Middletown Q & A: Amanda Nicole DeBus, Miss Delaware 2016
By Richard L. Gaw
Throughout her life, Amanda Nicole DeBus has always followed the journey of her heart. She teaches children with special needs. She raises awareness of those who live with allergies. On Sept. 11, as Miss Delaware, she followed her heart to the most famous beauty competition in the world. Recently, Middletown Life down with Amanda to discuss pageant life, her career goals, and the imaginary dinner party she would like to host.
Middletown Life: Take me back to the night of June 11, the evening of the 2016 Miss Delaware Pageant. There were 500 people in the audience waiting, and 14 of your contemporaries who are all competing for the crown. In the waning hours before the start of the competition, what was going on your mind?
DeBus: I was just thinking, 'If I'm right for the job, then I'm right for the job. No matter what, I'm not competing against other people. I'm competing against myself.' That's how I entered the competition, trying be the best version of myself. I wasn't going to be talked into anything or swayed into anything. I was going to be me. In the past few years, I never thought I was myself on that Miss Delaware stage. I was a version of myself, but I wasn't my true self. This year, I went out there as if it was my last competition, because it was. It worked, and I'm very thankful.
What is that true sense of you, that you found on June 11?
I think it's the fact that I've become more mature, and I've become okay with who I am. There was a time in my life that I was battling an eating disorder, and I was very confused as to who I was, as a young adult. We all go through a sense of that as we enter our young adult life, and it took me awhile to bounce back from that. I describe it as a light switch being flicked on. In the short months leading up to the competition, I just discovered who I was, and I stuck with it.
How did you prepare for the event?
As a competitor, there's a lot to prepare for leading into the week of Miss Delaware. I had to be in the gym as often as I could to increase my stamina and to improve my physical fitness. When I wasn’t in the gym, I was in the dance studio, working on my talent. I also had to refine my interview skills, so I had mock interviews almost every week. You just try to become the best version of yourself, in those months leading up to the pageant. I tried to live my life as if I was already Miss Delaware.
What is your interpretation – and I suppose, definition – of Miss Delaware? How are you starting to define or refine that definition?
The Miss Delaware title isn't one specific thing. It's the person who wears the crown that defines the title. To me, Miss Delaware is a positive image. She is a role model. I am going to be a teacher, so I always feel that I have to be a role model, whether I am teaching or living my normal life, whether I am Miss Delaware or just Amanda DeBus.
True confession. When I was younger, my older sister and her friends would watch beauty pageants on television, and I would watch those pageants with them. I used to think that the reason my sister and her friends would watch was because of some fantasy that many young girls have of being named Miss America. Not many people get to experience it, but the facial expression taken at the moment your name was announced as Miss Delaware seems to give us an idea. Describe what that moment meant for you.
It was a goal that I had worked so hard towards. I had competed in Miss Delaware for five years, and each year, I came up short. I obviously thought the goal was within reach, but it just never happened. So the moment when I was finally announced Miss Delaware was incredible. It finally happened. I get to go to Miss America. I am incredibly nostalgic, and I love tradition, and I know that I am one of 75 awesome women who walked before me.
You are no stranger to pageants. Let's rattle it off. You were Miss Diamond State 2015, Miss New Castle County 2014, Miss Wilmington 2013, Miss Southern Delaware 2012, Miss Delaware Teen USA 2011 and Miss Delaware’s Outstanding Teen in 2008. What was it about these competitions that first drew your interest?
I was a competitive baton twirler when I was younger, and my baton coach was Lisa Marie Munzert, who was Miss Delaware in 1990. She was getting frustrated with me, because I was not practicing for competitions, but she knew I was driven, so she began to give me the push I needed. She began leaving me pamphlets about upcoming pageants. On a whim, I decided to enter in a Junior Miss New Castle County. I practiced very hard to win, and I won. She realized that it was a good idea to push me, and I realized that I could potentially get some scholarship money out of it.
So you're a competitive person.
I guess I am.
Where does that come from?
I'm a sports kid. I grew up playing soccer and basketball. My brother and I were always ultra competitive between each other. I wanted to follow in his footsteps in terms of sports. He was ranked in cross country in Delaware. I just wanted to be like him, and then my competitive nature led me into a different form of competition.
Let's talking about your career aspirations. In between competitions, you're a health and physical education major at the University of Delaware, with a double minor in dance and health, and physical activity and disabilities. What led you to special needs education?
I work on campus with a group called Sports Club for You, an after-school program for kids with disabilities. We primarily focus on kids on the Autism spectrum as well as kids with behavioral issues. I fell in love with it. I was the teaching assistant for the club for the last two years. I'm a dance teacher as well, so I'm comfortable with teaching, but I have found I have passion for teaching children with special needs. It brings me such joy to see them attain a goal, even over the course of a single session.
Let's talk about your main platform – “ALL-AWARE: Allergy Awareness.” What led you to establish that?
Back in 2010, when I was 17, I was at a summer barbecue at my house and I was eating a serving of pineapple, and all of a sudden, my throat began to get scratchy. It started to swell, and I started going into shock. In that moment, I could have died, had it not been for my mother and a local neighbor, who was an ER nurse. They took me to the emergency room, and I was diagnosed as having a severe allergy to pineapple. After that experience, I felt that I needed to promote allergy awareness, because up to that moment, I had no real knowledge of allergies, except environmental allergies.
There must have been something inside of you to help you decide that you were going to make this a larger thing.
