LEON — Mason County’s Ashley Durst has the rare combination of both outer and inner beauty that makes her a natural for the pageant she is competing in Saturday.
Durst, of Leon, is one of nine contestants vying for the title of Mrs. West Virginia at the Charleston Civic Center. She isn’t competing for herself or the prestige of the crown, however, but to prove to her Special Olympics family to always “reach for the top.”
Durst has been involved in Special Olympics since the age of 5.
“My brother is an athlete, so it’s always been a huge part of my life,” Durst said.
She stated she has wanted to start a local pageant for people with special needs, but felt if she was going to direct a pageant, she needed to know what it was like to be in one. Beginning three years ago, Durst decided to start her journey to the Mrs. West Virginia title.
“I had also been going through a rough time and my self-esteem was at an all-time low, so I figured a pageant was a way to help both problems,” Durst said. “After telling some of my Special Olympics athletes what my plan was, I was told by them that since I always push them to reach for the top that I, too, had to do the same.”
Durst, 32, is the wife of Karl Durst. She qualified for the Mrs. West Virginia pageant after winning the title of Mrs. Appalachian Festival last August in Beckley. When not competing, she works at a domestic violence shelter in Gallipolis, and is the owner of Shutter Creations photography, something she describes as more of a hobby than a business.
The Mrs. West Virginia pageant begins at 5 p.m., with doors opening at 4:30 p.m. Tickets are $20, and Durst said she has nearly 25 family members and friends going to cheer her on.
A personal interview prior to the pageant will count toward 50 percent of the total score. Durst said during the pageant, the contestants will perform an opening number in cocktail dresses. The swimsuit and evening gown competitions will count for 25 percent of the score each. Finally, contestants will answer a question drawn randomly from a bowl.
The winner of the state pageant will be crowned by 2015 Mrs. West Virginia Beth Sizemore. The new title holder will then go on to compete for Mrs. America in Las Vegas. The state winner will receive airfare and hotel accommodations while in Las Vegas, as well as a crown, custom sash, trophy, bouquet, and many other prizes provided by businesses.
Mindy Kearns is a freelance writer for Ohio Valley Publishing who lives in Mason County.