Macey Brietenback, 16, of Bel Air, earned the spirit award at this year’s Miss Maryland Teen USA pageant in honor of her efforts to compete in the pageant despite living with a rare and chronic illness.
“It was really fun,” Brietenback said in a phone interview Monday night. “It was a great time.”
She did not win Miss Maryland Teen USA 2018 — that title went to Caleigh Shade, of Cumberland.
The spirit award was announced Sunday at the end of the weekend competition, which was held at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel & Conference Center in Montgomery County.
Brietenback was born with visceral myopathy with underlying pseudo obstruction, which affects her gastrointestinal system. She must be fed intravenously and is in regular pain and at risk for infection.
She persevered through each stage of the three-day competition, which culminated in her receiving the spirit award during Sunday’s finals.
“They said that I changed the pageant forever, in a good way, with my attitude toward things," Brietenback said.
She received flowers and a diamond crown ring.
Her mother, Mickey Brietenback, captured the spirit award announcement on video as it was made Sunday afternoon before the top 15 contestants were named, according to Brietenback.
“One contestant here on stage, in particular, brings out the true spirit of the pageant, the girl who has defeated the odds who had a dream and did everything in her power to make that dream come true,” the announcer says in the video.
He says Macey “exemplifies what this pageant is all about — determination, perseverance, encouragement and most importantly, inspiration.”
Mickey Brietenback said the spirit award was “the icing on the cake” for her daughter’s pageant experience.
“The girls were so nice to her when she won that award,” Mickey said.
She said Macey had a great experience, despite instances where her energy lagged to the point of exhaustion.
Macey said she got through “just with my faith.” In an earlier interview with The Aegis, she credited her Christian faith with helping her live to the fullest despite her illness.
“I honestly never thought I would do anything like it,” she said of being in a pageant. “It was a huge shock to me, but I absolutely loved it.”
She wrote a post on Facebook earlier this year about her desire to be in a pageant. Amanda Vaughn, owner of La Bellezza Boutique, worked with friends and local businesses to secure donations of money, clothing, hair, makeup and jewelry to ensure Macey could compete.
Macey wore a silver dress Sunday night, a dress she picked out while trying on potential garments at Vaughn’s home in Port Deposit in early October.
“It literally was like watching a real-life Cinderella story,” Vaughn, who attended the pageant, said Tuesday. “There’s really not enough words to describe what went on this weekend.”
She praised pageant staff, contestants and parents for their support and for allowing Macey “the same dignity and respect as the other contestants.”
Macey was pushed in a wheelchair to each pageant event to conserve her energy, Vaughn said.
She said staff helped Macey get onstage, but “once she got out there on stage, I don’t think you would be able to tell” she was in pain.
The spirit award announcement was a surprise for the audience.
“The entire auditorium, the whole place erupted in cheers,” Vaughn said. “They all gave her a standing ovation, the judges, everybody.”
She also praised the contestants for supporting Macey. Taylor Spruill, Miss Maryland Teen USA 2017, left Macey a supportive phone message.
Brittinay Nicolette, of Fallston, the winner of the Miss Maryland USA Pageant also held last weekend, worked with Macey as they went through the pageant.
“She [Nicolette] took the time out of her own preparation to talk Macey through everything,” Vaughn said of the pageant winner, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday. “It was very, very kind.”
Vaughn said the spirit award “is just so perfect,” from the perspective of the spirit and the courage of all the young contestants putting themselves out to be judged, and from a faith perspective.
“I think the spirit award represents the fact that the Holy Spirit was there, holding her up through the whole thing,” Vaughn said.
‘Proud” to represent Harford
Nicolette, 26, the new Miss Maryland USA, is a 2009 graduate of Fallston High School, is the daughter of Kathleen and Jon Nicolette, also of Fallston.
"I have never felt more proud to represent Harford County and Maryland," she said Tuesday evening.
Nicolette works as the hospital services coordinator for The Living Legacy Foundation, a Halethorpe-based nonprofit. Living Legacy is an "organ procurement organization" that serves the majority of the state by facilitating eye, organ and tissue donations for transplants, according to its website.
"We want people to register to be donors so people like Macey can get the transplants that they need," Nicolette said.
Brietenback has been discussing getting a transplant of digestive system organs with her family. Her pageant platform was pediatric organ donation, and she supported the nonprofit Donate Life Maryland which registers eye, organ and tissue donors.
Both organizations work toward the same goal, according to Nicolette, who said she was familiar with Brietenback’s story, and the two chatted over Facebook before the pageant.
"She's an absolute sweetheart, for starters," Nicolette said of meeting Brietenback in person for the first time during the pageant.
She said it was inspiring to see Brietenback work to fulfill her dream.
"You could just see the determination that she had, that she was going soak up every single experience that she could," Nicolette said.
Nicolette said Brietenback "really embodies the sprit of pageantry, to have a dream, work for a dream and still have fun in the process."
Nicolette will represent Maryland in the upcoming Miss USA pageant, which will happen in the summer of 2018, she said.
"[Pageantry is] all about living a beautiful life, and Macey is really finding the beauty in her own life," Nicolette said.
This story has been updated from an earlier version with a correction of the name of the winner of the Miss Teen Maryland pageant and with background and comments from Brittinay Nicolette, who was crowned Miss Maryland USA.