After Miss Ohio 2018, I threw myself into travel, law school shopping and focused on moving to a new state. I convinced myself that if I could see myself in those places, then I could find myself in those places. The real Mara existed out there, and she sure wasn’t in Columbus, Ohio.

I was certain that if I could just plan where I could go to law school, where I would work after graduation, who would be there with me, and every detail of how my life would look, then as long as I planned it down to the letter, then I would be happy. And there, with all of my pieces of my puzzle in order, I would find the real Mara. And I would live in a beautiful city where I would go to law school, fall in love, eat amazing food, and live a life of complete bliss in this new place where all of the puzzle was just waiting for me to arrive.

If you don’t know me very well, here’s the inside scoop: I’m a planner, if you haven’t noticed. I plan. That’s. My. Thing.

So when I held all of these delicate jigsaw pieces in my hands, I tried so hard to put them all together, sometimes forcing pieces into my life that I knew didn’t fit there just to be a step closer to the beautiful picture that I thought would be waiting for me at the end.

Austin, Texas.

In my last semester at Ohio State, I didn’t get to spend the time I would have liked to enjoy my university. I will love Ohio State until my little buckeye heart stops beating. I wanted to spend my last semester enjoying the school, my friends, and my new title as Miss Franklin County.

Instead, my last semester was spent wasting emotional energy on people who did not deserve it, on classes that I was frustrated with, with the scramble of balancing my mental health, projects, and two jobs. It felt like I was wasting my last six months has a Buckeye. To this day, I still feel like I wasted my last semester of school.

I remember saying (out loud) that I wanted to have hope in the future, and I wanted to have faith that this too would end, but that for the first time in my life I didn’t feel a drop of hope anymore. I had no belief in the light at the end. I had no belief that I would ever dig myself out of this hole that I fell into. For the first time in my life, I felt truly helpless.

I didn’t know if I wanted to go to law school or get a job right away, what type of job I wanted, or how I was going to get it. I didn’t know if things would get better. I didn’t know that I wanted to be Miss Ohio anymore. I didn’t know that I could ever feel worthy of the title.

I imagine everyone would be afraid of a moment like this. As a type A list-making machine, the path to somewhere I couldn’t see through the fog was debilitating. This is when I learned how powerful it could be if I could just of suppress my emotions. This is a very fine line, and I’m the first to admit that I’ve stepped on the wrong side of it more times than I’d like to admit.

On this road, I scrambled. I tripped, I fell for the wrong things, people and I made more mistakes than I’m proud of. I neglected my duties within the Miss America Organization, I put my crown in a box and tried to pretend that just for once, if I didn’t think about it, it didn’t exist. But I made it through the fog. I honestly have no idea how.

I graduated a semester early with an honors diploma and a 4.0 GPA in my senior year at The Ohio State University on December 16th, 2018.

On December 20th, I went for a run (red flag) and felt a tug on my heart.

My dream of being Miss Ohio went dormant while I finished school, but on that day I was sure that I was meant to walk the path back to competition in 2019.

In January I hit the ground running, reaching back out to all of the organizations I’ve made partnerships with like Platform Women, The Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence, and Ohio State greek life. I began new partnerships with amazing people that I met with IGNITE, and began to grow in every step that I took. The day that I sat down to prepare for my first speaking engagement, I wrote a story into my speech that I didn’t know I had within me.

There was no stopping me after that. I booked myself for appearance after appearance, learning how to market myself as an advocate and public speaker. I did seven appearances in five days in April, with three in one day. I pushed myself… hard. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do the job of being Miss Ohio.

I didn’t want to be Miss Ohio for Saturday night, I wanted to be Miss Ohio for Sunday morning.

And for every second after that. I was ready for the meeting that came the next day at 9 AM. I prepared, I grew, I checked off every single thing on my list, and I am so proud of the person that I put on that stage. The Mara I always knew that I could be, the Mara that I always wanted to be, the Mara that I’ve been waiting to become.

So June came and went. The women that became my sisters are the biggest reason that I made it through that week.

Miss Ohio 2019 changed my life forever, even without the crown on my head. In 2018, I learned who Mara was. In 2019, I learned to love who Mara is now. Letting the judges into my heart was vulnerable, challenging, and over far too quickly. But no matter what happens on Saturday night, there will always be Sunday morning. And Sunday morning, just like Saturday night, was gone in the blink of an eye.

If you made it this far, you’re either super bored or you’re one of my parents. Either way, hope it was worth the recap.

(Hi Mom and Dad.)