AP Interview: Miss Universe reflects as her reign winds down

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Posted: Jan 16, 2015 12:03 PM
AP Interview: Miss Universe reflects as her reign winds down

MIAMI (AP) — When Gabriela Isler wakes up on Jan. 25, it will mark the 441st and final time that she will begin a day while wearing the title of Miss Universe.

Then, as she put it, she becomes "just Gabby" again.

Isler's reign is in its final days, with the next woman to wear the crown to be selected Jan. 25 in Miami. The classic tiara — the one that slipped off her head on the night she was crowned — soon will be gently placed atop someone else and after touring the world almost nonstop, Isler is ready to see what the next chapter brings.

"Before all this, I was just a simple girl, no makeup, no hair, no heels, just a normal girl finishing my education," Isler said in an interview with The Associated Press. "This just changed my life. This made me feel confidently beautiful. ... Now I'm happy with myself every day. I learned to be happy. I grew up in every way, as a daughter, as a sister, as a girlfriend, as a friend. It transformed my life."

The 5-foot-10 Venezuelan carries her country's flag with intense pride, even as her nation continues to battle over economy and politics. Being an example for women in her country was a top priority during her time as Miss Universe, and once it ends Isler plans to step up her efforts by combating a massive problem with teen pregnancy in her homeland.

"During my reign, I discovered myself," Isler said. "I want to continue doing a lot of things related to humanitarian efforts, so one of my new chapters will be maybe becoming a spokesperson for different organizations, but my first one is my baby — starting my own foundation in Venezuela that can help create awareness and bring education and family values to young girls and young women."

Choking levels of inflation and shortages of basic goods are part of the norm in Venezuela, where beauty pageants are big business and a source of national pride.

"With all that's happening in Venezuela, to have a chance to be a good-news person for my country I feel so satisifed," Isler said. "I did as much as I can — not just to represent the Miss Universe organization but also my country."

There is symmetry to her reign ending South Florida, which has a massive Latin population and is the place that Isler says will be her second home.

The Miss Universe pageant itself will be at Florida International University in Miami, but many of the preliminary events leading up to the big night will be in the nearby suburb of Doral, Florida — which has an enormous Venezuelan population.

"I was dreaming to give my crown in Venezuela," Isler said. "But to have this opportunity to end this reign and close a chapter in my life around the Venezuelan community, this Latin environment, this Latin energy, I couldn't ask for a better place."

When asked if one day stood out among all others during her reign, Isler didn't hesitate. She quickly chose Sept. 3, the day she went to the Vatican, heard Pope Francis speak about the role of women in the church and received a blessing from the pontiff.

"I was not able to sleep the day before because I was so excited," Isler said. "I couldn't believe it was real. I was like, 'Really, I'm going to meet the Pope?' I went to the Vatican and I couldn't stop crying and I could cry again. It was a dream. ... I was in tears. I didn't know I was awake. ... That day I realized, this was real."

Isler expects to shed tears on pageant night, not because her time as Miss Universe will be over but out of both fear and excitement for whatever will happen next.

"I can't wait to wake up and just enjoy the day," Isler said. "Have a breakfast in bed and just have the opportunity to have the first official day where I can make my own decisions and start my dreams."

She won't sit idle for long.

Her first meeting is already scheduled — for Jan. 26.