RCW: Once a Jayhawk, Always a Jayhawk: Catherine Carmichael
Catherine Carmichael vividly remembers being 5 years old and sitting down to watch a pageant for the first time with her grandmother, Marlys Portinga, at her house in Manhattan, Kansas.
“One day, we were sitting on the couch when I was a little girl and we ended up watching the Miss USA pageant,” Carmichael said. “It was a great bonding moment with my grandma. Every year after that we made it ‘our thing’ to watch the Miss USA pageant together.”
Despite being every bit of a tomboy who was involved in every sport Manhattan had to offer young kids, Carmichael took a break each and every year to sit down and watch Miss USA. She and Marlys watched every single year together even if it meant they had to do it over the phone.
“I was into sports from a very early age,” said Carmichael. “Growing up with three brothers everything in our house was all about competition. When I watched Miss USA each year, it was a special time for just me and my grandma. We were looking at these beautiful, intelligent women in these amazing gowns, but at the end of the day it was still a competition.”
At the age of 17, Carmichael received a random flyer in the mail with information about the Miss Kansas Teen USA pageant. Excitedly, she signed up for the pageant and has never looked back.
As Carmichael’s itch to compete in pageants was just taking off, her athletic career was already in full bloom. While she excelled in basketball at Manhattan High School, a visit from Kansas volleyball head coach Ray Bechard quickly shifted her athletic path from hoops to volleyball. Following that meeting with Bechard, Carmichael made the trek from Manhattan to Lawrence to become a member of the Jayhawks volleyball program.
After paying her dues and moving up the ranks early in her KU career, Carmichael began to stand out during her later collegiate years.
As a junior in 2012, she ended the season ranked third on the team with kills (297) and blocks (75), while helping guide the Jayhawks to the NCAA Tournament. In postseason play, she came up big for her team, including recording 11 kills in an NCAA First Round win over Cleveland State. She added 13 kills against Wichita State, but KU fell short against the Shockers and were ousted from the tournament.
In her final season as Jayhawk, Carmichael registered 228 kills, ranking fifth on the team, including posting a career-high 19 kills against Arkansas. In a rematch against Wichita State, the Jayhawks were able to best the Shockers in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament behind Carmichael’s 11 kills. Carmichael ended her KU playing career on a high note as she helped lead the Jayhawks to their first-ever NCAA Sweet 16 appearance in 2013.
Although she hung up her Jayhawk uniform following her senior volleyball season, Carmichael still devotes many hours of each day to Kansas Athletics as she is entering her third season as the assistant director of recruiting for Kansas football. In her role on head coach David Beaty’s staff, Carmichael is responsible for all of KU’s on-campus recruiting efforts and is also instrumental in all aspects of the Jayhawks’ football recruiting efforts.
With her volleyball playing days over and her time in the work force getting settled, Carmichael was in search of a way to maintain scratching that competitive itch of hers, so she made a return to pageants.
“While most people just see the glitz and glamour of the pageants, it truly is a competition, and that is what I enjoy most about it,” said Carmichael. “There is a lot of preparation that goes into a pageant and then you only get one shot a year at winning so you have to be at your absolute best when that time rolls around. It is extremely challenging.”
Carmichael is able to relate her competitive instincts in volleyball to pageants. Just like she studied to prepare to face the next opponent on the volleyball court, Carmichael emphasized that she does the same thing while preparing for pageants.
“I have to be very well versed in many topics,” said Carmichael. “I have to know all of the current events going on in the world. Anything and everything is on the table for scouts to ask in the interviews, ranging from politics, to pop-culture, to sports. It is a huge task preparing for the possible questions that may come my way.”
The old saying goes, ‘the third times the charm,’ and for Carmichael those words rang true. After coming so close to winning in her first two attempts at Miss Kansas USA, a well-prepared Carmichael took the crown on her third go-round in late November of 2016.
As the current reigning Miss Kansas, Carmichael does more than just wear a crown, as pageants have shaped her everyday life in an impactful way. She keeps a very busy schedule making appearances and speaking to various groups about her cause, which is childhood cancer awareness.
“It’s not always about the glitz and glamour,” said Carmichael. “One of the main reasons I got involved in the Miss USA pageants was because of the community outreach opportunities. I have a mission to raise awareness and funds for childhood cancer research as my brother, Jamison, is a cancer survivor. Being Miss Kansas gives me a huge platform to share that passion.”
While her turn as Miss Kansas USA is nearing its halfway mark, her pageant competition is in high gear as Carmichael will be competing in the Miss USA pageant on May 14.
“It was an amazing moment to be crowned Miss Kansas, but that was just the beginning for me,” said Carmicheal. “My overall goal is to be that woman my grandmother and I watched on TV all those years. I want to be Miss USA.”
With that goal in mind, Carmichael has ramped up her training. She has been working diligently to prepare for May’s pageant, including hiring a strength and conditioning coach, going to multiple dress fittings and even attending two boot camps to prepare for the intense week of competition she will enter at Miss USA.
“The purpose of the boot camps is to prepare us for the real pageant in as many ways as possible,” explained Carmichael. “We have to learn how to be our own stylist when it comes to our hair and makeup. We work on all of that, plus the all-important walk that all of the great winners own.”
While all of this work to prepare for Miss USA has been somewhat draining, Carmichael has more than welcomed the challenge and stressed that despite her hectic schedule between her work at KU and serving as Miss Kansas, pageantry has actually taught her a lot about patience throughout the process.
“It is just like sports, you work hard and you prepare and train and train and train,” said Carmichael. “And then you just have to focus, trust in yourself, relax and enjoy the moment.”
With all her final touches in the works, Carmichael will head to Las Vegas on May 3, joining 50 other hopefuls as they begin the process of competing for 2017 Miss USA, which will air live on FOX on Sunday, May 14.
What all started as a bonding moment with her grandmother, Marlys, on a couch more than 20 years ago, is quickly becoming another dream fulfilled for Carmichael.
“It is surreal when I go out in public and I can hear whispers of people talking about Miss Kansas,” said Carmichael. “I am just living out my dream and I am loving every second of it.”
Once a Jayhawk, Always a Jayhawk.