Photo courtesy of Caitlin O’Neill

Miss Rhode Island North America was crowned and she walks amongst the class of 2018. Caitlin O’Neill, 22, won the heart of the judges and the title of Miss Rhode Island North America on Jan. 7.

“I was so excited,” O’Neill said. “I worked so incredibly hard for that moment and it was kind of just all surreal just being up there. It was kind of just, all a blur. It was definitely a moment I will never forget.”

This isn’t O’Neill’s first step into the spotlight. She’s been competing in pageants since she was 10-years-old. O’Neill says that competing at a young age grounded a path for her that was worthwhile. She says that practicing skills for each part of the pageant allowed her to grow into the young woman she is today.

“I was on a stage introducing myself in front of hundreds of people and I was wearing a gown that I loved, feeling unstoppable,” she said. “Pageants can be one of those opportunities that make you really grow into yourself at a young age. I gained so much confidence through competing.”

O’Neill had won a number of titles before Miss Rhode Island, such as National American Miss Massachusetts Teen 2012, Miss Massachusetts Teen USA Ambassador, Miss North East, Miss US of America Gold Queen, America’s Yankee Miss, Miss Southern Rhode Island and Miss Southern New England. Although she won a number of titles, she didn’t place in every pageant she competed in. O’Neill believes that setbacks fire-up her soul to set goals for each pageant.

“The goal doesn’t even have to be winning,” O’Neill says. “Whether I’m walking out with a banner and crown or not, at the end of the day, it’s just a sparkly hat and I have a new job. But if I can achieve the goal that I set myself before the pageant weekend, then I win in the end.” She said it’s important to visualize her goals everyday to hone in her focus, so she created a vision board that hangs in her closet so she can look at it every day.

Winning takes a ton of practice, heart, time and effort. O’Neill’s training consists of working with a personal trainer and interview coach. On top of her training, she is a public relations and communication studies double major and journalism minor. She works as the Program Co-Coordinator for the URI Tour Guide Team where she manages over 100 college students. O’Neill also works as the live on-air lottery announcer of the winning Daily Numbers and Wild Money numbers for the Rhode Island Lottery at Twin River Casino. How does she do it all? She says it’s all about planning ahead and relying on her spiral planner, where she writes down every aspect she needs to cover throughout the day.

“I am a very driven and goal oriented person,” O’Neill said. “So being busy and doing things constantly is what drives me. I’m the type of person that likes to start my day at 7 a.m. and have a full day and make sure I’m living my life the best that I can.”

O’Neill is excited to start her year of service representing Rhode Island and promoting her personal platform, “A New Leash On Life: The Importance of Helping Animals in Need.” Through O’Neill’s platform she makes and sells bracelets to raise money for handicapped pets and promotes the adoption of shelter animals. She was inspired to take up this cause after she adopted her three-legged dog and best friend, Koda.

“She is my absolute life,” O’Neill said. “Unfortunately for her she spent the first couple of years of her life in a shelter sitting there unadopted because nobody wanted her, just because she is a little bit different. After we did adopt her she really inspired me to advocate for animals just like her with disabilities that don’t have a voice.”

O’Neill will go on to compete for the title of Miss North America in June. She ended our time with advice for anyone who has a dream they want.

“Absolutely never give up,” said O’Neill. “Make your goals small and big. Those goals will drive you.”