Warren grad, wrestler is Miss Teen International: 'Beauty and strength aren't mutually exclusive'
Growing up watching her older brother compete in wrestling at school, Adriana Demos wanted to try her hand at the sport but was discouraged, even by family members, because she was a girl.
Demos initially was disheartened but wouldn't give up the dream. She sought to prove that girls could be tough as well and "that beauty and strength aren't mutually exclusive."
Demos took up wrestling after seven years of competitive all-star cheerleading and winning the Summit National Cheerleading Championship at age 11. The 18-year-old Warren Township High School graduate has since been crowned Miss Teen International 2022.
She now aims to spend her reign advocating for ending gender disparity in sports and other male-dominated vocations through the organization she founded, Equally Equipped, and through her partnerships with Wrestle Like a Girl, Skills USA and Girls, Inc.
"My platform and my nonprofit organization (are) focused on making sure all girls have the right tools to succeed in life," Demos said.
Demos got involved in the world of pageants at around age 13 starting at the county fair level.
"I was always looking around for a pageant where I could share my heart for service and my platform ... making sure girls have a voice," she said.
She won the Miss Teen Illinois International pageant in November, qualifying her for the global competition, which concluded about two weeks ago. Demos said the life skills, lessons learned and bonds made with "girls who share the same heart of service" were "amazing."
After her experience with wrestling, Demos started Equally Equipped about a year ago to help other girls achieve their dreams in all arenas.
"Just entering the wrestling field in seventh grade, it became so apparent to me that girls don't have the resources," said Demos, of the unincorporated Lake Villa area.
Even the wrestling singlets available to girl athletes were designed for boys and needed to be modified with undershirts, she said. It opened her eyes to the gender inequities in athletics and inspired her mission.
"It's about the all-around girl," said Demos, adding that there's no reason a girl can't be a wrestler and a pageant queen at the same time.
Demos is a 2022 All-State Athlete, previously was named Female Athlete of the Year and placed third in the 145-pound wrestling division of the Illinois High School Association's girls state finals.
That alone sets Demos apart from her predecessors, said Randi Moxi of the unincorporated Grayslake area, state director for Illinois International Pageants and 2014 Mrs. Illinois International.
"I've never seen a girl wrestler on a pageant stage," said Moxi, who has traveled the world judging pageants and coaching contestants. "She is just groundbreaking. In 40 years in this industry I have never seen anything like it. She won everything."
In addition to taking home the crown, Demos won the fitness-wear, fun fashion, evening gown and photogenic categories of the international contest in the 13- to 18-year-old division, competing against roughly 30 other girls from across the U.S. and other countries.
"She is a remarkable young woman, and the judges saw it and awarded her accordingly," Moxi said.
Demos' goal to help girls from underserved communities globally understand and find opportunities to succeed also is unique, she said.
And that's really what this international pageant is all about, Moxi said, recognizing girls who don't just "talk the talk" but "walk the walk."
"You have to prove that you are working for your cause," Moxi said. "There are so many (girls) that really do want to see substantive change, and they use pageantry as such a powerful tool to enact that. And that's commendable."
The Miss Teen International Pageant system emphasizes community service, with 40% of contestants' competition scores based on knowledge of and work with their platform.
Demos has partnered with RUDIS, a national manufacturer of wrestling apparel, to donate singlets to girls from underserved communities who want to wrestle. She spoke in June to girls at a Skills USA trades conference in Atlanta about persevering to achieve your dreams. She also serves as a social media ambassador for Girls Inc.
Through her participation in the international pageant, Demos said, her "eyes were opened to how girls are underserved in sports and trades."
"They aren't getting the right opportunities," she said. "There is more beyond college ... and making sure that girls know the trades are an option is so important to me."
Demos said she wants to travel to as many schools as possible globally "to let all girls know that college isn't the only option."
"Strong, smart and bold ... most young girls are told that they can't be (all of) that," said Demos, adding that she aims to convince girls "you don't have to pick whether to be the beauty or the strength. You can be both."
Demos will be studying broadcast journalism and political science at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin, this fall. She also will be competing on the women's wrestling team.