June 18, 2013 at 10:45 AM ET
When Miss USA Erin Brady was growing up in Connecticut, her grandmother would often encourage her and her sisters to put on pretend pageants where they were crowned the winner.
Sunday night, after that fantasy came true, Brady called her grandmother and said, "Grandma, it's Miss USA."
Brady knew her win would mean she'd be separated from her beloved grandmother for months. But on TODAY Tuesday, Miss Connecticut and the woman who inspired her were able to share a surprise hug.
“Oh my God, my heart is racing,’’ a tearful Brady said as her grandmother, Theresa, appeared in Studio 1A. “You made my day.”
Theresa Brady told Erin and Matt Lauer about watching Erin earn the Miss USA crown on TV.
“You just wouldn’t want to be in my living room,’’ Theresa said. “It’s a wonder the police didn’t come. We were just so loud and so with joy. What a day.”
“She couldn’t be there to see me, but she said she was screaming at the top of her lungs,’’ Erin said.
Theresa was a strong figure during a turbulent upbringing for Erin, who was independent at a young age and dealt with family members' alcoholism. In addition to raising awareness about breast cancer during her travels as Miss USA, she also wants to help children in families affected by drug and alcohol abuse.
“I just want people to know that you don’t have to get caught up with things like that,’’ she told Lauer. “You can actually make a better change for yourself and you can come out on top, and not be a stereotype and not fall into the tradition that sometimes happens when you’re in a family of that kind of reputation. You can rise up and become Miss USA.”
The Bradys' emotional reunion had TODAY viewers tearing up as well.
At 25, Brady was one of the older contestants in the field, and she believes her age was an asset in the competition.
“I think that maturity-wise, you’re at a different state,’’ she said. “I’m more comfortable with myself now than I was two, three, four years ago when most people do compete. Maturity does help.”
Brady is leaving her career as an accountant for her Miss USA obligations.
“It’s always been a passion of mine,’’ she said about the Miss USA competition. “I’ve always wanted to pursue it. I had said to myself, ‘You know what, I think it’s time for a change, I’m think I’m going to go for it.’’’