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Fall can't stop Newport woman's rise to Ms. America title

It was her chance to shine — to take the stage at Brea's Curtis Theatre and make a run for the title of Ms. America.

But as Oksana Vovk prepared to show off her evening wear during Saturday's pageant, the Newport Beach lawyer and Ms. California Coast titleholder fell.

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She jumped back up and completed her walk for the judges. But afterward, Vovk's thoughts turned to her family. Her mother, sister and son were in the audience, and she was instantly worried for them.

Vovk texted her sister that she wasn't hurt and wasn't crying.

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"My sister said my mom was worried I was going to be crying or not come out," Vovk said.

One of her motivations for finishing the walk was the dress. Her mother had made it for her, and Vovk spent six months sewing on sequins.

"I was going to show off that dress," she said.

Ultimately, it was all worth it. Vovk, 40, ended up walking off the stage as Ms. America 2017, beating out 42 other contestants in the national pageant for women 26 and older.

"Honestly, I was blown away," Vovk said this week. "Every woman was amazing."

The competitors came from a variety of backgrounds and professions, including engineering, medicine and business.

"She wasn't competing against idiots," said pageant Chief Executive Susan Jeske. "She was just meant to win."

In the beginning, Jeske told Vovk that her chance of winning — as with all the women — was slim so as to not get her hopes up.

As that hope appeared to dim with her fall, the other contestants showed their true nature, Vovk said.

"They all came up to me after to ask if I was hurt, if I was OK. They were sincere — you can tell," she said.

The mishap also was an opportunity for Vovk, a Ukraine native who became a U.S. citizen in 2008, to show the kind of woman she is.

Most competitors wouldn't be able to fall, jump up and continue, Jeske said.

"It psyches you out," she said. "Then she comes back for the question portion and incorporates it into the answer."

Reigning Ms. America 2016 Julie Harmon asked Vovk, "Do you feel successes or failures contribute more to a person's character?"

Vovk replied: "I think both are equally important. I think I was a perfect example of this tonight. I fell, I rose and I walked the stage like the queen that I am."

The judges gave Vovk a perfect score for that, Jeske said.

Jeske, who picks all the contestants from all over the country through an application and interview process, said much of the pageant judging is done before the stage show, based on a panel interview, sportswear and evening gown.

Vovk won by a pageant record 14 points, Jeske said. Most titleists win by one or two points, she said.

Now Vovk will take on new responsibilities as Ms. America, along with a lot of attention.

"I've gotten 250 Facebook requests," she said.

She will make many appearances, several of which she hopes will be in support of helping children with special needs. Her 19-year-old son has autism, and since becoming a Ms. America contestant, she has spent much of her time talking about and supporting the fight against autism, largely at fundraising walks.

Saturday's show almost didn't go on. Days earlier, the company scheduled to provide the staging, Costa Mesa-based BTB Event Productions Inc., liquidated its assets.

Jeske was able to find DJE Sound and Lighting Inc. of Lake Forest to step in.

Though it cost more money, the pageant will be able to keep the runway and other set pieces, Jeske said.

"In the end, they were heroes," she said.

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