A young woman from Forster has made it through to the NSW final of the Miss Universe Australia competition.
26-year-old Leilani Vakaahi was selected out of more than 12,000 applicants and will now take part in a number of video and fundraising challenges ahead of the state final in Sydney on March 8.
The ex-Great Lakes College student said she watched the Miss Universe pageant as a girl but didn’t think it was something she could ever be a part of until she came across entries for this year’s competition and decided to give it a go.
“I just think it’s a really good opportunity to inspire others to set themselves goals and try to achieve them,” she said.
Asked what she was most looking forward to about the competition, Miss Vakaahi admitted she was excited by the challenge it presented and also about meeting her fellow contestants.
“I thrive on being challenged,” she said.
“It’s scary but extremely empowering.”
To win would be a dream come true as well, but Miss Vakaahi said just to be given the opportunity to inspire others was a reward in itself.
Though that doesn’t mean she’s not giving it her all.
“I’m going to do the best I can,” she said.
“The last few years I’ve been on a journey of personal growth and this is a really good opportunity to continue that journey.”
With a unique look thanks to her Tongan-Australian heritage, Miss Vakaahi said she also intended to distinguish herself through her experiences living in different communities.
An activations manager with the Kyle and Jackie O Show in Sydney, Miss Vakaahi grew up in Forster and then studied journalism and radio communications at Charles Sturt University in Bathurst, before moving to London to get a taste of living in a large cosmopolitan city.
Even if I don't make it I'm happy with who I am.Leilani Vakaahi
In a delightful coincidence, she also did her internship with the Great Lakes Advocate as a part of her studies.
And despite the fact she’s travelled and now resides in Sydney, she still considers Forster home.
With her family in the area and a childhood spent representing the Cape Hawke Surf Lifesaving Club and the Great Lakes Netball Association, among other things, she said her ties with the community ran deep.
“I get up to Forster as much as I can,” she said.
“My heart is definitely still in the Great Lakes.”
Leilani will be raising money for Toybox International, a charity that helps disrupt the cycle of pain and trauma for sick and disadvantaged Australian children, and will be offering all those who donate the chance to win prizes such as tickets to see Kylie Minogue, Amy Shark and Rudamentals.