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September 19, 2014

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Part 1: Miss America Katie Stam looks back at her year with the crown

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Justin M. Bowen

Miss Indiana Katie Stam reacts to being crowned 2009 Miss America at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas on Jan. 24, 2009.

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See all of the Sun's 2010 Miss America Pageant coverage.

Miss America: Indiana's Katie Stam

Miss Indiana, Katie Stam, just after she was announced 2009 Miss America  at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas Saturday night. Launch slideshow »
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2009 Miss America Katie Stam at Planet Hollywood.

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Miss America 2009 Katie Stam reads to children at Warren Empowerment School in Las Vegas.

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Miss America 2009 Katie Stam with the Miss America Hot Dog named after and made by the Indiana native at Pink's Hot Dogs in Planet Hollywood.

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Miss Indiana Katie Stam during the fitness portion of the Miss America Pageant at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas on Jan. 24, 2009.

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Miss Indiana Katie Stam, center, as she was selected to move to the next round after the fitness portion of the Miss America Pageant at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas on Jan. 24, 2009.

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Miss Indiana Katie Stam during the talent portion of the Miss America Pageant at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas on Jan. 24, 2009.

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Host Mario Lopez and Miss Indiana Katie Stam attend the press conference after the 2009 Miss America Pageant at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas on Jan. 24, 2009.

Twelve months ago, Indiana’s Katie Stam was just a hopeful with 50 other lovely ladies in the quest for the Miss America crown and title. In split seconds, her life was turned upside down when host Mario Lopez called her name as the 2009 winner onstage at Planet Hollywood.

Today, 53 hopefuls begin the same journey as they pack their bags and head to Las Vegas. Tomorrow -- soon after arriving-- they will be presented to the world as Las Vegas officials and Planet Hollywood execs give them each a red rose, and the 2010 Miss America Pageant officially begins. Each one of them will have packed for a year’s travel in case they are selected.

This time last January, Katie was the princess who had to immediately fly to New York and then on to the Super Bowl in Florida to start her yearlong reign. As she prepared for Vegas and the final days of her reign, I had the opportunity for a lengthy conversation with the young lady who became queen.

Today and tomorrow, we’ll feature Katie in a two-part exclusive interview. During her reign, she’s been back here several times, and on each visit, I’ve caught up with her. Now I asked her to think about her memorable experiences this past year.

Robin Leach: Tell me three or four of the most memorable highlights of your 12 months as Miss America?

Katie Stam: I would say meeting President Obama would definitely be one, my trip to visit our troops stationed in Europe would be another, and then definitely all my work with Children’s Miracle Network has been extremely memorable, particularly the CMN celebration. You know every time someone has asked me what my favorite thing has been, I always give them a Top Five, and to round off the Top Five, I always give them the sporting events as one of them. And then I always talk about either the Oscars or any red carpet event I went to because those were really fun, as well.

My year started with the Super Bowl, but there were also other memorable sporting events: Talladega and the Indie 500. I sang at the Phillies game, the Angels game, a Pacers game, a Colts game, a 49ers game. The amount of sporting events that I did this year is just insane, and I had a great time at these events. I met so many people during them, and of course you are looking into tens of thousands of people in the audience at every one of those events. It was just very thrilling.

RL: What was the impression you came away with when visiting the troops in Germany?

KS: Absolutely incredible, and we need more people to go over and visit with them. That is something we could definitely improve, and I would like to see that trip be an annual thing for Miss America. I think it would be wonderful to see Miss America going overseas every year. This love that they poured out for me for spending a few days with them was absolutely incredible. I tried my hardest to get over there again, but it didn’t work out. So, I am hoping to go back as maybe a former Miss America, spend more time with other troops in other countries. They really did have a huge impact on me.

RL: Could they use more support from the folks back home?

KS: Everybody could use more support. I think that is a good way of saying that. I don’t think you could overly support someone, and especially when it comes to our military. It’s not necessarily that we need every single person to make a trip overseas. We are asking that if you are in an airport or grocery store and you see a serviceman or servicewoman walk in, go up, shake their hand and say thank you. There are lots of organizations out there that give you the opportunity to write thank you notes, and they will send them over there for you. Do that every once and a while, especially during the holidays when they can’t come home and see their families.

If you are in the same restaurant, maybe offer to pick up the tab or maybe invite them over for dinner at your home. Just small things we could all do to show support for them. I don’t think you can overly support anyone, particularly when it comes to our troops. Less than one percent of our country’s population serves in uniform, and we need to let them know how great they are that they chose to bear that load and fight for us.

RL: What did you take away from visiting President Obama?

KS: That was an incredible trip, and I tell everybody that it doesn’t matter if you agree with him as a leader. If you agree with his ideals and his stance politically, you can appreciate that he is a person’s person. That is what I call him because he invested in myself and the 53 children and relatives that they brought with them. When we were at The White House that one day, he took a few moments for each and every person who was there to make them feel special and to truly invest those few moments in them and let them know that he was going to make this a very special experience for them.

