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Hello, Miss Florida

The newly crowned Miss Florida, Kristina Janolo, waves to the crowd on July 9. She won Miss Winter Park earlier this year.

The newly crowned Miss Florida, Kristina Janolo, waves to the crowd on July 9. She won Miss Winter Park earlier this year.

Brittni Larson

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As she stood onstage, anxiously grasping her friend’s hands in hers, Kristina Janolo knew that this would be her last chance at a dream she’d held close for nearly 10 years. As she heard the other woman’s name called, the reality rushed over her — she was Miss Florida.

“I got weak in the knees, and I thought I was going to topple over,” Janolo said.

Janolo, 24, a senior marketing major at the University of Central Florida, competed as Miss Winter Park to win the Miss Florida crown on July 9.

This win was more meaningful, Janolo said, because it was her last opportunity to compete for the crown and for the chance to be Miss America, a dream she’s held since 15. Next year, she would have been too old to compete.

“I was so happy to see her dream come true,” Mom Lorna Janolo said. “It was really a sense of fulfillment.”

Competing on a whim

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Miss Florida

Miss Florida 2011 Kristina Janolo

Always a girlie girl, the Kissimmee resident was a good fit for the pageant world. But she didn’t consider it until she got a card in the mail advertising a local pageant when she was 15. “It started on a fluke,” Lorna said.

On her first try, she became Miss Florida Junior Teen. “I got bit by the bug,” Janolo said.

But it wasn’t always an easy journey — she’d spent years competing in local pageants before vying for the elusive Miss Florida title.

“It was definitely a difficult road for me,” she said. “It’s a constant battle, mentally and emotionally.”

The losses were tough, and just getting to the Miss Florida competition the first time took eight pageant tries. The good times have outshined the difficult ones, though. Janolo said she’s gained tools that will serve her in the future and has learned more about herself than she would have if she hadn’t done pageants.

A future helping others

One thing she’s learned is exactly how she wants to spend her future. Her volunteer work for the Children’s Miracle Network through the Miss America pageant system inspired her to work toward a career as an executive director for a nonprofit. She left a major studying dentistry at USF to study marketing at UCF, which produced three other Miss Florida winners — Jaclyn Raulerson in 2010, Rachael Todd in 2009 and Ericka Dunlap in 2003 (Dunlap won Miss America 2004).

“It makes me feel proud to be a Knight,” she said.

Two other UCF women were top 10 finalists, Jacqueline Boehme and Stephanie Ziajka. Eleven students competed for the crown.

“It shows that the University of Central Florida is a really strong institution that has a lot of intelligent young women,” said Ross Amkraut, executive director for the Miss Winter Park pageant.

Working for the title

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Mary Katherine Fechtel, Miss Florida’s Outstanding Teen, crowns the new Miss Winter Park, Kristina Janolo, Feb. 19.

All the work she’ll do as Miss Florida isn’t something Janolo has taken lightly. She’s spent the last six months preparing for the job and asked friend and Miss Florida 2006 Allison Kreiger Walsh for advice. They’ve talked over her plans and goals for hours upon hours, and Walsh said she knows she’s ready. From the moment she stepped under the Miss Florida competition lights, Janolo knew this was her moment.

“Every time she was onstage, it was electric,” Walsh said. “It was her time; it was right.”

Janolo will volunteer to help her own organization, CARE (Commitment to Always Remember the Elderly) and Repower America, an organization working to move America toward clean, renewable energy to benefit the environment. She’ll use the Miss Florida title to talk to students and the government about the organization, which she said will make a difference.

“We can save the world.”

Watch her compete

Root for our hometown girl, Miss Florida Kristina Janolo, to become the next Miss America on ABC on Jan. 14. For more information about the Miss Winter Park pageant, visit www.MissWinterPark.com