BELLOWS FALLS -- Madison Cota recalls with joy how her cell phone suddenly seemed to go haywire a little over a week ago.
The 17-year-old said it practically exploded with a massive amount of text messages, voicemails and Facebook notifications containing comments from friends and family members. They were all just so excited to personally know 2014's Miss Vermont Teen USA.
A senior at Vermont Academy, Cota was crowned with the honor at the Hilton Burlington on Sunday, Nov. 24, and now begins roughly eight months of preparation for the Miss Teen USA competition in late July or early August. She triumphed over a slew of fellow Vermonters two years after entering the contest for the first time.
"It was amazing to just see that all my hard work and dedication and preparation had paid off. It was a goal I had had for two years and I was just so proud of myself for making it happen," she told the Reformer.
Cota mentioned how she trembled while holding hands with Melanie Hubbard, of Rutland, who was named the runner-up, as the two anxiously awaited the announcement of the winner after an on-stage interview and a final walk before the panel of judges. She described the moment as pure ecstasy.
"I kept watching the video of myself getting crowned because I don't even remember it," she said. "It was such a rush."
Cota was in Burlington with the support of an entourage that included her mother, Jennifer, father, Casey, brothers Logan and Jahyde and several close family friends. Cota said she first made it into the top 10, which was whittled down to five before the fourth, third and second runners-up were named at the Hilton Burlington. Then, she and Hubbard could do nothing but wait and hope to hear their name called.
Jennifer Cota recalled closing her eyes and "shaking like a leaf" when her daughter made it into the top two and said the little Bellows Falls cheering section burst into jubilation when she was announced the winner.
"I think we all screamed and started jumping up and down," she said. "It's a little overwhelming. I'm so proud of what she's accomplished, setting her goal two years ago and putting a lot of work into it."
The competition consists of a swimsuit round, an evening gown round and a personal interview.
Jennifer said much of the next eight or so months of her daughter's life will be filled with guest appearances at charity events and possible speaking engagements to prepare for the Miss Teen USA competition. Jennifer said the past few contests have been held in the Bahamas and though her daughter's expenses will be covered, any friends or family members will have to pay their own way.
Madison said she first entered the Miss Vermont Teen USA competition when she was 15. She said once a girl is accepted, the run-up to pageant weekend includes different types of preparation, wardrobe selection and acquisition of sponsorship to pay the sponsorship fee. Her fee was paid with money from friends and family, as well as Cota & Cota Heating Fuels, which is owned by her father.
Madison said she failed to crack the top 10 her first year, though she was named third runner-up last year.
"It was a crazy experience. I just wanted to do better (than the previous year)," she told the Reformer. "It was beyond what words can explain."
The most recent competition also served as a test to determine if her sewing skills were up to par. Madison has long has an interest in fashion design and created the interview dress, cocktail dress and casual top she wore at the contest in Burlington. She even wants to pursue fashion at the college level and by Monday afternoon had finished applying to La Salle University, Philadelphia University and Montclair State University.
Despite the somewhat negative reputation beauty pageants have developed, Madison said any girl can benefit from the competitions, which she said help install confidence and improve social skills. She credits the competition with erasing her fear of public speaking.
"It's really a one-of-a-kind experience and I have just gained so much from it," she said.
Gina Bernasconi, of Underhill, was named Miss Vermont 2014 and Sydney McEwen, of Williston, was first runner-up.
Domenic Poli can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.