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October 1, 2014

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Amazing and inspiring Class of 2012 Miss America Pageant contestants

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Tom Donoghue/DonoghuePhotography.com

The 2012 Miss America Pageant contestants at Buca di Beppo on Jan. 7, 2012. 2011 Miss South Carolina Bree Boyce is pictured here.

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2011 Miss New Hampshire Regan Hartley.

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2011 Miss Washington Brittney Henry.

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2011 Miss Wisconsin Laura Kaeppeler.

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2011 Miss West Virginia Spenser Wempe.

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2011 Miss Arizona Jennifer Sedler.

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2011 Miss South Carolina Bree Boyce.

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2011 Miss Hawaii Lauren Cheape.

2011 Miss South Carolina Bree Boyce, 22, lost 112 pounds after her doctor handed her a handicap-parking sticker and told her that she would die if she continued binging as she hit 234 pounds. My interview with her and the amazing story is below.

2011 Miss New Hampshire Regan Hartley, 20, suffered facial injuries, a concussion and a fractured jaw when high school bullies who felt she was “too pretty” and wanted “to make her look ugly” beat her up. Now she is making a documentary for MTV bullying.

2011 Miss Washington Brittney Henry, 24, was born into poverty and became a street performer playing a fiddle to raise funds to pay her schooling. She became a first-generation college graduate and works on a farm on her free days.

2011 Miss Wisconsin Laura Kaeppeler, 23, revealed that her father was absent while she grew up, as he was sentenced to prison for a white-collar crime. She formed a mentoring and support group for children of incarcerated parents.

2011 Miss West Virginia Spenser Wempe, 19, lost her mom to cancer when she was 11, and she’s a Buddy and 11th Hour Angel to injured servicemen at her hometown Veterans Hospital. Even knowing the dangers of patriotic duty and service by the Wounded Warriors, she plans to enlist in the Army to serve her country on foreign battlefields.

2011 Miss Arizona Jennifer Sedler, 20, scored an impressive 4.0 GPA in her undergraduate work as a premed student at the University of Arizona College of Medicine with plans to specialize in pediatric oncology.

We’ve already told you the extraordinary story of 2011 Miss Colorado Diana Dreman. She’s given up her accounting work to be a full-time caregiver to her mom Rebecca, who is battling Stage 4 melanoma cancer. Rebecca was Miss America in 1974 but resigned from the pageant organization board last year when her daughter decided to enter. Diana, 23, tells me that her mom will travel here this week but is unable to move her lower limbs and will use a wheelchair at Planet Hollywood to watch her in the ABC telecast.

Other contestants affected by cancer are 2011 Miss Connecticut Morgan Amarone, who lost her grandfather 3 months, and 2011 Miss Massachusetts Molly Whalen, who’s mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. Other competitors have extraordinary stories:

2011 Miss Alabama Courtney Porter lost her mother one month before she was crowned her state winner; 2011 Miss Delaware Maria Cahill has “Drive Safe, Drive Smart” as her platform because she almost lost her sister in a traffic accident, but their friend who was texting died in the crash; and 2011 Miss Iowa Jessica Pray nearly lost her mother during birth due to blood hemorrhaging, and thus her platform “Blood Donations.”

2011 Miss Kentucky Ann Blair Thornton’s platform is “Alzheimer’s Awareness and Research” because of her grandfather’s devastating 5-year battle; 2011 Miss Mississippi Mary Roark‘s grandmother also suffered from Alzheimer’s; and 2011 Miss Michigan Elizabeth Ann Wertenberger has battled rheumatoid arthritis her entire life.

2011 Miss Minnesota Natalie Davis’ platform is “Autism Awareness,” as she has helped raise her younger brother Trevor, who suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome, as does 2011 Miss Puerto Rico Laura Ramirez, who assists her autistic brother; 2011 Miss Ohio Ellen Bryan has been a caregiver to her sister Cristina, who 11 years ago was struck by lighting, lost her speech and remains in a wheelchair; and 2011 Miss Rhode Island Robin Bonner was diagnosed with Mitral Valve Prolapse but went on to win a cheerleading scholarship.

2011 Miss Texas Kendall Morris is a spokeswoman for the Leukemia Society because her father was diagnosed with chronic leukemia, and 2011 Miss Wyoming Catherine Browning helps look after her brother who suffered a traumatic brain injury after a 2008 accident.

I talked with Bree about her incredible weight loss going from obese teenager to beauty queen. She told me that she watched three years of Miss America Pageants in Planet Hollywood because her older sister Tiffany, 29, wed and moved here.

“This is my eighth visit to Vegas,” said Bree, who has been featured on a People magazine cover and CNN. “I love Vegas. For three years, I sat in the audience horribly overweight, really chubby, but still dreaming one day I would get up onstage to classically sing on the Miss America show. As the youngest of four, I was in a struggle to find myself. I was miserable in my own skin.

“I’d binge behind closed doors. I would sit on a couch for hours and snack all day long. At age 16, I would go to a trainer to work out and then immediately go off to grab fast food. I’d go home and cry about how I joked about my weight just to fit in with other kids. It got so bad my knees were giving out and aching. I had difficulty breathing and had to use an inhaler.

“Then came the moment I was at the doctor. I’d struggled for so many years with my weight. He gave me a handicap-parking sticker and said I was going to die. I had gotten up to 234 pounds. That was when I decided to find the beautiful me inside and realized I would have to really work at eating healthy and becoming a fighting ambassador against overeating.

“Now at 22, I weigh 119 pounds. I went from a size 18 to a size 0/2, from XXL to petite. I look in the mirror and realize I lost an entire me. I’ve brought my old size 18 jeans to Vegas with me so you will see later this week just how much I dropped.

“I couldn’t even run a mile in under 11 minutes in high school but can now do it in 7. It took three years of a whole new lifestyle, and all because I wanted to be a Miss America one day and get married, have a family and be on Broadway. I love my body now.”

Bree told me that as part of her mission to help people eat healthy, she posted her entire weight-loss work on her Facebook (Facebook.com/breeboyce) and has fans following her from as far away as Egypt and Venezuela: “It’s developed into a real friendship with a 16-year-old girl in Egypt who doesn’t have anybody to help her or a gym to work out in, so I have been teaching her how to eat properly, overcome her struggle with food addiction and even grow her own produce. It’s remarkable.”

Bree’s sister Tiffany teaches piano and violin at our Las Vegas Academy and as a result Bree met “Phantom -- the Las Vegas Spectacular”cast member Patrick Levesque, who has helped her run vocal exercises here. “It was an added thrill to meet him when we all went to see the musical at the Venetian on Friday night,” Bree said.

Just for fun, let me also introduce you to 2011 Miss Hawaii Lauren Cheape, who will demonstrate her skills as a ropedancer in the Thursday preliminary pageant talent portion. Lauren, who is the daughter of the first female head of the Board of Agriculture in the 50th state, is the first contestant who will show the “butt bounce,” where she’s able to hip-hop dance on the floor and swing that rope underneath her as she does lifts.

Best of luck to this group of amazing young women!

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

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

Follow Vegas DeLuxe on Twitter at Twitter.com/vegasdeluxe.

Follow VDLX Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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