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 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 like, 'Yes sir'," he said. "And from there it was like a switch."

Ortiz describes the newly crowned Miss USA as someone who is compassionate, even toward strangers. He remembers a time when she and a group of their friends went to Disneyland, and Nia comforted a girl who looked out of place at the amusement park.


Oscar Ortiz and Nia Sanchez as Paloma
Valley Homecoming King and Queen

"None of us cared, but she was considerate enough to see what was up with her," said Ortiz.

He attributes much of Nia's kindness to her involvement in the Revival Church. Through the church, she went on mission trips to Mexico and Africa. She's also visited Dubai, traveled around Europe, and spent time working at the Hong Kong Disney World in China.

"That's why she's even more perfect, because she's open to all these different cultures and able to get along with all of them," said Ortiz. "What better person to go around as Miss USA and not be scared of all that?"

During her senior year at Paloma Valley High School in 2008, Nia was crowned Miss Menifee Valley. According to pageant director Anne Bowman, she won the title in March before the city incorporated in October of that year.

It was the first pageant for the Menifee Valley, and was held at the Menifee Lakes Country Club. Councilman John Denver, who was the honorary mayor at the time, served as one of the judges.

Nia won the pageant based on her dress, poise, elegance and an interview portion. As Miss Menifee Valley, she served for eight months, attending various events such as ribbon cuttings and mixers.

"She was genuinely a kind hearted young lady, who was always sweet and generous," said Bowman, who is now the director of Southwest California Pageants.

The event was directed by Jeep Malone from Empire Pageants. Malone is now retired, but worked closely with Nia and helped broaden her horizons as a beauty queen. He worked with her for other pageants, and even sent her to compete in Ecuador for the Queen of Bananas.

"When she was young and growing up, she was the girl next door," said Malone. "To become Miss USA, a lot of that has to change."

Nia Sanchez was crowned Miss USA on June 9 in Baton Rouge, La.

After graduating from high school, Nia decided to seriously pursue pageantry. She became Miss Hollywood and was second runner up for Miss California.

Lowana Crawford of Tri-Valley Pageants coached Nia when she was competing for Miss California.

"Nia has a drive in her that no one understands," said Crawford. "She's had a lot of obstacles. People would say she couldn't do it, people would try to say mean things to her."

Those who have worked with her can only guess where Nia's drive comes from.

"I think she understands how pageants can open doors to opportunities," said Bowman.

Crawford said she knew Nia would win Miss USA.

"I told her, 'You're gonna do it one day because you have the will to do it'," she said.

Nia will represent the United States when she competes in the Miss Universe pageant later this year. At the same time, she will also represent the Latino community. Being half Mexican and half German, Nia is one of the few Hispanic women in history to win the Miss USA crown.

"I'm just proud that she did what she did," said David. "I'm a proud father."

Miss USA Nia Sanchez is a black belt in taekwondo. She learned martial arts as a young girl in Menifee.




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