Young pageant queen's winning ways


July 20, 1999|By John J. Snyder | John J. Snyder,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

MIRACYLE Christine Graves wears two crowns. The 10-year-old Columbia resident, who has caught the pageant bug, is the reigning Miss Pre-Teen Baltimore and the first Little Miss Juneteenth.

Doctors could not predict this when she came into the world in November 1988, three months premature and weighing only 1 pound, 14 ounces. Her mother, Theresa Chevalier, 37, was also a "preemie" and knew about the potential difficulty. She has had several surgeries to correct spinal problems and has internal organs that did not fully develop.

"You have to name that baby Miracle," said Theresa's mother, Christine Chevalier, in the hospital room after the birth. Elizabeth Yende, Theresa's sister calling from Florida, echoed the thought: "Yes, because she truly is a miracle baby."

Given a 50-50 chance of survival by physicians at the University of Maryland Medical Center, Miracyle proved to be a fighter from birth. She made steady progress and was released from the hospital after only seven weeks.

The baby has grown into a cheerful spirit. She charms teachers at Phelps Luck Elementary School with her scholastic ability and social confidence. Report cards show mostly A's. She hopes the next pageant judges will see that, too.

Next month, Miracyle and her mother will fly to Las Vegas, where Miracyle will compete against contestants from the United States and Canada for the crown of Miss Pre-Teen North America. "The people of the Baltimore area should be proud to have her represent them in Las Vegas," said Michael Fasline, event coordinator for Coast-to-Coast Pageants, sponsor of the contest.

Miracyle's winning personality also has caught the attention of others looking for the right combination of poise and grace. In May, pageant officials asked her to crown the new Miss Washington D.C. at Howard University.

While there, she met Morning Sunday Hettleman, director of the National Juneteenth Museum in Baltimore. Hettleman was scouting for the perfect Little Miss Juneteenth.

The museum commemorates the official end of slavery in America. Juneteenth is the name used for the day -- June 19, 1865 -- when word of the Emancipation Proclamation reached Texas, the last state to free slaves.

The directors of the 8-year-old museum on Charles Street decided to hold a contest to pick a young lady to represent them to the nation. Miracyle -- who used to live in Long Reach village but whose family recently moved to Harper's Choice -- entered and won the mini-pageant.

"Miss Juneteenth is someone who overcomes insurmountable obstacles to get where they are," said Hettleman, explaining the selection criteria. "The circumstances of Miracyle's birth, with her excellent schoolwork and community interest, made her an ideal candidate. She is an all-around American girl."

Miracyle is also a candidate for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of Maryland's Goodwill Ambassador program.

Last spring, Chevalier was at Oakland Mills Middle School, where Miracyle was taking math enrichment classes. There she saw a poster describing Camp Holiday Trails and sent in an application for Miracyle.

The camp, in partnership with the Asthma and Allergy Foundation, is designed to give chronically ill children an opportunity to share a typical summer experience. Medical support lets the kids enjoy themselves without leaving the site.

Miracyle and her mother suffer from asthma. Miracyle was accepted on a full financial scholarship for a two-week session last month.

Shortly after meeting with a review panel, AAF Director of Program Services Ernestine Holley, in Los Angeles on business, read a newspaper story about Baltimore's Juneteenth celebration. It included a photo of Miracyle Graves.

When Holley returned to Baltimore, she suggested that Miracyle apply to the Goodwill Ambassador program, which has three Maryland representatives who speak to groups about AAF services. Chevalier and Miracyle readily agreed.

Mother and daughter have struggled against difficulties all their lives. Now the family is overwhelmed by all the attention.

The tangible rewards come mostly as gifts, trophies, flowers and jewelry -- never enough to pay a month's rent. It is the satisfaction of being recognized for never giving up that means the most to them.

"I'm uplifted by all of this," Chevalier said. "People have been very generous towards us; I feel we are blessed."

Miracyle is enjoying summer. A visit to an aunt in South Carolina is all that matters right now. Of pageants and the attention she says, "I like it," adding quickly, "I hope I win in Las Vegas, but if I don't that's OK, too."

For more information, call the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of Maryland at 410-321-4710. The Baltimore Juneteenth Museum invites browsers to its Web site,


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