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County women hope to smile way to victories

Gina Lu, Miss Oxnard Teen USA, gets a lipstick touch-up before boarding her flight to Fresno for the national pageant
Gina Lu, Miss Oxnard Teen USA, gets a lipstick touch-up before boarding her flight to Fresno for the national pageant  
By Renee Thompson
The Ventura County Star
September 1, 2000
Web posted at: 2:31 PM EDT (1831 GMT)

OXNARD, California (The Ventura County Star) -- Gina Lu, reigning Miss Oxnard Teen USA, smiled broadly as she waited to board the plane Wednesday morning that would take her to this weekend's Miss California beauty pageants in Fresno.

When she arrived at the airport, several 3-to 5-year-old girls, children of family friends, were anxiously waiting for her. Holding big banners that read "Go Gina Go," the children cheered and applauded wildly.

Lu, 17, thanked her young admirers for their support, while observers laughed at the youngsters' antics. She vowed to bring back the crown to Oxnard.

"I'm so grateful for my friends to come see me off so early in the morning," Lu said.

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In addition to Lu, 10 contestants from Ventura County will compete in the Miss California USA and Miss California Teen USA pageants Saturday.

"The girls have worked very hard this summer," Barbara Bayer-Coulter, director of the Miss Ventura County USA and Miss Ventura County Teen USA competitions, said Sunday at a farewell party at the Radisson Hotel Oxnard.

"Skills like public speaking and learning what to wear for interviews will aid them when they go out in the real world looking for jobs."

Other local pageant winners heading to Fresno are Jeri Armstrong of Ventura, reigning Miss Ventura County USA; Danielle Dias of Oxnard, reigning Miss Ventura County Teen USA; and Shauna Serwe of Oxnard, Miss Oxnard USA.

At-large contestants are Hilary Gushwa, Moorpark; Jade Gutierrez, Port Hueneme; Kirsten Sims, Ventura; Jennifer Marshall, Thousand Oaks; Natalie Mills, Thousand Oaks; Denielle Muciccito, Ventura; and Stephanie Serwe, Oxnard.

Though Lu may be the only one to enter both contests this weekend, she's not the only one who's excited about the coming competition.

Marshall and Mills said being involved in the pageant is worth giving up some of their free time.

Gushwa agreed, noting she's had to give up cheerleading to participate.

"My involvement in the state pageant helps me to be a well-rounded person. I know I have added more to my hectic schedule, but I'm not complaining," she said.

Armstrong said she saw the pageant as a way of becoming involved with the community.

"I want to be a role model for kids who can relate to someone local, as opposed to someone they would never meet -- like a sports figure, for example."

Gutierrez said she entered to gain more self-esteem.

"I've been a participant of pageants for a year now, and I absolutely love their positive effect on my self-confidence and poise," she explained.

Serwe said she sought a forum where she could improve her public speaking skills.

"All that I've learned practicing for the pageant has helped me to land a good job where I'll be working part-time while I attend Mesa Junior College in San Diego," she said.

She also defended the holding of beauty pageants despite skepticism raised after the slaying of child beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey.

"The JonBenet murder was horrible and it is true that it makes all pageants look bad, but this is different," she said. "The girls are much older and we see this opportunity as a venue to improve our ability to get better-paying jobs."

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