Miss Kansas, who is also a Sergeant in the Army, unassumingly participated in this year’s Bataan Memorial Death March heavy division for the second time. Theresa Vail first participated in the march in 2011 with a month of training before the grueling event. This year, Vail returned with a crown, a title, and an Army of upcoming pageant contestants.
“It was more of a mental challenge than anything, but what kept me going, and I think this goes for every Soldier that participates, is the camaraderie. In every turn you see these people who are saying embrace the suck,” Vail said. “Everybody knows it is a mental challenge, it is a physical challenge, but you’re all in it together and through the pain you’re united, and that’s what I loved about it.”
Vail, who is also currently serving in the Kansas Army National Guard Medical Detachment, said she first heard about the march from her brother-in-law, a month prior to the event. She said she was looking for something new that she could participate in, and though she just had a month to prepare she accepted the challenge.
“I love finding new things to do, new physical challenges,” she said.
“I trained for a month and I do not recommend it to anyone. It was excruciating,” she added.
Since accepting the title of Miss Kansas in 2013, Vail’s platform has been to empower women, overcome stereotypes, and break barriers. Vail said that growing up she was always pigeonholed into one category based on her appearance. She said once people got to know her they realized that she was just a tomboy who liked to look pretty.
“We all face stereotypes. People judge based off of your appearance. You don’t have to be categorized and you don’t have to be put in a box if you don’t want to,” Vail said. “We have the opportunity to do so much, do what you want with it.”
She took her title and the march as an opportunity to exercise her platform with upcoming pageant contestants. Vail invited three pageant contestants to participate in the march with her. All four finished the march together, Vail with a 35 pound backpack.
“I just wanted them to experience what I had experienced and that was just the confidence of it all. When you finish you just feel like you can accomplish anything. I wanted them to do that, to know that they can also accomplish these things,” she said. “I wanted them to do that prior to competing in Miss Kansas. You may lose Miss Kansas, there’s only one winner, but who cares. Just keep trying and don’t give up. Life is a mental challenge. I think they learned that at about mile 17.”
Vail said she will be returning next year with more pageant girls and a camera crew. Vail is scheduled to pass down her title June 8 when a new Miss Kansas will be named. After turning in her crown, Vail, an avid hunter, is scheduled to film a hunting show on the Outdoors Channel.
“To reach more women and to show them what we can do I am just thrilled. I’m ecstatic,” Vail said of the upcoming show. “I know everything happens for a reason and God put me here for a reason; so I’m thrilled to see what I can do.”
Vail’s long term goal is to become a dentist in the Army. She follows in her father’s footsteps, who served in the Army for 33 years. Vail is one of five children, out of eight, who are currently serving in the Army.