DERRY - Since being crowned Miss New Hampshire in May, Megan Cooley has been preparing to walk on an even bigger stage.
The 20-year-old Auburn resident is scheduled to leave for Atlantic City on Monday to pursue her dream of becoming the next Miss America, something no other Miss New Hampshire winner has ever achieved.
The Miss America 2014 Competition is scheduled to air on ABC at 8 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 14.
"I made a goal after Miss New Hampshire to try to do at least one thing every day in preparation to become Miss America because I only had four months to prepare," Cooley said Friday in a phone interview.During her reign as Miss New Hampshire, Cooley has tried to give back to her home state by participating in various charitable events.
She took part in the Gail Singer Memorial Blood Drive and played a role in a flash mob to fight childhood homelessness in Manchester.
Cooley said she has dedicated herself to serving as Miss New Hampshire and is taking a year off from attending classes at the University of New Hampshire.
"I'm busy every day, and I just don't think I could dedicate myself enough to my studies or Miss New Hampshire if I was trying to split them," she said.
During her first two years at UNH, Cooley earned an impressive 3.92 GPA with two majors - neuroscience and psychology. Her career ambition is to become a pediatric oncologist and work at Boston Children's Hospital.
She won the 68th Miss New Hampshire competition despite having laryngitis. She found the vocal strength to perform the song "On My Way" and impressed the judges with her tenacity.It's that type of drive that has helped Cooley make the most of her limited time before the national pageant. She said she has been working out faithfully, performing different strength and aerobic routines. She trains with weights three days a week and then alternates with cardio exercises on the off days.
Under the training program, the amount of weight and the number of repetitions vary slightly each day, she said.
"So my body never knows what to expect and that has helped me really tone up," Cooley said.
She has even flown to Missouri to work with a vocal coach who has helped a number of former Miss America winners.
Claudette Jolin, co-executive director of the Miss New Hampshire Scholarship Program, has been impressed by Cooley's determination and singing prowess.
"She's an incredible singer," said Jolin, who often accompanies Cooley at public appearances. "She has awesome singing power."
To prepare for the upcoming pageant, Cooley has also been participating in mock interviews. And she has benefitted by simply being at various public events and answering questions posed by young fans.
"Going out in public is the best interview preparation I could get because little kids truly say the darnedest things," she said. "They ask the craziest questions, but it puts me on my toes, so I'm ready for any type of question."
Cooley said she knows from experience that winning pageants can pay off in scholarship awards.
She won $14,000 in college scholarship funds from the Miss New Hampshire competition and has earned $31,000 in scholarships during her four years of competing in pageants.
She said a lot of people aren't familiar in New Hampshire and across the country with the availability of scholarships.
"There's so much money for girls to pursue their dreams and go to college," she said. "And that's something that I want to keep pushing."
An online People's Choice vote link will allow one contestant to make the top 15 Miss America finalists based on the number of votes received. To vote for a contestant, go to www.Miss America.org/vote.