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Winner native crowned in national competition

WINNER -- It is Payton Eagle's enjoyment of a challenge driving her to pursue a pre-vet major at South Dakota State University, beginning in the fall.

Payton Eagle was recently named Miss United States Agriculture Cover Miss in Birmingham, Alabama. The Winner native will attend SDSU in the fall, pursuing a pre-veterinary degree. (Caitlynn Peetz/Republic)
Payton Eagle was recently named Miss United States Agriculture Cover Miss in Birmingham, Alabama. The Winner native will attend SDSU in the fall, pursuing a pre-veterinary degree. (Caitlynn Peetz/Republic)

WINNER - It is Payton Eagle's enjoyment of a challenge driving her to pursue a pre-vet major at South Dakota State University, beginning in the fall.

It was that same devotion that led the 18-year-old Winner native on a months-long journey, which ended with Eagle being named Miss United States Agriculture Cover Miss and runner-up for a second national title.

On June 24, Eagle was crowned Cover Miss after securing $1,500 worth of sponsorship money leading up to the Miss United States Agriculture contest in Birmingham, Alabama. As Cover Miss, Eagle was featured on the front page of the Miss United States Agriculture brochure handed out at the competition, which began the next day.

Eagle was named first runner-up for the title of Miss United States Agriculture, decided upon by a panel of judges after a series of events, including an interview, on-stage introduction, formal wear and impromptu question-and-answer session.

"You learn a lot about yourself during a national event like this," Eagle said, adding it was the first pageant she has competed in. "For me, it came down to doing something I had never done before, and going out of my comfort zone a little bit, which is always good."

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A lifelong member of the agriculture community, Eagle stumbled upon a Facebook post in May from the director of the Miss United States Agriculture pageant, searching for a South Dakota participant, as the state does not have a statewide competition to qualify for the event.

Eagle has participated in high school rodeos and 4-H rodeos, competing in barrel racing, pole bending, goat tying, breakaway roping, ribbon roping and team roping, as well as several ag-related organizations at school.

Eagle submitted her name, and, with slim-to-no competition, was named Miss Agriculture South Dakota shortly after.
From there, Eagle began securing more than 10 area sponsorships from "fantastic" supporters in the community, to which she credits her success in the Cover Miss competition.

"The community members around here are very supportive of the youth and the things we do," Eagle said. "I was going (to Alabama) promoting Winner, South Dakota, too, which is big for our town, I think."

In Alabama, Eagle said she felt out of her league, surrounded by dozens of girls, 15 of whom she was competing against directly in the 17- to 22-year-old age group and competed in pageants regularly. Just 17 at the time, Eagle was the youngest girl in her age division.

Eagle's mom, Amy, said her daughter's nerves were especially obvious the night before the competition began.

Around 11:30 that night, the hair and makeup artist they hired showed up at their hotel for preparation. After scrapping the dress Eagle brought and supplying a new one-that Eagle loved-the artist began pelting her with questions.

"He started rattling off all of these questions like 'What are you going to do if they say this?' and 'Do you know how to walk and where to do your turns?' " Amy said. "You could tell she's sweating and getting all nervous-he was totally putting it to her, drilling her with these questions. We're pageant virgins, so this was kind of scary for Payton."

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The next day, six of the 10 questions judges asked Eagle during her interview were the same as what the makeup artist asked the night before.

And, although similar questions helped Eagle quickly settle her nerves and compete at a high-caliber level, the first-time pageant-goer had some tools she was unaware of.

As a student at Winner High School, Eagle participated in organizations and groups that required a great deal of public speaking, like Future Farmers of America and National Honor Society. So, being on a stage and talking in front of a crowd and judges had little effect on Eagle.

"The only thing different was I had lots of makeup on," she said.

As Cover Miss and runner-up Miss Agriculture, Eagle is required to attend two ag-related events monthly until a new Cover Miss is named in June 2017. These events can include state fairs, expos and others. Though somewhat demanding, the soon-to-be college freshman said she's excited for the networking opportunities attending multiple events will bring.

Giving back

Finding the time to attend multiple events, while also balancing an 18-credit course load at South Dakota State University and participating on the college's rodeo team will take some adjustment.

But Eagle will get practice leading up to her first day of school.

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The weekend of SDSU's scheduled move-in day for students, Eagle will be competing in 4-H state rodeo finals in Fort Pierre. So, the weekend before, Eagle's family will drop off her belongings, rodeo the next week and drop Eagle off at school late Sunday night. She'll then start classes Monday morning.

"I think I'm taking on a lot, so I better get my sleep now, while I can," Eagle said.

As an added stressor, pursuing a major in animal medicine means she must maintain nearly perfect grades to later be accepted to veterinary school.

Amy said she is nervous, but confident in her eldest child's abilities.

For now, the duo is looking forward to the opportunity for Eagle to continue building friendships while competing in rodeo at the collegiate level.

Over the course of her life, Eagle said many of the friendships she has built have been made while at rodeos, agriculture-related contests and on the family's farm.

"(Rodeo participants) are the best kind of people," Eagle said. "You spend every weekend with them, your best friends are your biggest competitors and you bond over that. Some of my best friends, then, are my biggest motivators, too."

And, because a love of agriculture is a family affair, both Eagle and Amy said they, too, share a stronger bond, one that will continue to grow as the duo prepares to bring a state agriculture pageant to South Dakota.

Beginning in 2017, Amy will be the president of the South Dakota Women in Ag organization, and the mother-daughter duo plan to take advantage of that authority, in turn bringing another "great opportunity" to kids in the state to get involved.

"We had a conversation about how agriculture is the number one industry in South Dakota, so it doesn't make any sense that we're not having a state pageant for (Miss United States Agriculture)," Amy said.

At the national competition, the pair noticed there weren't any ag-related questions in Eagle's interview, applicable, too, to the impromptu questions. To be eligible to compete, participants weren't required to have a community project, either. So, at the potential state-level pageant, Eagle said all of these ideas will be incorporated to enhance the relevance to the agricultural community.

"Ag is important to me, it's important to our community and it's important to our state," Eagle said. "I've had a lot of opportunities I wouldn't have had without being involved with it, so if I can give that back to other kids in any way, I want to do that."

Related Topics: AGRICULTURE
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