Special to AFN

Ahwatukee teen Anna Alber, recently crowned Miss Estrella Mountains, has an experienced coach to help her prepare for the Miss Arizona Outstanding Teen Pageant.

Her grandmother, Deborah Bryant Berge, was crowned Miss America in 1966.

For Anna, that connection has proved invaluable.

“I’ve heard so many great stories about the pageants, and she’s such an inspiration and a person I admire so much,” said Anna, a freshman at Desert Vista High School.

The petite 15-year-old wears her 62 inches regally.

In her four-inch pageant heels, navy blue halter top and floral skirted ball gown, she confidently strutted the catwalk with confidence and a smile.

After being crowned Miss Estrella Mountains, her four-peaked sparkling rhinestone tiara only added to her stature.

Even with her full academic schedule and dance lessons six days a week, Anna is preparing physically and mentally for the June 24 pageant at Mesa Arts Center.

There, she’ll compete against other locals vying for the title of Miss America’s Outstanding Teen to be awarded this July in Orlando, Florida.

Anna’s talent presentation is, and will continue to be, dance.

“I love dance; I have a real passion for it,” said Anna, who trains at Dance Studio 111 in Ahwatukee. “I do all types of styles of dance – contemporary, lyrical, pointe, jazz; I especially love jazz and hip-hop.”

Maintaining such an active regimen takes more for Anna than other teens due to her type 1 diabetes. She was diagnosed when she was just 16 months old.

“I have a strong support system of family and friends,” she said, adding she keeps in regular communication with her New York-based diabetes coach.

“I report to her and she advises me on foods I can eat to help keep my numbers steady while I dance,” the teen said.

In addition to her diabetes coach, her support team includes a naturopath, endocrinologist and trainer.

No one knows better the challenges she faces daily than her mother, Kristin Alber.

“This is a really difficult disease, which causes many complications and requires a whole team,” said her mother. “Diabetics just want to be normal, but many don’t understand the 24/7 challenges of the individuals, especially for an athlete and those as active as Anna.

“It’s a huge challenge, and for that I am most proud of everything she endures and how strong she is,” Kristin Alber continued, adding:

“That to me is more important than anything else – the positive, strong young woman she is. Anything I can do to encourage that is what is most important to me.”

Addressing her daily battle with the disease, Anna is both practical and stoic.

“It’s definitely difficult, but it's not as bad as some things could be,” said Anna, who attended middle school at Bethany Christian School in Tempe.

Kimberly Lewis, owner of Ahwatukee’s Dance Studio 111, said she considers Anna, who joined the studio in 2015, to be a “kind soul and a role model” not only to younger dancers, but to Lewis herself.

“As a dancer who trains 20 hours per week like Anna does, you need to be able to produce energy for your body to keep up with such a rigorous training schedule,” Lewis said, adding:

“As I learned more about what Anna deals with on a daily basis with type 1 diabetes, I realized what a special young lady and role model she is for everyone.”

“I admire Anna and am thankful she has taught me there is nothing someone cannot overcome, no matter how challenging or difficult it may be,” said Lewis.

Anna’s mother lauds her daughter’s perseverance in school and dance, and said she encourages her involvement in the Miss Arizona’s Outstanding Teen Scholarship Pageant, which is under the Miss America organization’s umbrella.

“Anna has always been interested in entering pageants,” said Kristin Alber, who with her husband, Dan Alber, own FOUND by domestic bliss in Chandler’s Casa Paloma shopping center.

“The Miss America pageant organization is a wonderful program that empowers young women and recognizes academic excellence, community service, poise and talent,” Kristin Alber said.

Since it’s founding in 2005, the Miss America Outstanding Teen (MAOT) Scholarship Program has become one of the top scholarship providers for teen girls in the U.S. According to their website, the organization awards more than $22 million annually in cash and in-kind scholarships.

For her maternal grandmother, a Miss Kansas crowned Miss America in 1966, Anna’s first foray into the pageant world was unexpected.

“Yes, it kind of came as a surprise in some ways, and in some ways not. This was totally on her own motivation that she entered,” said Deborah Bryant Berge.

“She’s the only one in the family who’s shown interest in being in pageants, and as a trained dancer, she came with a ready-made talent – she didn’t have to wonder what she would do,” Berge continued, adding:

“And because of her diabetes, she came with a platform as well.”

“She’s a natural,” she smiled.

Berge, a Mesa resident, was recently named to the Miss America board of directors.

Prior to that honor, announced in early March, she’d served as a preliminary judge in recent years at the 97-year-old Miss America Pageant.

She conducted personal interviews before the judging was handed off to celebrity judges.

“As a preliminary judge, you really take notice of those who are genuine,” she said. “I didn’t give her any real tips other than just try and be comfortable in yourself, what you’re wearing, what you say. I try to reinforce the direction she’s going.”

The Miss America’s Outstanding Teen Program is open to girls ages 13 through 17.

Also competing at the Mesa Arts Center June 24 for that title are Natalie McCasland, Miss Mesa; Tiffany Ticlo, Miss Tempe; and Jessie Laureanti, Miss Chandler.

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