Madison Marsh is no ordinary Miss America.
Marsh, 22, is a second lieutenant in the Air Force who won the iconic pageant on Jan. 14, becoming the first active duty service member to wear the crown.
Marsh, who represented Colorado, has some serious credentials, too. Last year, she graduated from the United States Air Force Academy with a degree in physics and is now a second lieutenant who is working towards becoming an Air Force pilot.
“I feel like this one is really important to me because winning Miss America is not about me,” she said Jan. 17 on TODAY.
Marsh, who described her pageant win as an “out of body experience,” says she is just the latest in a string of women breaking barriers.
“I think of all of the women that came before me. The first people that served in combat. The first female astronauts. The first female everything. And they opened up the door for me to do something like this,” she said.
“And I think by being a military member and being Miss America opens that door for other women. And so it is about all of the other women that I get to represent around the globe,” she added.
Marsh is also continuing her education, studying for her master’s degree in public policy at Harvard University.
In addition, she’s focused on raising money to fund pancreatic cancer research, founding the Whitney Marsh Foundation in honor of her mother, who died from the disease when Madison was 17. Marsh says her mother continues to be a guiding light in her life.
“Even though it is so hard, obviously, to lose her, I can only imagine how lucky I am to have even gotten to know her to begin with. She was someone that had always taught service as being the forefront,” she said, while noting her mother worked with children in foster homes and taught her the value of giving back because her parents gave her a good life.
“And that’s what I want to do as Miss America: representing people in the military, representing pancreatic patients and everyone else in between because as Miss America I represent everybody,” she said.
Marsh has her sights set on turning her foundation into a force in the fight to find a cure for pancreatic cancer and hopes her role as Miss America will advance that.
“I would love to dive deep into my non-profit, the Whitney Marsh Foundation, and making it one of those large cancer non-profits that you hear about, like Susan G. Komen or a PanCAN (the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network), and diving into that to make national policy that meets the needs of all pancreatic cancer patients because, like I said, it’s severely underfunded,” she said.
“Not a lot of people know about it. It’s difficult to detect, treat and cure. All the things. And I want to be helping patients at the forefront.”
CORRECTION (Jan. 18, 2024 10:55 a.m.): An earlier version of this story misstated that Madison Marsh is an Air Force pilot. She has a pilot's license, but is not an Air Force pilot.