Rachel Sonntag, left, stands with her mother, Cathy Sonntag, in downtown Craig. The two participated in a mother-daughter beauty pageant together in March in Denver. They both qualified, separately, for a national competition next month in St. Louis.

Photo by Ben McCanna

Rachel Sonntag, left, stands with her mother, Cathy Sonntag, in downtown Craig. The two participated in a mother-daughter beauty pageant together in March in Denver. They both qualified, separately, for a national competition next month in St. Louis.

Craig mother, daughter qualify for national pageant

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Quotable:

“I was an absolute nervous wreck. I don’t think I breathed at all throughout the entire thing.”

—Cathy Sonntag, a Craig resident, on her first beauty pageant at 41 years old

Craig resident Cathy Sonntag is 41, a single mother, and a reluctant beauty queen.

“It’s my daughter’s fault,” Cathy said. “She’s the one who roped me into it.”

In March, Cathy and her daughter, 14-year-old Rachel Sonntag, traveled to Denver to participate in a Dream Girls USA pageant. The Sonntags took top honors in their respective divisions and qualified for the Dream Girls USA 2011 Nationals from July 14 through 17 in St. Louis.

Cathy said her participation in the Denver event was a lark.

It began last fall when her daughter was asked to participate in the Miss Yampa Valley Pageant in Craig.

“One of the ladies who helped put it on, she shocked my daughter,” Cathy recalled. “She said, ‘I think you would be perfect for this,’ and Rachel was like, ‘What? A beauty pageant? Are you kidding me?’”

Rachel signed on and won first place in the junior teen division.

After her win, Rachel asked Cathy to join her in a mother-daughter division at the state level.

Cathy said she was hesitant, but then she learned more about Dream Girls USA, the group that organizes the pageants.

“Dream Girls is a Christian-based organization,” Cathy said. “It’s not like a church group, but it definitely has its morals and values behind it.”

Cathy said Dream Girls USA foregoes the typical beauty pageant trappings like swimsuit competitions.

“Their motto is they want the girl to wear the dress, not the dress to wear the girl,” she said. “They look at confidence, self-assurance, self-esteem, and all that.

“They do this to build up young girls who do have low self-esteem. My daughter is funny. She said, ‘Well, Mom, that’s prefect for you because you don’t have any self-esteem,’” Cathy recalled with a laugh.

Cathy and Rachel competed in a mother-daughter event, and they also competed separately.

Cathy said standing alone on stage wasn’t easy.

“I was an absolute nervous wreck,” she said. “I don’t think I breathed at all throughout the entire thing. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever been through in my entire life. I’m a really shy person, and I do lack in confidence and self-esteem.

“At one point I thought I was going to start bawling because I was just shaking like a leaf.”

The Sonntags lost the mother-daughter event by two points, but they won separately.

Rachel won the talent contest for her performance of “The Climb” by Miley Cyrus. Cathy took first place in her division, an honor she didn’t immediately trust.

“I felt like I won by default because, at the last minute, the other two contestants who were in my division backed out,” she said. “I was like, ‘This doesn’t really help my self-esteem.’”

But, Cathy said the program director helped set her mind at ease.

“She said, ‘Cathy, come here a minute, let me show you something.’ She took me over to the judges’ table and she showed me the numbers from the division that was behind me and she said, ‘You beat everybody in that division, too,’” Cathy said.

Cathy said she’s looking forward to the national competition because of the camaraderie.

“When you go to one of these, it’s pretty awesome because everybody is like one huge family,” she said. “If you run out of something, they’ll help you out. Everybody shares shampoo, everybody shares curling irons.

“It was a crazy, crazy experience and I absolutely loved it.”

The trip to St. Louis will be expensive, however.

Cathy said she might put together some fundraisers in coming weeks.

Rachel said she’s proud of her mother.

“I was really, really excited that my mom had done well and that we could both go on to nationals together, that we could continue on as a mother-daughter thing even though we didn’t win the mother-daughter division,” she said. “It’s a way for me and my mom to connect.

“I think it definitely helped us grow closer together.”

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