Fit For A Crown
Chelsea Hardin never thought of herself as a beauty queen. She’s an athlete. So when the star volleyball player was persuaded to enter Miss Hawaii USA last year, she simply took her competitive drive from the court to the stage of what was her very first pageant and scored the prestigious crown. Now she’s hoping for another ace as she competes for the title of Miss USA 2016 June 5 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, which will be broadcast on Fox (7-10 p.m. ET live, tape-delayed in Hawaii).
“I came home from traveling and was waitressing for a little bit, and one of the committee members came in and convinced me to enter,” recalls Hardin, 24. “After a few weeks and months, I learned more about it, and realized this is a great opportunity to learn about myself, to grow and hopefully help me with hair and makeup because I never used to do all that. I said, why not, I’ll give it a try.”
Hardin, who grew up in Kaneohe and lives in Aina Haina, is a 2009 graduate of Iolani School, where she was a three-year letter winner and three-time All-Inter-scholastic League of Hawaii first-team honoree in volleyball, as well as member of the paddling team. She received a five-year athletic scholarship to California Polytechnic State University, and graduated with a degree in anthropology and geography, along with a minor in ethnic studies. She’s been playing volleyball since she was 12, and was a member of ASICS Rainbows and Imi Ike volleyball clubs.
“I was actually a cheerleader for a very long time, but I kept growing, and getting taller and taller (she’s 5-foot-11), and my mom said, ‘Please try volleyball,’ so I did and I stuck with it,” says Hardin. “So it’s been a passion of mine, and I was lucky enough to play in college, and have that as a segue to move off the island and experience the Mainland and the broader world.
“Being an athlete definitely has shaped who I am, and I used what I learned in college being an athlete into this pageant. Just the mental focus, the mindset — hard work and determination, and if you want something, practice, repetition until you get it right.”
Since winning Miss Hawaii USA last November, Hardin admits it already has provided many new opportunities for her, including job offers. She’s also made countless appearances at various charity events, filled in as co-host on Living 808, and has become even more of an inspiration to others. She also has mastered the art of walking across a stage in heels without falling, which she considers a new talent.
“There are a lot of open doors that, if I didn’t have the title, I wouldn’t have access to, so I’m definitely taking advantage of those opportunities and doing a lot of networking,” she adds. “I’ve met some amazing people and I’ve gotten to travel to some places, such as L.A. But most of all (this experience) has really made me realize that I influence people and motivate people, and what’s awesome about that is I am inspiring people by just being myself and living the life I get to live — the life that I preach, which is a healthy lifestyle and being beautifully confident. I find that amazing and it’s changed my life.”
When she’s not busy fulfilling her duties as Miss Hawaii USA, you can find Hardin working as an instructor and coach for Hawaii Speed & Quickness. It’s a job that she is devoted to and hopes to expand by possibly implementing new programs or taking what they’re doing now to the next level.
“We really emphasize having a healthy lifestyle,” she says, noting that she works with the nonprofit side of the organization. “We work with kids and we try to target underprivileged kids and communities. We provide them with clinics to learn correct techniques to set them on the right path, and we talk about the importance of being drug-free. Promoting a healthy lifestyle, especially to kids, I consider that a passion of mine.”
Hardin admits she had thoughts of a professional volleyball career overseas, which is what many of her teammates are doing, but she tore her Achilles tendon during her senior year in college, which ultimately steered her life in a different direction.
“I really had to think, OK, that’s not in my future, now what?” she says.
With no prior modeling experience, who would’ve thought it would involve gowns with sequins and ruffles?
One thing’s for sure, though: No matter where she goes, she can rely on her family for support, including older brother Brandon Hardin, whom she calls her role model.
“He was in the NFL (drafted in the third round by the Chicago Bears and later signed by the New York Jets),” says Hardin, who also has two step-brothers and a younger half-sister, Mahina. “Right now he’s an entrepreneur (he founded Tiny Pacific Houses). He had a successful college football career (at Oregon State University), attained his goal of playing in the NFL, and then had it stripped away (because of injuries), and to see him be able to bounce back is very motivational.”
Hardin was born on the Big Island and moved to Oahu at age 2, eventually attending Ahuimanu Elementary School and Le Jardin Academy before transferring to Iolani for high school. She’s a mix of Hawaiian, Chinese, Filipino, Portuguese and Spanish from her mom (real estate agent Christine Mitchell), and Dutch, Irish, English, French and Scandinavian from her dad (Hawaiian Airlines pilot Kevin Hardin).
Hardin also loves to travel, something she says she got to do a lot while growing up. She even went to South Africa to do some volunteer work two years ago.
“In college, I took a cultural studies class, which was anthropology, and fell in love with it,” she says. “I love to travel, and once
I was learning more about cultures and how we interact and how this world is such a melting pot, I realized that’s something I want to learn more about — cultures, evolution, anthropology, geography and how this earth works.
“(For a career), I’m leaning more toward the geography side. I’d love to do more humanitarian work, finding a nonprofit that allows me to have a home base here, and at the same time travel and hopefully implement a system that really helps aid less-developed countries.”
Until then, Hardin, who describes herself as a home-body, is focused on becoming the next Miss USA.
“This whole experience in this competition has really opened my eyes to the pageantry world, and I have a newfound respect for anyone who does pageants,” she says. “It takes a lot of nerves to go on a stage and be judged and accept that criticism.”
Meet all 52 Miss USA contestants, view live streaming of events and vote your favorite to a spot in the Top 15 via the Miss U app available for free download.