And he definitely did. I know there are 53 little kids who don’t realize right now what kind of opportunity they had, but when they are 16 or 17, they can say, “Wow, I shook the hand of President Obama, and I got to talk with him for a few minutes.”

RL: What have you learned over the 12 months, and how have you grown up?

KS: I have learned how to be more flexible. That is definitely a positive learning experience for me because your whole life doesn’t change day by day. It changes moment by moment. I will be at an appearance, and the sponsors will change what we are doing for the rest of that day in a moment, and I had to really learn how to be flexible. I think that is something that will not only come in handy as a Miss America, but as a mom, as a broadcaster, anything I do in the future. Flexibility is always a great quality to have.

I also learned to appreciate the little things. Appreciate being able to go to the grocery store and sleep in the same bed every night. Something I would never ever feel blessed to be able to do because it just seems so normal, and I look at it as having not been able to do that and I truly missed that. I have become more appreciative of the little things, which is one of the ways I have grown up this year.

RL: And it was on-the-job growing up.

RL: Yes, absolutely, and very quickly in full view of everybody! It was growing up in the midst of hundreds of thousands of people watching every move that you make.

RL: Does it feel like 12 months?

KS: In some ways, it feels like five years, and in some ways, it feels like five weeks. It’s amazing when I look back at all of the things our organization has accomplished in one year, and I think some people could only hope to do that in a lifetime and we have done that in 12 months. So, I don’t even think it has hit me quite yet that I even was Miss America -- that I am Miss America. I don’t know if that will hit me till years from now, so I am just enjoying the last 2 1/2 weeks and taking in every single moment. After I pass on the title, then maybe my feelings will change a little bit, but right now, it doesn’t necessarily feel like 12 months because I don’t know if I truly feel like it actually happened.

RL: So will there be a tinge of sadness or relief, general joy when you take the crown off and give it to the new winner next week?

KS: I think there will be a little of both. I keep telling people it will be bitter and sweet. Bitter in the fact that it became so much a part of my life and then all of a sudden in an instant, as quickly as it came, it goes. So I think that definitely it is going to be something that is a little bitter. I was joking with Phyllis George a couple of weeks ago, and she said, “Honey, it will be like you put the crown on the next girl’s head, and then the photographers will be, like, ‘Could you please get out of the way? We would like to get a picture of Miss America,’ and you will be, like, ‘That was me a few seconds ago.’ ”

So it will be a little bitter in that sense, but it will be oh-so-sweet to think that I am going home. I get to go reconnect with my family and friends. I get to go to my apartment and drive my car and sleep in the same bed every night, and I get to plant my feet in one location for a while, and I am really excited to do that.

RL: So you have already planned what to do with yourself after an amazing year of travels? You’re not going to be lost?

KS: No, I am not going to be lost. I never have been that kind of person who has had uncertainty really. I am 23 years old. I think if I was 18 and trying to figure out where my place in this world was, I might be a little lost, but I am a little more grown up, and I knew who I was before I went on this journey.

RL: So what helpful hints can you pass on to the next winner?

KS: How much time do you have?! I have so many things. In fact, I have sort of been keeping a list. Just some things to keep in mind throughout the year that I wish I would have known going into it.

RL: Please give me a couple of examples. Have you written them down, and are you actually going to give them to her?

KS: Oh, I am. I have not written them down just yet, but I am going to write her a little note, put it in an envelope and say read this when you get a chance. I just feel like I need to do this for you.

Things like, for instance, whenever you are on the road a lot, people love to give you things. Whether you speak at an elementary school and they want to give you a T-shirt, which happened to me several times this year. Or you will go to the hospital, and they would want to give you something special to remember your trip. Well, I made the mistake of one time I received this beautiful jewelry box from one of the hospitals I visited, and it had at the top of the jewelry box a place you could put a picture. I made the mistake of putting it in my suitcase, and the glass broke. Now it is still perfectly fine, but I just felt so terrible. So one of the things that I am going to put in this letter to send to the new Miss America is to not travel with something you don’t want broken.

Also try and find something positive in every situation. If you find yourself at some point getting bogged down or negative, don’t let it affect you. Try not to let it affect you. Try to find something positive in that situation and only focus on that, because when you think of the 12,000 to 14,000 women who tried to go for your job and how hard they worked and how dedicated they worked and that this might have been their fifth time going for the title, but you were the one that was chosen, just think about that, and that will put a smile on your face. This is a job, being Miss America is most definitely a job, and you need to enjoy the experience because there are tens of thousands of woman who want this job.

Our interview with Katie continues tomorrow when she talks about what to expect at this year’s pageant and her plans to enter broadcasting and write a book.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.