The final two contestants in the 2004 Miss Nevada pageant faced each other on stage Saturday, holding hands. When Erin Granat - Miss Lake Tahoe - was named first runner up, Elizabeth Muto of Las Vegas knew she had won. She closed her eyes and started to cry, hands shaking.
The Community Center crowd rose to their feet, cheering wildly.
Abandoned as an infant at the Reno airport, Muto has come a long way since 1980.
"I've been Nevada's own since I was 10 days old," she said later. "Since then the people of Nevada have loved and supported me."
Miss Nevada 2003 Christina O'Neil, a music teacher at Empire Elementary School in Carson City, placed the sparkling tiara on a trembling, emotional Muto.
"Crowning her is the perfect end to my year," she said. Her year as Miss Nevada was the best year in her life, she said.
"I had just gotten out of an abusive relationship and was told I wouldn't amount to anything and yet I became Miss Nevada," she said. "I am so incredibly proud, not only to have represented Nevada, but to be an advocate for victims of domestic abuse everywhere."
Each contestant selects a platform, or cause, to increase awareness about. Muto's is called "H.E.L.P.ing children overcome adversity." She created the organization Heal Evaluate Learn and Progress to spread the word.
She will receive about $55,000 in prizes, including scholarships. About $62,000 total was given out to contestants Saturday.
Muto will begin her "year of service" immediately. Monday she'll do a ceremonial toe dip in Lake Tahoe. The event will be modeled after a traditional toe dip in the ocean done by the winner of the Miss America pageant.
She'll appear at various events and work on community service based on her platform.
"That title is a job - not just a crown," said Brenda Willey, executive director of the Miss Nevada organization. "This isn't the end of anything - it's the beginning."
Muto will go through several weeks of training before she attends the Miss America pageant on September 18 in Atlantic City.
"I don't know what they'll train me to do. They made (O'Neil) swim in jeans so they'll probably make me do that," she said.
For her talent Muto said a quote by Antoine Fisher asking who will love the abandoned, abused children. Then she added her own words, drawing cheers from the crowd with the lines "I will fight for children like us," and, "children like us make it, too."
During her on-stage interview she was asked what she thought about same-sex marriages. Explaining that inter-racial marriages - like her adoptive parents' - were once unacceptable, she said she supports them.
"If love were limited then I wouldn't have my family," she said.
Winning a $1,000 scholarship was first runner up Erin Granat whose platform was called "Live to give, promoting volunteerism and CASA."
Taking third was University of Nevada, Reno student Julianna Erdesz.
Ballet dancer Lauren Scyphers - Miss Carson Valley - was the fourth runner-up with her platform "Encouraging the youth of America to vote."
Contact Karl Horeis at email@example.com or 881-1219.