Miss America Betty Maxwell

Miss America Betty Maxwell: God’s Got Your Back

John FarrellBy John Farrell27 Minutes

JF: What was the coolest place you visited or the coolest thing you experienced on the road?

Betty: One of the most incredible things I got to do is go on a USO tour, which a lot of Miss Americas have done in the past. But in recent years, not every Miss America gets to do it. I didn’t know if that was going to be something I got to do. When they told me about it, I was thrilled. I have a very strong military background in my family. So, working with the USO during my year was something I really enjoyed and something I took personally and took to heart. I felt like it was super important.

We ended up visiting eight countries in eight days, which was a whirlwind tour. But I was on the tour with other celebrities, including Craig Morgan, the country singer; Charles Tillman of the Carolina Panthers; Anthony Pettis and Cowboy Cerrone, the UFC fighters. And then me. I was the only girl, but we had so much fun and we put on a USO show at every stop where I performed a few songs and spoke. We entertained and met all the troops. It was absolutely life-changing and so incredible to be able to bring a piece of home overseas to our troops who are defending our country. I was very honored to be able to do that.

We visited so many cool places, but I’m half Greek, so when we got to go to Greece on the tour I was very excited about that. We were there for less than 24 hours, but it was still really cool.

JF: Very cool. You already talked a little about this with your boyfriend/now husband, but how did your year as Miss America affect your relationships with your boyfriend, family, and friends?

Betty: With my boyfriend, it affected us probably more so than anything else because when I won Miss America, we had been dating for only about six months. I feel like people always doubt relationships when it comes to national pageant titleholders because you’re gone for an entire year, you’re meeting all kinds of celebrities, all kinds of famous people. You’re getting all these different opportunities so people doubt those relationships lasting.

I knew people had doubts about Spencer and me and we knew that. We were very aware of that, but we also knew our relationship better than anybody else. I feel very fortunate that I had Spencer during that time. I had such a good and loyal person in my life at that time. So, yes it affected us in that we missed each other like crazy. It was really hard to be living in the spotlight and living the celebrity life for a year while he was stuck at home, waiting for me to return. That was really hard, but I feel very fortunate that I was with someone so loyal and so faithful to me and our relationship and always there for me. Constantly taking my calls and picking up the phone whenever I was available because I had a break in my day or whatever the case was. He was always there for me and always ready to hear about what happened that day and ready to help me. I am very lucky.

But as far as my relationships with my friends and my family, I really did see a shift. People treat you differently after something like this happens and not necessarily in a bad way or a negative way, but people just treat you differently. It’s definitely been an adjustment to make, especially with my friends, more so than my family. But even with my family, I’ve had to kind of open up my life to be able to include them and let them know what’s going on, where I’m going to be and what I’m going to be doing in a way that they can understand because I’m the one living the Miss America life. It’s up to me to explain what that’s like and what it is I’m going through. It’s not always easy when you’re traveling all the time and you don’t necessarily feel like picking up the phone and including everybody in on everything that’s going on. That was really difficult.

And the fame that comes with being Miss America and even the year after and up to today. My life, like I said, would never be the same. It’s been an adjustment to let my friends in on what has changed in my life. Not that our relationship would be any different. They’re my friends and they always will be. It’s really up to them whether they can handle the changes that have been made in my life. But I’m really fortunate that I have incredible friends who haven’t ever turned on me or anything like that because of my success or because of winning Miss America, which I think is probably the scariest thing when something like this happens. It’s really been good. They’ve always been very supportive of me and my family, as well.

JF: What advice would you give to girls who aspire to become Miss America?

Betty: The Miss America organization is obviously going through some turmoil right now and it’s very different than when I competed, which is really sad. I really hope that one day we can get back the original Miss America format. And that dream can come alive for all the young girls out there again.

But I guess in general, my biggest piece of advice to any young girl who has a burning dream or a burning passion that they have to attain or that they dream of one day achieving would be that you can do it. You have the ability to make all of your dreams come true. It’s just whether or not you believe it yourself. You have to have the faith in yourself and the faith in God that God’s going to have you. He’s going to have your back. He’s going to give you those opportunities as long as you trust in Him and you believe that it’s possible.

You have to seek out opportunities. You have to meet God halfway. You have to be the one that believes that it is possible and seize those opportunities when they come. That’s one of the biggest things.

