Kailee Horvath was just 17 when she began training to become an EMT with the Ashburn Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department in Loudoun County.
Last summer, she became a firefighter, and last weekend, Horvath added pageant queen to her resume when she was crowned Miss Virginia USA.
"I was just super grateful that years and years of hard work finally paid off," Horvath said.
Horvath — now 23 — started competing years ago in teen pageants. But she was also spending time at the Ashburn station where her dad had been a volunteer for more than two decades and her brother had also joined.
"At the end of my junior year of high school, I came here and did a ride along with my older brother," Horvath recalled. "I kind of fell in love with it."
She especially fell in love with the family atmosphere there. Then after honing her skills as an EMT, she challenged herself with fire school.
"Anyone who doesn’t know, when it comes to the fire service, females have to do the exact same thing as the men," she said.
News4's Northern Virginia Bureau Chief Julie Carey has been covering this side of the state since joining NBC4 in 1992. She's joined by reporter Drew Wilder.
Horvath succeeded, adding a firefighter’s helmet to her locker.
But she had one more goal in mind: Miss Virginia USA.
Last weekend, on her third try, a crown, not a helmet was placed atop her head.
Word of Horvath’s new title spread quickly.
"We were very proud of her. I mean, it was awesome," Ashburn Fire Chief Bill Graham said. "All of a sudden, Facebook just blew up."
Horvath said while her unique profile as a volunteer firefighter likely appealed to the judges, it was her story of perseverance that won them over.
"You’re going to have to work hard. You’re going to have to be determined. It's going to be a lot of sleepless nights and a lot of early mornings, but if you're determined and you have a dream, you can achieve it," Horvath said.
Her proud father, Capt. Julius Horvath, said her pageants are about more than judging external beauty.
"It's about having compassion and sympathy, empathy, and not being fake, and that is what the word 'beauty' means," he said. "It isn’t just the external piece."
Horvath will have a few months to get used to the sash, before the Miss USA competition.
There’s another crowning achievement in her sites: graduating from nursing school next year.
The location and date for the Miss USA pageant has not yet been announced. The winner of that competition goes to the Miss Universe pageant.
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