PRINCETON, W.Va. (AP) — Madeline Collins of Princeton had never entered a beauty pageant before winning the title of Miss Tri-State when she was a student at West Virginia University last year.

That win, followed by a 2nd runner-up finish in the Miss West Virginia competition, prompted her to run for Miss Elkins Area for this year, and she won, returning to the state pageant once again.

Last Saturday night, she was crowned with the title at The Metropolitan Theatre in Morgantown.

On Wednesday, she was at the Mercer County 4th celebration in her hometown for her first official public appearance as the reigning Miss West Virginia.

The 2013 Princeton High School graduate graduated from WVU in May and will be heading to Atlantic City in September to compete in the Miss America competition.

"I am excited," she said, adding that she had no idea if she would like competing in the first place, but did.

"I am a dancer," she said. "I have danced my entire life. I was on the Princeton High School dance team as well as the teams at Marshall University and WVU."

Collins initially went to Marshall and then transferred to WVU, where she majored in child development and public relations.

Studying at Princeton Dance Studio under Princeton teacher Janice Gunnoe, Collins, daughter of Steve and Mary Collins, said one of her dreams was to dance professionally and she has accomplished that.

"I am a parade dancer at Walt Disney World," she said of the part-time job she has had for a year. "It's a seasonal job and I love it."

But after her first beauty pageant, she had another dream, and it was fulfilled last weekend with the title after being judged for lifestyle, an interview, evening wear and talent, which was a dance performance.

"My platform (during her one-year reign) is mental health," she said, which is in line with her long-term career goal of working as a children's life specialist in a hospital setting.

Collins has a special empathy for children in hospitals.

"I spent a lot of my childhood in a hospital," she said. "I was born with a congenital heart defect."

She has already had three open heart surgeries and will have more.

"I am okay after the surgery, for a period of time, and then maybe in two years I need another one," she said, adding that the surgeries work at least temporarily and well enough she can continue a very busy and physically demanding lifestyle.

She will continue dancing at Disney World, she said, but "I will have to work it in around my schedule now."

Her education is not over either.

"After my reign as Miss West Virginia I will attend Columbia University in New York City for my master's degree in social work," she said.

In the meantime, she will spread the word about the importance of mental health to "all corners of West Virginia."

Getting ready for Atlantic City is also on her agenda.

"I am so excited to have the opportunity to represent the State of West Virginia," she said.

Her family, including brother Isaac and sister Camille, are all very supportive and looking forward to the coming year.

"They are so excited," she said. "We are still overwhelmed in the best sort of way. It is incredible."

___

Information from: Bluefield Daily Telegraph, http://www.bdtonline.com