She was raised in her mother’s dance studio, and gave lessons to many of Rutland’s youth when she wasn’t watching the Miss USA pageants on television with her grandparents.

Now, 20-year-old Bethany Garrow, of Rutland Town, is Miss Vermont, bound for the Miss USA pageant herself in the hopes that her crown inspires other dancers in Rutland to keep their dreams alive and dancing.

“You have to jump on every opportunity that comes your way,” Garrow said. “You can’t let fear or doubt stop you.”

When she wasn’t training in her mother’s studio, Garrow said her family cultivated deep traditions — like trips to Ted’s Pizza — and created their own holiday tradition of leaving small gifts on the porches and walkways of county residences.

Because it’s never too cold to take off your coat for another.

“My mom and dad, Aunt Marie and Uncle Tom — we say they raised most of the kids in the neighborhood that didn’t have much,” said Jennifer Garrow, Bethany’s mother.

The traditions drove her to Mount St. Joseph Academy, where Bethany said the school set the students to work going door-to-door asking for non-perishables in the days before Christmas break to help those suffering from food insecurity.

“We did so many outreach programs helping other people,” Bethany said. “I saw so many young, vulnerable teenage girls, and saw how they needed confidence. That’s how I got into pageants.”

Her mother’s fighting, dancing, traveling spirit inspired her, Bethany said, but it was watching the Miss USA pageants with her grandparents that gave her an outlet that fit.

“You can just do so much with the title,” Bethany said. “It gives people such a sense of hope ... I wasn’t the best student or most confident, but I worked on myself and put others before me. I wanted to show them that even though they’re from a small town, their opportunities can be endless.”

And the opportunities seemed to want to find her: when Bethany was 16, her mother took a photo of her 5-foot-8, blonde-haired daughter with a long leg stretched over her head right in front of Radio City Music Hall and posted it to Facebook. Neither realized a former Rockette coach, Rhonda Malkin, would see the photograph and contact them directly for a training opportunity.

“I felt very blessed for that to happen,” Bethany said.

Bethany said she was drawn to study at St. Michael’s College in Winooski for the school’s dedication to public service, a mindset she cultivated from an early age and honed while at MSJ. Though it took three tries to score the crown, Bethany said hope sprang anew every time she lost.

“A year ago, I competed for the same title,” Bethany said. “I thought I was ready, but it wasn’t my year for the door to open. I didn’t even place in the top three, but I turned that into motivation. I needed to work harder.”

So Bethany opened her journal, and spent months trying to figure out who she was — the personal interview is 50 percent of every contestant’s overall score — and Bethany realized it was her connection with others that defined her.

Bethany made mental health and well-being the focus of her platform to become Miss Vermont in hopes that she could help to create programs that bring mental-health awareness to the younger generations of Vermonters.

“There’s something missing when you develop a kid in schools,” Bethany said. “There’s a gap. And with social media and other influences, kids can’t deal with stress or learn how to cope with things. Later in life, they’re going to need skills to help cope. Instead of seeing this as a bad thing, we need to see this as a part of society and work to change it.”

Bethany traveled for three in-person training sessions that took her from Vermont to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Stamford, Connecticut. After traveling to Shreveport, Louisiana, to see last year’s Miss USA pageant and support her new best friend and current Miss Vermont Maia-Jena Allo, Bethany made it to the Stowe Miss Vermont competition on Nov. 3, where she was finally crowned.

“I couldn’t wait to come back to Rutland, to the studio, and tell all the kids,” Bethany said.

From here, it’s all about training for the Miss USA pageant next September, in between volunteering at The Mission for Thanksgiving, traveling and appearing as often as she can at as many events as possible.

As far as life post-pageant, Bethany said she hopes to acquire degrees in business and psychology, and eventually study dance-movement therapy, all while training to live out the dream to be a Rockette, if she doesn’t become the next Crocodile Hunter.

“I love alligators,” Bethany said. “I really want to learn how to wrestle them.”

katelyn.barcellos@rutlandherald.com

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