Not long after Renee D. Rebstock was crowned Miss Maryland-USA Sunday night, her sky-high emotions took an unexpected nose dive.
From the back of the limo where she and her parents and friends were sharing champagne on their way to a party, Rebstock saw police cruisers and fire engines up ahead, and then her cousin's car -- also coming from the Baltimore pageant -- in a ditch.
Only later did the 21-year-old Pasadena resident realize how she must have looked running down Route 100 in her sash and tiara and prize fur coat, which she threw over her injured cousin.
The cousin and her husband were released from the hospital in time for the party -- and in good enough spirits -- to joke the accident scene counted as Rebstock's first public appearance.
It certainly wasn't the place Rebstock ever thought she'd be when she finally achieved her 7-year-old dream, the same goal stated in her high school yearbook: the chance to compete for the Miss USA title.
By yesterday, as the formerMiss Maryland Teen sat among roses and balloons in Rumors, the Pasadena beauty salon she runs with her mother, Helen Neisser, the shock of the accident had worn off enough for the full meaning of the new title to sink in.
"It is a challenge," said Rebstock, a slender, blue-eyed blond dressed in a red suede minidress and matching pumps. "It's just going to be a great experience for me to represent my state, because I have lived here all my life."
Rebstock, a Chesapeake High School graduate who's now vice president of Rumors, has entered pageants since she was 14. Without her knowledge, her father entered herin the Miss Maryland Teen pageant that year.
She won that one in 1987 and competed in Miss Teen USA in El Paso, Texas. She went on to compete in Miss Maryland-USA every year since 1989.
Each of those four years she came close to winning the state title, racking up enough points in the swimsuit, evening gown and personality segments to earn the first runner-up spot. Each win fueled her determination.
"I knew I had to work harder the next year," Rebstock said.
Workingharder has meant workouts four times a week in the gym where she mether boyfriend, a title-holding bodybuilder who has helped her get inshape. It's meant following healthy protein diets and choosing just the right wardrobe. Between pageants, she has modeled for a swimsuit calendar and for a Virginia agency.
This year her work paid off.
As she stood Sunday night at the Radisson Hotel among five finalists, chosen from 45 pageant contestants, she listened as the master of ceremonies announced the second runner-up, then the first runner-up. Unlike the four previous years, she didn't hear her name.
"I was so used to hearing my name called for first runner-up," she said. "Then I thought, 'Uh-oh.' My mind was going in every direction."
Afterbeing announced as the winner, "For the first five seconds it didn'thit me," she said. "Then the tears started pouring. Then everyone was crying."
From the audience, Rebstock's mother missed the crowning.
"I was knocked over by everyone hugging me," said Neisser, who replayed her husband's videotape of the winning moment yesterday for salon employees and customers.
Now, besides preparing to compete in February's Miss USA pageant, Rebstock plans to make as many public appearances as she can, including work with DARE, a police drug awareness program for schoolchildren. Rebstock's father, Anne Arundel County police officer Harry Neisser, helps run the program.
Four days a week, she'll continue styling hair and giving manicures at the salon she hopes to expand someday into a full beauty, health and fitness center.
Yesterday, Rebstock's father ran into a school secretary, one of his daughter's clients, who asked whether Miss Maryland still does hair.
"Oh, yes," her father assured her.