When I won Miss America, my motto sort of became,”If I can do it, so can you.” I mean, I grew up in a double-wide trailer. I only did pageants for two years before I won Miss America. Most girls grow up competing in this. They’re doing it their whole lives. It’s part of who they are. For me to come in from out of nowhere and take this on, I really feel like it was an opportunity God placed in my lap. He was like, “Hey, try this. Step out of your comfort zone. Try something new and see where it takes you.” If it hadn’t been for Miss America, I would not be where I am today. I know that full well and I’m so glad that I decided to take that step outside my comfort zone and try something that I never even thought of before to see where it would take me. Always try new things outside of your comfort zone. You never know what thing you’re going to try that will literally change your life forever.

JF: What do you miss the most about the entire Miss America experience and from your year as Miss America?

Betty: Honestly, I really feel like that job is one year for a reason. I don’t think that anyone is meant to be Miss America forever. I feel like any Miss America you talk to would say that when the end of their year came, they were ready to hand off the title and move on and get back to their actual lives.

I wouldn’t say there’s necessarily something that I miss about being Miss America because once you’re a Miss America, you’re Miss America forever. I’ve taken every aspect of what it meant to be Miss America and what it meant to me and the lives that I affected and the people that I inspired and I’ve continued doing that. Even without the crown on my head, I’m still doing the work that I did as Miss America. I’m still a motivational speaker. I wrote my book and I have my Instagram page where I’m constantly trying to empower and inspire people through my experiences and through my faith.

There isn’t really anything I miss about being Miss America because I truly feel like I’m still doing the work of Miss America to this day, which is inspiring, empowering, and helping people to be their best selves. I’m still performing. I’m living out my dreams. The only difference is there is not a crown on my head and I have the freedom to use my voice in any way that I want. I have the freedom to say what I want. I’m not being controlled. I wouldn’t say there’s anything that I really miss about that year.

I’m so thankful for that year and everything that I got to do with the crown on my head, but honestly, I’m so excited to just be Betty and live how I want to live, say what I want to say, and use my voice how I want to use it without having that crown on my head. I feel very fortunate to have been Miss America and have that as part of who I am, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that I miss the year as Miss America. I’m so glad that it happened, but it’s definitely one year for a reason.

JF: I totally understand. You obviously had an opportunity to work with a variety of different organizations and charities. Which ones of them had the most impact on you?

Betty: The USO was super important to me and I really loved working with them. But also as Miss America, I was the national Goodwill Ambassador for Children’s Miracle Network (CMN) hospitals. So, I got to work with kids a lot, which I’ve always loved kids. I’ve always wanted to be a mom. That’s something that I definitely see in my future and I can’t wait to have kids of my own one day, one day in the future.

I loved working with CMN and getting to do all the hospital visits and the big events in Orlando and DC. The different events I got to do with the kids. These little champions who’ve been through so much, they inspire so many people. Just getting to do the kind of work where you’re going into hospital rooms and lighting up kids’ faces because they see your crown and it’s Miss America. Having the ability to walk in a room and brighten up a little kid’s day simply because Miss America came to visit them. That was so rewarding.

I loved the work where I got to be myself and get down on the floor with the kids and play with them. They bring out the kid in all of us and I loved that work. I’ve always loved kids so getting to work with them one on one and develop relationships with the kids. There are certain Children’s Miracle Network champions that I still talk to and I am still bonded with to this day from my year as Miss America. That work was extremely rewarding and it’s carried over even to this day.

My mom owns the Cantrell Center for Physical Therapy and Wellness in Warner Robbins, Georgia, which is my hometown. Every year she puts on a 5k and all the proceeds benefit Children’s Miracle Network hospitals. And that’s because of my work with Children’s Miracle Network and my time in pageantry where Children’s Miracle Network hospitals were the national platform for the Miss America organization. So, it’s definitely had a long-lasting impact and to this day I’m still helping out with the 5k and getting donations for Children’s Miracle Network. It is something that has stuck with me from my year and definitely had a lasting impact on me and my family.

JF: That is awesome. How did the whole Miss America experience help make you a better person overall?

Betty: Oh my gosh, it absolutely shaped who I am today in that it inspired me to find pieces of myself that I didn’t even know were there. My passion for motivational speaking — I never knew that I would ever do that or that was even an option for my life. And being Miss America is what sparked that in me.

