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Beauty and balance

Pageant winner focuses on fitness, faith and family, not just competing for the Miss Florida crown.

© St. Petersburg Times
published June 21, 2002

Like most girls in America, Jennifer Pierce grew up watching beauty pageants.

"That's not me," she said of the waif-like creatures who paraded across the stage in swimsuits and evening gowns.

She saw herself as an athlete and a scholar.

Today Pierce is Miss Tampa and makes no apologies. The pageant, she said, "gives me an opportunity to demonstrate my intellect, my integrity and my values."

The Lutz native will have a chance to collect thousands of dollars in scholarship money next week when she competes in the Miss Florida pageant in Miami.

To prepare, Pierce subjects herself to mock interviews, dressed as she would dress in the pageant.

She's had experience, having won the Miss Tri-County title in 2001 in North Florida and the Miss Tampa crown in March.

"My father (Jay Pierce) has several business friends who play the role of judges to really make tough interviews for me," she said.

"They ask the same kind of questions real judges ask. It is very helpful."

She also practices her dance routine.

Pierce, a dance student since age 2, is planning a jazz program.

When she's not entering pageants or reigning as Miss Tampa, the 23-year-old works as a personal fitness trainer at Lifestyle Family Fitness in Tampa Palms.

"Balance in the body is important," said Pierce, who earned a degree in wellness leadership and exercise physiology from the University of South Florida.

Balance in other areas of her life is equally important.

At Gaither High School, she was class president from the 10th grade through the 12th.

At the same time, she was a member of the dance team.

Now she spends four days a week as a personal fitness trainer to a dozen clients, works part time at a do-it-yourself pottery painting store, and teaches a Bible fellowship class for middle school students at Idlewild Baptist Church.

Much of her schedule is mapped out for the remainder of 2002, including how she'll spend any scholarship money she wins in the pageant.

The $2,500 she earned in the Miss Tampa contest will go toward becoming a certified trainer of the Pilates exercise system.

Her biggest goal is to combine a balanced family life with a successful career.

"Someday I want to be a mom and stay with my children as they grow up," she said. "I would like to buy all the training equipment I need and train out of my home. That way I could be with my children and still have my career."

Pierce is engaged to Nathan Smith, the youth music director at her church.

"Jennifer is very mature and spiritually deep for her age," said her mother, Jackie Pierce of Lutz. "She was always busy in high school and yet managed to keep things together and make good grades.

"She just lights up a room when she walks in," Mrs. Pierce said.

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