I had allergies all of my life but they were mostly environmental, but once I began research about food allergies and how common yet overlooked they are, I decided that it was something that needed to be discussed. In schools, kids with food allergies are getting bullied. They being separated and discriminated against. And when they go to restaurants, they're often belittled over something that they can't control. It's something that I feel needs to be discussed on a large scale.
You were bullied when you were younger.
Take me back to that time.
I was bullied because I had an inhaler and EpiPens. To others, those things made me different, and incapable of doing ‘normal things.’ I was told I couldn't run in gym, because I couldn't withstand the cardio. When I was at a national competition, I was called ‘That Girl’ when I couldn't do certain appearances, due to my food allergies. It was the little things. At the moment, it didn't really phase me, but looking back, I was discriminated against. I was separated from the group, and it doesn't feel good to be separated from a group of your peers, by something that you can't control.
Then your efforts to bring awareness to allergies is not for you, but for others.
Absolutely. It's not just a health issue. It's a social issue.
In your capacity as Miss Delaware, how are you helping to spread that awareness?
I visit elementary, middle and high schools sharing my story. I teach the elementary kids to ‘Be a P.A.L.’ and Protect A Life, in terms of helping their friends out when they know that their friend has an allergy. In middle and high school, I discuss relationships and food allergies. Often times, you don't realize that if your partner has, say, a peanut allergy, that you can't really have a peanut butter cup and then kiss your significant other immediately afterward. I also tackle legislation. I've helped to pass the Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act in schools, which gives schools access to epinephrine for any unknown allergy case.
So you're approaching this from the standpoint of awareness, education and legislation.
Awareness, to me, is the umbrella term, and then I tackle education and legislation under the awareness umbrella.
You're also involved in another cause -- the Children’s Miracle Network -- which is one of the key beneficiaries of the Miss America Contest. You've raised thousands of dollars for it. How did you become involved in that organization?
Back in 2008, when I won Miss Delaware’s Outstanding Teen, the Miss America Organization asked teen title holders to help raise funds. To me, it was more than just raising funds, because when I was a child, I was a patient for an entire summer in the A.I. DuPont Children’s Hospital. I've had the experience of being a long-term patient in a hospital, so I know what these kids need. They need a sense of normalcy. As a local title holder and now as a state title holder, I visit children’s hospitals and I try to give them that sense of normalcy, even if it's for five minutes between treatments.
Do you ever look at the crown that you will wear for a year in Delaware as nothing more than a conduit, to what you want to do, to allow a few more doors to open for you?
It's not a crown. It's a soapbox. I use it as my megaphone. I get to use it to shout out to the world what I believe, and I hope to make a difference.
You've been given that soapbox. By virtue of your title, your voice happens to travel a little farther.
I've gotten numerous messages on social media and through e-mail from parents that have kids with severe allergies. They tell me that they're so happy to see a person to take the platform of allergy awareness to a national stage, and that their kids look up to me. It's those types of e-mails and messages that give the extra push to keep my voice going for as long as I can.
In the few short months you've been you've been Miss Delaware, what have been your most enriching moments?
I did an appearance recently, and this one little girl wouldn't stop talking to me, even though her mother began to tug her away. She told me, 'You know Miss Delaware, you can take me home if you want to.’ I started to laugh — I wish I could! Any time I am with kids is an awesome moment. It goes back to me wanting to be a teacher, and wanting to work with kids for the rest of my life.
Let's talk about Middletown. How long have you lived here?
We moved here in 2001.
What schools did you attend?
Silver Lake Elementary School, Everett Meredith Middle School, and Middletown High School.
Every stage of a person's life he or she receives inspiration, whether it be from a moment, an event or an individual that serves to him or her to the next rung. Take me back to your school days. Who were the people who inspired you?
At Middleton High School, Dr. Voni Perrine is an amazing person. She's always been in my corner. I enjoyed having her as a chorus teacher and then as a vice principal during my last year there. Abby (Shubert) Joy, an English teacher, was always been one of my favorite teachers. Having that support system from people I haven't seen in five or six years has been incredible.
It's safe to say that Voni, Abby, and nearly everyone from the M.O.T. area will be rooting for you at the Miss America pageant on Sept. 11. How are you getting ready for it?
I've been going to CrossFit. I used to be a cardio person, sticking to stair machine and the rower, but once I got into CrossFit, they pushed me to do things I never thought I could ever do. It's inspired me to do better and beat my personal records. I’m changing my dance routine to work more for the Miss America stage. I am doing interview preparation, getting ready for the swimsuit competition, and preparing mentally to walk across that iconic stage.
What's your favorite spot in Middletown?
I love Metro, the new restaurant in town. They're the sweetest people, and we've become very good friends with a lot of the employees. I'm such a foodie, so when you asked the question, all I could think of was food!
Amanda DeBus has a dinner party, and she can invite anyone she wants to, living or not. Who attends that dinner party?
I would love to meet Princess Diana. I'm so infatuated with her. If I can expand this guest list, I'm a sucker for Marilyn Monroe. She was an incredibly deep woman. I've met Vice President Joe Biden in the past, and I think he’d be a great addition to the dinner party!
What food is always in your refrigerator?
Watermelon. I will cut open one watermelon, and that will be my breakfast, lunch and dinner, for the entire day.
No Delawarean has ever been crowned Miss America, so you'll be playing the underdog. Delawareans are always playing that role, but look at Vice President Joe Biden. Look at WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne.
It's always fun to prove them wrong.