Health & Fitness

Miss Idaho USA Claira Hollingsworth deals with scoliosis while she reaches for a crown

Miss Idaho USA Claira Belle Hollingsworth is a tough competitor. It’s a skill she learned first as an Idaho rodeo queen. If you can do it from horseback with a smile, walking down a catwalk is a breeze, she says.

“Rodeoing definitely groomed me and gave me the discipline to compete in pageants,” she says. “People don’t realize how hard this is.”

The former Idaho State High School Rodeo queen, Hollingsworth started her beauty pageant career with Distinguished Young Woman, a national program that puts the emphasis on scholastic achievement and talent. After she became first runner-up at the state level, a school counselor suggested she try the Miss USA program.

She won the Miss Idaho Teen USA title in 2011 and competed nationally in the Bahamas. Now, at 22, she’s Miss Idaho USA 2015. She is one of only three women to hold both the teen and adult title for her state. Hollingsworth will travel from her hometown of Preston in southern Idaho to Baton Rouge, La., to compete for the national title on July 12.

Hollingsworth works hard to stay in tip-top swimsuit shape, despite dealing with scoliosis that was diagnosed when she was 19. She didn’t realize that her back pain in high school was because the muscles in her back were pulling away from the bone. Scoliosis is a sideways curvature of the spine. It can occur during prepubescent growth spurts, and though most cases are mild, problems can worsen as kids grow. Staying active helps Hollingsworth keep her scoliosis in check.

Her connection to fitness also influenced her Miss USA platform: teaching youth the importance of nutrition and exercise.

Q: Can you talk a little about your platform?

A: My platform is “Train for Your Dreams.” It started when I read a quote from Ronald Reagan that says if you want to change the world, start with the children, because the children are our future. So, I want to encourage kids in Idaho and America to be happy, healthy and active so they can follow their dreams. That’s because going after what you really want is hard work. You know, my resume reads like I’ve only been successful, but I’ve failed more times than I’ve succeeded. You can’t be successful unless you fall on your face a few times. The important part is to get up and do it again.

Q: How does nutrition fit into that?

A: My favorite foods are Oreos and mac-’n’-cheese. If it’s salty, greasy or sweet — I love it. So, I have to think about it and really work at eating well. I tell them you really have to remember that your body needs you to take care of it and feed it good things. Fortunately, I also love broccoli and green beans.

Q: What’s your fitness routine?

A: I do a lot of cardio, like running, cycling or the elliptical twice a day, and doing workouts in the gym for four hours a day. Although I did have a setback when I was in a car accident. (In June, her car rolled over on her way to pick up her competition dress in Sacramento, Calif.) I broke my hand and hurt my leg, so I’ve had to take some time off. Now, I’m back at it.

Q: How does your scoliosis affect your workouts?

A: When I lift weights, I have to be careful to not go too heavy, because that can compress my spine more. I also modify some of the exercises. For example, I can’t really do squats. I have to do leg presses. I don’t think it’s as effective but it’s what I have to do because the weight on my shoulders is too much.

Q: What’s your focus in your workouts?

A: Building a balance between strength and flexibility and keeping my muscles supple. If they get too tight or get overworked, they can pull away from the bone. Now, I have some osteoarthritis where my spine curves, so I have to stretch once an hour to relieve the pain. If you’re standing next to me, you can hear my bones popping. But as long as I stretch, I’m OK. The hardest thing is standing around in heels, which I’ll be doing a lot in Baton Rouge.

Q: Does your scoliosis slow you down?

A: I don’t think so. In high school, I played sports and I was a cheerleader — a flyer — so I worked on flexibility a lot. And I am still riding. I have one barrel horse now, an American Quarter Horse named EZ. After Miss USA, I am going to get a new colt and start training it to run barrels.