She's Miss USA, but Nia Sanchez Still Remembered in Menifee

Menifee area friends and family have fond memories and great admiration for Nia Sanchez, a former ...

Menifee area friends and family have fond memories and great admiration for Nia Sanchez, a former Homecoming Queen who traded in her plastic tiara for the real thing.

On June 9, the former Menifee resident and 2008 Paloma Valley High School graduate was crowned Miss USA during a nationally televised event. This week, she was remembered locally as a young lady with talent and motivation.

"She's always been a winner," said David Sanchez, Nia's father. "She's always won tournaments and everything."

While his daughter moved away at the age of 20 and earned the title of Miss Nevada a few years later, David still remains in Menifee. He's the owner of Menifee Martial Arts, a studio where his 24-year-old daughter used to teach taekwondo classes.

Nia Sanchez as Miss Menifee Valley in 2008
(Photo courtesy Anne M. Bowman)

"Her training as an instructor gave her the self confidence and poise to pursue what she's doing now," he said.

David enrolled Nia in taekwondo lessons when she was 8 years old in order to build up her self-confidence. She quickly took to the art and became a fourth degree black belt.

"She would have bruises on her sometimes from her competitions in taekwondo," said Dennis Raymond, Nia's high school U.S. history teacher.

According to Raymond, Nia was a dedicated and hardworking advanced placement student. He was familiar with her passion for martial arts, but didn't know she was interested in pageants.

"Absolutely, I was shocked," said Raymond, who congratulated his former student on Facebook shortly after she was crowned. "I'm not surprised that she is capable of that. Just the fact that somebody from my classroom had achieved such a notable position was amazing."

According to her father, Nia entered her first pageant in Hemet at a young age. After that, she didn't pursue pageantry again until high school, when she won Homecoming Queen in 2007.

"Maybe that's when she got that bug again," said David.

Nia's Homecoming King was Oscar Ortiz, one of her best friends. The two have known each other for almost 14 years, and Ortiz thinks of her like a little sister.

"I've always been protective of her," he said.

As a cheerleader, Nia attended events with the football team, of which Ortiz was a member. Before one particular late night event, Nia's dad pulled Ortiz aside.

"Her dad was like, 'Are you going to take care of my daughter?' And I was