On an icy winter night in December, Nikki Poteet, 23, finally had time to relax. The anticipation in her big, blue eyes made the occasion seem like first time in years she’d been able to sit and talk for any length of time; but, her eyes softened as she remembered how exhausting her year had been.
“I’m not used to having free time to just sit down and shoot the breeze, so it takes some time getting used to not being on the go all the time… ,” she confided while sitting down on her parent’s snow-white sofa.
Once she got to that special place, it didn’t take long for Poteet, who recently earned her master’s degree from Virginia Commonwealth University and won the Miss Virginia USA title, to recall other memories, as well.
She remembered watching beauty pageants with her grandmother as a young child, never thinking she could be one of those girls on stage.
“It was always something that seemed out of reach to me,” said Poteet, a Thomas Dale High School graduate who is now a Richmond resident. She recalled her childhood days as a “tomboy,” playing football with the neighborhood boys.
However, this mentality vanished years later. In 2006, Poteet, then a 19-year-old student at VCU, realized there wasn’t much of a difference between her and the girls entering the beauty pageants, and she subsequently entered one ― a statewide competition in Midlothian that invited ladies from all over Virginia.
From there came the no-brainer decision to pursue the Miss USA crown, as that particular pageant was renowned for being “fashion-oriented and goes for the model type,” and there even used to be a height requirement, said Poteet, who is 5 feet, 10 inches tall with blond hair. “I felt my look was more Miss USA and I felt I could do the best job. … I felt like I could represent Virginia the best.”
With the attainment of the crown still a distant goal, the next step ― to win beauty pageants ― was clear, but that was no simple undertaking. Four years after the start of her first pageant, she won runner-up in three straight preliminary pageants for the state Miss USA title, and reached a fork in her path to the crown.
“After not winning the preliminaries, I either had the option to quit or I had the option to work hard and really give the state pageant my complete best,” she said. “I took it upon myself to change things, to make myself a winner.”
Poteet recalls not quite being in the shape of winning a Miss USA title, and sought the help of a seasoned trainer to better develop her physical appearance and public speaking skills.
It all became worthwhile when she competed once more on the state level, ultimately winning the Miss Virginia USA title on Nov. 6 at the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts in Virginia Beach.
A month later, Poteet graduated from VCU with a Master of Science in mechanical and nuclear engineering; for the first time in a long time, she felt a sense of relief.
“I truly worked hard for it and it just felt like all my hard work just paid off,” she said. “This is what I wanted and I got it. I feel like I do my best work when I’m under pressure and have a lot to do. … I guess I like to tackle a lot of things at one time because I can do it.”
Two days after graduating, Poteet began working at Dominion Resources Services where she has been an intern for the past several months. She is part of the Radiological Engineering group as radiation safety engineer, where her main responsibilities consist of performing accident analysis through measuring amounts of released radioactivity.
Her father, Dan Poteet, also an employee of Dominion, spoke of the work ethic his daughter demonstrated and how all that had happened for her had been a product of her character and hard work.
“I’ll put it this way: I’m proud of her achievements,” he said, adding that the only part he had in her employment with the company was introducing his daughter to people within the company. “She’s demonstrated her ability of determination and drive.”
Poteet will be representing Virginia at the Miss USA competition in Las Vegas during the spring of 2011 and she is optimistic about that pageant’s outcome.
“I think my chances are very good and I feel my education makes me standout from other girls,” she said. “Someone’s got to walk away a winner.”