A new Miss Philadelphia is crowned

Lauren Bilski, from Wilkes-Barre, was crowned this year's Miss Philadelphia late Saturday night. ( Richard Kauffman / Staff Photographer )
Lauren Bilski, from Wilkes-Barre, was crowned this year's Miss Philadelphia late Saturday night. ( Richard Kauffman / Staff Photographer )
Posted: April 01, 2012

Ten years ago on April 5, Lauren Bilski was on the edge of her 12th-row seat next to her dad watching her beloved Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins play, when a hockey puck hurtled off the ice, slammed her in the mouth, fractured her jaw and knocked out three teeth.

Her father, Joe, remembers hearing the sickening thud of the impact, and turning to see his shocked daughter holding her face. Lauren, who was 10 at the time, remembers the blood drenching her favorite Penguins jersey which had been signed by all the team's players.

"Now, I'll never be pretty," she told her mother during the weeks that followed.

How wrong she was.

Saturday night, Lauren was crowned Miss Philadelphia before a sold-out audience at the Drexel University Mandel Theater. The pageant serves as the preliminary round in the Miss America competition.

A junior at Drexel where she is double majoring in dance and physical therapy, the 20-year-old performed an original jazz dance to the Glee version of "Don't Rain on My Parade." She also spoke about her deep interest in working as an advocate for victims of traumatic brain injury.

She was inspired, she said, by a little girl who was her dance student. "One day during class, she said she had a headache, so I called her mother and said she needed to go home."

The next day she learned that the child, who was 7, had contracted encephalitis and was in a coma. Now 12, the girl is just learning to walk again.

Through their friendship, Lauren became a counselor with Camp Cranium, a one-week camp for children with brain injuries. "I go home and cry my eyes out every year," Lauren said. "But it's so amazing to see these kids who have been in car accidents or have cancer or who had strokes, be able to go on zip lines or climb rock walls and go swimming."

The Miss Philadelphia pageant, now in its 91st year, is primarily a scholarship program, said U.S. Army Col. Kevin McAleese, executive director of the organization for 16 years.

McAleese said he felt a special connection to the winner this year because he suffered a traumatic brain injury during a helicopter crash while serving in Iraq.

"I'm going to go out in the community, working with vets and with children to help create programs and raise money for research," Lauren said.

McAleese thanked her, with tears welling. "It's going to make a tremendous, tremendous difference."


Contact Melissa Dribben at 215-854-2590 or mdribben@phillynews.com.

 

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