Beauty and balance
By TERRY JONES
TAMPA PALMS -- 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 is working hard on mock interviews and practicing her dance routine for the talent portion of the program. She's had experience with this before, winning the Miss Tri-County title in 2001 in North Florida and earning the Miss Tampa crown in March.
The interview, called the presentation and community achievement part of the Miss Florida competition, is worth 40 percent in the judging. Pierce spends a lot of time role-playing interviews, her way of rehearsing.
"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. I take it very serious, even to dressing up like I would for the actual interview."
The talent program is worth 30 percent in the judging of the competition. Pierce, a dance student since age 2, is planning a jazz program. When she's not preparing for pageant competition or reigning as Miss Tampa, the naturally athletic 23-year-old works as a personal fitness trainer at Lifestyle Family Fitness in Tampa Palms.
Pierce's day starts before 5 a.m.; she's up making sure her plan is ready and her personal warmup is complete so she is ready when her early-rising clients come for their workouts. Experience has taught her to be fully prepared to give the people she trains her undivided attention.
Striking a balance between her work and her lifestyle is important to Pierce.
She teaches her clients how to exercise safely, and she helps them develop balance for their bodies by encouraging them to keep a journal of what they eat and when for their own benefit.
"Balance in the body is important," said Pierce, who earned a degree in wellness leadership and exercise physiology from the University of South Florida in 2001.
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 and at the same time 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 Miss Florida 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."
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