Mary-Kate FitzPatrick says she was "shocked" when the judges named her the winner of this year's Miss Teenage California Scholarship Pageant.
"My jaw just dropped," says the 18-year-old Danville native, who was one of 146 contestants in the pageant sponsored by Danfranc Productions in Los Angeles this year. "After they called the runners-up, I just thought, 'darn, I didn't get it.' When they called Miss Danville, I just couldn't believe I won."
FitzPatrick will now compete in Miss Teen of the Nation July 29-August 1 in Washington D.C. Her win includes $10,000 in scholarship money, luggage, a digital camera, a watch, a $300 Macy's card and a $200 Gap card.
"I was so content with the crown and sash that I forgot about the prizes," says FitzPatrick.
FitzPatrick is home for the summer from Mount St. Mary's College in Los Angeles where she is majoring in film and social justice, with a minor in business.
She's not home to relax, however. FitzPatrick is working as the sales and training manager for five local Glo Tanning Studios, including one at the Blackhawk Plaza in Danville.
"I love being busy," says FitzPatrick. "It helps me to prioritize my time."
On a recent Friday afternoon, FitzPatrick was giving receptionist Mashal Syed a break, checking in customers to the tanning and "Mystic" spray tan rooms. Syed says she's been working at Glo in Danville for 3 years and showed FitzPatrick the ropes when she first started.
"I loved her from the beginning, she makes us all feel so comfortable," says Syed, who is part of the 5-person staff at the Blackhawk studio. "She's my favorite new employee. If someone needs a shift covered, she'll always be there for you."
Syed says it's remarkable that FitzPatrick has accomplished so much at such a young age.
"She goes to school, she helps out here when she's not in school, she's become Miss Teenage California ... we're all so proud of her," says Syed, 20.
Her new role as Miss Teenage California is especially sweet for FitzPatrick, who competed in the pageant as a sophomore. That year, she didn't even make the Top 30 cut. She was also 50 pounds heavier than she is today. But she says it wasn't the extra weight that hampered her.
"The real difference was that because of weighing 175 pounds, I felt uncomfortable in my own skin," says FitzPatrick. "I was insecure and had no confidence, so my internal glow and personality didn't come out."
The following Christmas, FitzPatrick received a membership to Fitness 19 in San Ramon and started to work out every day.
"I was sick and tired of people making mean comments about my weight behind my back," says FitzPatrick. "I was tired of not fitting into clothes."
The teen says her health was also suffering.
"I was gaining 10 pounds every year," she recalls. "I would be panting from just walking up the stairs."
She says boys wouldn't date her because of her weight.
"I felt depressed," she says. "It's a cycle, the more depressed I became, the more I would eat."
Not only did FitzPatrick exercise daily, she radically changed her eating habits, exercising portion control, eating lots of lean protein, and eliminating starches from her diet. Within 6 months, she was down to 125 pounds, just right for her 5' 7" frame.
FitzPatrick's success story likely played a big role in winning the Miss Teenage California title. When asked by the judges, "What is something special about you?" FitzPatrick decided to spill the beans.
"I love food," she told the judges, erring from the usual skinny model stereotype. Then she recounted the story of being teased at school and how she managed to lose 50 pounds by her own efforts.
"I told them I was not happy that I was slimmer, I was happy that I had accomplished such a daring and difficult task," says FitzPatrick. "At that moment, I wasn't thinking about being judged, I was putting my heart and soul on a platter."
After her speech, FitzPatrick received a standing ovation from the audience.
"I think my story hit home for a lot of people there," she says. "I realized that I had inspired a lot of people."
The judges then asked FitzPatrick what had been a life-changing experience for her. She said that going to college in L.A. had taught her to grow up.
"In Danville we have deer, in L.A. we have traffic," said FitzPatrick, drawing laughter from the audience.
She also said that she missed having dinner with her mom and dad, Linda and Jerry FitzPatrick.
"I miss the laughter and conversations that we have," said FitzPatrick, who has an older sister and two older brothers.
In honor of her accomplishment, Danville Mayor Mike Doyle has invited her to ride in the mayor's float in the Fourth of July Parade.
"She's not only lovely but very, very talented," says Doyle.
Doyle says he is considering going to Washington, D.C. to support FitzPatrick in the Miss Teen of the Nation finals.
"That would really be something for Danville," says Doyle.
FitzPatrick has also been asked to appear and sign autographs at the Battle of the Bands in Simi Valley, she's working on a promotional video for the Glo Tanning Studios, and she loves to hang out with her high school friends.
Now and again, FitzPatrick likes to indulge in her favorite treat – Red Velvet Cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory.
"You can't deprive yourself all the time," she says with a smile.
For more information on the Miss Teenage California Scholarship Pageant, visit www.missteenageca.com.