Twirling with Tiaras

Junior Miss Lake County 2018 Reigns from Clermont

| By Kathryn Deen |

Sayuri Velez-Chang’s journey to the crown was a quick one.

The current sixth-grader broke onto the pageant scene only a year ago and immediately won over the judges.

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Most recently, Sayuri, 11, was awarded Junior Miss Lake County Florida 2018 — one of few Clermont residents to claim the title.

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Clermont isn’t exactly known for its pageant participation — yet. The Windy Hill Middle School student is fired up to continue competing and hopes her Clermont peers will join her.

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For Sayuri (pronounced “sigh-you-ree,” meaning heavenly in Japanese), it all started with baton twirling.

She began practicing baton in kindergarten with the Tri City Dance Twirlers and has been competing individually for three years.

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Her twirling coach, Emily Pelton, (former Miss Teen Florida United States 2014) encouraged her to enter try beauty pageants.

She won her first competition, Sunburst Beauty Pageant, locally in 2017 and then took 1st runner up at the State level. She also placed in the Denim and Diamonds Pageant in Leesburg and 2nd runner up in Hometown USA.

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Her pageant success adds to her hefty twirling accolades.

In February, Sayuri returned for the second time to compete in Twirl Mania International Championships at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports. Sayuri won her division of 2018 Novice Miss Twirl Mania out of 38 girls age 11-12, performing to “Let’s Get Loud” by Jennifer Lopez.

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In 2017, she placed 4th in the Novice Miss Twirl Mania age 10-12. She also took Silver in the Novice age 11-12 Solo Champion in the 2017 FL Sunshine State Games for Baton Twirling.

Her toughest twirling moves are the toss illusion and the three-spin catch.
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Sayuri practices daily, usually in her yard but favors the pavilion at Waterfront Park in Downtown Clermont.
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But it’s so much more than a competition for this grounded 11-year-old with a big heart.

For one, she doesn’t treat the other contestants as competitors.

“I get to make new friends with my pageant sisters,” Sayuri told Clermont Magazine. “It’s really fun.”

Building relationships and practicing sportsmanship are just a couple ways she benefits from pageants, her mom,  Sue Chang-Velez, said.

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“Her self confidence has been boosted up,” Sue said. “It helps her with her posture. It gives her an open mind.”

And then there’s the community service aspect.

“It’s not just about the beauty,” Sue said. “It’s also about helping the community. She loves volunteering and doing community service.”

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Sayuri has volunteered in a variety of ways, including making pet beds for animal shelters, assembling meals for Puerto Ricans post-Hurricane Irma, and fundraising for Parkland victims after the recent school shooting.

“I like helping people,” Sayuri said.

When Sue isn’t driving her daughter to volunteer or to practice, road tripping across the state or country for beauty pageants and twirling competitions, she serves at The Garden Grill Restaurant in Walt Disney World’sEpcot, where her husband, Hector Velez, cooks.

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Sue tries to keep the pressure off of her daughter, a high achiever who’s also an A/B Honor Roll student, as well as a member of Student Council, AVID Club and Chorus.
“The minute it’s not fun for you, it’s not fun for me and we do something else,” Sue tells Sayuri, who aspires to be a news reporter.
Sue hopes there will be a Miss Clermont one day for Sayuri to compete in, if she’s still up for it.
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“We’ve seen this town grow from orange groves to traffic lights – and hopefully, pageants,” said Sue, a Clermont resident of 16 years. “It’s a matter of getting the word out and educating people that it’s not just about the beauty. The whole point is to do community service and help out the town.”
And who wouldn’t want that?

headshot-2-7-copyKathryn Deen is the founder and editor of Clermont Magazine, a Clermont resident and an award-winning professional journalist.

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