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Chance meeting leads Jade Kelsall to Miss Nevada USA crown

Jade Kelsall’s path to this weekend’s Miss USA competition sounds a lot like those Hollywood stories where an undiscovered starlet is suddenly, well, discovered.

As Kelsall recalls it, she just happened to be at Aria last year when Sarah Chapman, Miss Nevada USA 2011, and Shanna Moakler, co-director of the Miss Nevada USA organization, approached her and suggested that she consider entering the pageant.

Just like Lana Turner in that Hollywood drugstore.

Anyway, Chapman and Moakler obviously know their stuff, because Kelsall thought it over, gave it a shot and ended up taking home the title of Miss Nevada USA 2012.

Now, if everything goes well and all of this ends up with a real Hollywood ending, Kelsall will come home with the Miss USA 2012 title Sunday, when the 61st annual Miss USA competition takes place at Planet Hollywood Resort.

The competition begins at 6 p.m. Sunday for live broadcast to the East Coast. Locally, the Miss USA competition will be telecast at 9 p.m. on KSNV-TV, Channel 3.

The event’s 51 contestants arrived in last Vegas just over a week ago to kick off a series of pre-competition activities that included the preliminary competition Wednesday. The winner of Sunday’s competition will go on to represent the United States this year in the Miss Universe pageant.

Surprisingly – particularly given the poise and easygoing charm with which she handles an interview – the Miss Nevada pageant marked Kelsall’s first pageant experience.

"Crazy, right?" she concedes with a laugh. "I definitely didn’t grow up doing pageants. I grew up doing sports."

That was in Camden and Berlin, N.J., where Kelsall’s athletic interests included volleyball, soccer and basketball. For a career, Kelsall leaned for a time during her childhood toward medicine.

"My father is an anesthesiologist and my mother is a registered nurse, so everyone in my family is in the medical field," she says.

Eventually, however, her rendezvous with medicine would take another course: In early January, just a few weeks before the Miss Nevada USA pageant, Kelsall underwent heart surgery to correct a condition called supraventricular tachycardia – "Say that three times real fast," she jokes – that initially was diagnosed when she was 17.

"Basically, my heart would get real fast," the 26-year-old said. That hampered her athletic pursuits and, Kelsall adds, "as I was getting older, it was getting more serious and I was in the hospital more often. So I decided to have my surgery before the pageant."

Kelsall was back to her usual athletic self after the procedure, continuing to pursue a career path that began in Atlantic City’s resort industry, continued with a bit of modeling in New York City and, about five years ago, brought her to Las Vegas.

Kelsall first came out here just to visit a friend for the weekend, "and he showed me everything there was to do – Red Rock, and he took me to the lake," she recalls. "And in three days I just decided that I needed to move here.

"It was always sunny, the weather is great and everything is 24 hours. I love it that you can get sushi at 3 or 4 in the morning."

In Las Vegas, her resume has included stints at Encore and XS nightclubs. Most recently, Kelsall was a brand ambassador for Top Shop clothing.

All of which sort of takes us back to that chance meeting last year with Chapman and Moakler (who, by the way, served as Miss USA 1995).

"They saw me and they literally would not leave me alone: ‘You should enter the pageant!’ " Kelsall says, laughing. "And they had an event the next day at the Palms, at Amp salon, so they said, ‘Just come and check it out.’

"So I went, and they said, ‘This opportunity can change your life. You’ve had these heart problems, and you were very athletic, and you have a message for young adults. This will be a great opportunity to change your life, and you’ll be able to reach others, too."

It was an appealing notion and, Kelsall says, one that meshes well with what is "kind of my motto now: Everything happens for a reason."

Yet, diving into pageantry with no previous experience wasn’t always easy. For instance, Kelsall says with a laugh, "I never even wear a bathing suit out to the pool, so getting onstage in a bikini in front of people is a little scary.

"I’m really shy and super-scared of being onstage, so it definitely helped me to learn to get out there and be more confident in myself, which I really like. In the whole process, you really learn more about yourself and who you are."

Kelsall also hopes that, as Miss Nevada USA now and (fingers crossed) as Miss USA, she can help to inspire others.

"I think that everyone needs to understand that you can have health problems or you can have many things come across your path in life," she says. "It’s just how you choose to handle them and where you choose to go.

"I can’t touch everybody. But as long as I’ve touched one person or inspired one person who, maybe, feels they can’t do certain things or are held back because of their past or because of health issues, that causes a ripple effect."

Contact reporter John Przybys at jprzybys@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0280.

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