup, no hairspray, no eyelashes and literally just camping for the first time ever was ridiculous but also the greatest thing I've ever done. I loved it," Shields said.
This different life gave Shields some perspective and helped alleviate concerns that she had "peaked," she said.
"I think after going on the pilgrimage and realizing how small we are as humans and how there's so much life that happens and so much life to be lived, it became very evident to me that Miss America was ... not the best part of my life, but it was a stepping stone," she said.
AFTER MISS ARKANSAS
Savannah Skidmore, who became Miss Arkansas when Shields was crowned Miss America, said her first move when she crowned Maggie Benton as Miss Arkansas in June was to go home and sleep for three days.
She then spent some time visiting family members she had hardly seen during the year because she stayed busy as Miss Arkansas. She prepared to go back to school.
A journalism major with a broadcast focus, Skidmore said she had a lot of adjusting to do when she went back to the University of Arkansas, particularly when it came to remembering how to operate a camera.
"I had to retrain myself to work the camera and do all the checklist things you have to do with doing a story," she said. "I kind of struggled with that a little bit."
She said switching mindsets from being a pageant winner to being a student was jarring; nearly everything was different, from moving out of a sponsored apartment in Conway and living in Fayetteville to simply the change in daily routine.
"It was my dream job," Skidmore said. "You compete and you base your whole life around the chance to become Miss Arkansas and so when you do get that opportunity, I tried to soak up every moment I could ... Transitioning out of that, you kind of have to build a whole new dream because you've lived that one."
Skidmore said one new dream she has built is going to law school, something she thought of briefly her freshman year before realizing how many student loans she would need to take out to make that dream a reality.
Now, she is studying for the Law School Admission Test and considering which schools she wants to apply to with the scholarship money she'll have left over after finishing her undergraduate degree in May.
After Savvy Shields had her long “pageant hair” restyled in October, she posted this photo on her blog with a Coco Chanel quote that “a woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life.”
Miss Greater Jonesboro Maggie Benton (center) is crowned the 2017 Miss Arkansas on June 17 by 2017 Miss America Savvy Shields (left) and 2016 Miss Arkansas Savannah Skidmore.
Savvy Shields blogs about the health information she highlighted as Miss America, as well as fashion and her thoughts on art.
As Miss America, Savvy Shields poses with students at Fulbright Junior High in Bentonville in May to kick off Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s initiative called Healthy Active Arkansas.
ActiveStyle on 10/23/2017
Print Headline: Life's rich pageant: After whirlwind year, former Miss America savors every day and plans for more crowning achievements