COBRAM teen Mariah Tejones is dreaming big after being named a finalist in Miss Teen Galaxy Australia.
However, things have not always been rosy for the resilient 14-year-old.
In fact, much of Mariah’s childhood has been spent in a place no young child deserves to grow up — the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne.
She has endured heart complications and undergone four major hip surgeries.
Despite the countless operations and time spent away from the comforts of her own bed, she has never let her illness define her.
Instead, she is using those character-defining experiences to drive her forward, according to her mother Jodie Miller.
‘‘Even though she spends a lot of time at the hospital having major surgeries, she never feels sorry for herself,’’ Ms Miller said.
‘‘It doesn’t hold her back but rather pushes her more.
‘‘She’s just trying to get it out there that if bad stuff does happen and you get set-backs, don’t ever sit back and wait for things to happen, keep pushing yourself.’’
Thankfully for Mariah, that sense of intrinsic motivation has led her to this juncture: selected as one of only three Victorians to make the final cut of 22 contestants for the beauty pageant, and the only one from country Victoria.
It all started after she uploaded her information on a talent agency website called StarNow — which puts members forward for acting, dancing and modelling jobs.
At first, Mariah did not even contemplate applying for Miss Teen Galaxy.
‘‘We kind of looked at it and thought no way would a little girl from Cobram get selected because Australia is a big place, but then the agency pushed twice for her to apply so we did, thinking we had nothing to lose, and here we are,’’ Ms Miller said.
As part of the pageant requirement, the girls are instructed to get out into their communities and make a difference.
For Mariah, the obvious choice was the Royal Children’s Hospital.
She has also set up a GoFundMe page, with donations to go directly to the Make a Wish Foundation – the charity associated with the pageant.
‘‘I had to pick a charity to support and I’ve spent lots of time at the Royal Children’s and have seen the effects that serious illness has on the kids there so I wanted to try and make a difference,’’ Mariah said.
For now, her focus will be fully fixated on preparations for the finals, to be held at Surfers Paradise from March 14-18.
Her fundraising efforts will continue around town in an effort to help ease the financial burden on the family for the expensive trip.
She has also been sponsored by Amy Newton Dance Studios in Shepparton and Mentha’s of Cobram.
If Mariah is successful, she will represent Australia at the Miss Teen Galaxy World Finals in the US in June.