I love getting up in front of an audience of people and inspiring them with my story, with my experiences, what I’ve learned, and obviously I’ve now put that into a book to hopefully reach even more people. But being Miss America definitely awakened the good in me. It awakened certain parts of myself, certain aspects of myself — a certain resilience and strength that I never knew that I had.

Making it through that year as Miss America really made me realize the resilience and strength I have and I never would have realized that because who wants to put something like that to the test? Who wants to be pushed to their wit’s end so far that they don’t know if they can last another day.

There were certain times where I had bad press and certain things would come out that journalists wrote about that weren’t even real or they’d take my words and twist them around and create soundbites that make you look like you’re just the worst human being in the world. Those are the types of things that I dealt with, the attacks and the cyberbullying. Those things really tested me in a way that made me wake up and realize, “Hey, you can get through anything. You got through this, you can get through anything.”

Even in my relationship with my boyfriend at the time, if we can get through this year of me being gone, of me being Miss America, we can get through anything. And that has proved to be true. Spencer and I have been through much harder tests in our recent history since Miss America and we have been able to get through them. I do think it’s because we’ve been through so much in the past and the fact that I was Miss America has tested us so much that I feel like we really can get through anything. And I believe that I can get through anything on my own after the year as Miss America. Not only that, but it made me realize that I have a passion for people and for helping others and living out God’s will more than ever because of my year as Miss America.

JF: What is your own personal testimony?

Betty: What I’ve said in recent history is that as a kid my parents took us to church every Sunday. My faith was definitely something that my parents made predominant in my life and something that I was always made very aware of growing up and how important that is. But it’s only been in the past three or four years that it’s become something that I’ve chosen for myself. What I mean is your parents are always telling you, “This is so important. This is so important. You need to practice this. Practice your faith. You need to pray. These are all things that are going to benefit you. These are all things that are so important in this life. Your faith and relationship with God is the most important thing.” But to actually have a moment in your life where you realize that and choose that for yourself and on your own, not because your parents told you to, but because you choose it. You want that. I’ve had that happen in the past, I would say three or four years.

There was a moment where I  chose that and took that on for myself. I wanted a different relationship with God where I was the one putting in the effort every day to make sure that even in whatever career path I’m going down, that I’m using that to promote God’s Word and to do what God wants me to do in this life.

People think that you have to be involved in something religious or some sort of ministry in order to live out God’s Word, but that’s not true. With the power of social media, no matter what your job is, no matter what career field you’re in, you have the opportunity and the power to promote your faith and to promote God’s love in this world. Even though I’m not a nun or religion teacher, I’m a singer, actress, model, and motivational speaker. And in all of those things, I take the opportunity whenever possible to put God’s Word out there in subtle ways that aren’t attacking people but in a way that hopefully helps others. I hope if you see this on your social media it brightens your day. I hope you needed to hear this or needed some comfort today so I’m going to put that out there just in case. It’s up to us to choose that each day.

There’s come a time in my life in the past three or four years where I’m making that conscious choice every day to use my platform, use the success and fame that I’ve received to promote God’s love in this world and everything that he’s done for me.

JF: What’s next for you?

Betty: Every day is a surprise. Every day is an adventure. Like I said, you never know what audition or what part is going to be the one that sends you over the edge. I love the life I live with my husband. Every day is an adventure. It’s like taking risks every day to push toward that ultimate dream or goal and just trusting that God’s going to catch us when we fall, which has happened many times and every single time we brush it off, get back up, try again. Because every day on this earth is such a gift and we as a married couple truly realized that.

I think it’s different when you realize it on your own, but when you actually realize it as a couple and you can have the same faith mindset as a unit, it makes such a difference in how you support each other and how you go about finding happiness in each day no matter how much money’s in the bank account or how many opportunities are coming. You still find happiness in the everyday. Just waking up in the morning and still being alive and breathing makes such a difference. So every single day is a surprise.

I don’t know what’s coming up next. I don’t know what’s in the future, but I definitely have a lot of really cool things in the works — some really fun things coming up. It’s pilot season, so I’m really excited about that. But most of my work right now is being geared toward my motivational speaking, doing singing events, auditioning constantly, and then, of course, promoting my book. I’ve got a lot more media coming up in the near future, but all very exciting.

Order your copy of Miss Unlikely: From Farm Girl to Miss America by Betty Maxwell

Photo Credit: The USO / 2016 Vice Chairman USO Tour CC BY-NC-ND 2.0