One of the women competing to be the next Miss America has a long history of fighting pediatric cancer — even shaving her head as a high school junior to help the cause.
Today, Miss Iowa Taylor Wiebers laughs about the time she ditched her long blond hair as a teenager to bond with a young boy who had lost all his hair while fighting leukemia. It's a time in her life she remembers fondly — she helped raise more than $3,000 for pediatric cancer research and made a new friend in the process.
"Josh is 12 years old now," Wiebers, who's one of 52 contestants competing in Sunday's Miss America pageant, told TODAY.com. "Now he's three years out of treatment and super healthy."
Wiebers, who was crowned Miss Iowa in June, was Miss Clinton County in 2011 when she shaved her head to help Josh feel more comfortable with his own hair loss. She even went to his second-grade classroom so they could show off their bald heads together.
But her interest in stopping pediatric cancer started much earlier. Wiebers, 21, remembers watching a video in third grade about kids with cancer at a local hospital.
"For some reason, I knew in my heart that it wasn't fair," she said. "As a 9-year-old, it lit a fire in me and it never went away. I used to have birthday parties and on the invitation I would request that my friends bring donations instead of presents."
Wiebers has already won two awards in the Miss America preliminaries, one for talent and another for lifestyle and fitness, making her the first contestant to do so since 2001. She said winning Sunday's title would "mean the world."
"Ever since I was 4, my mom and grandma would bring me to the Miss Clinton County pageant," Wiebers said. "I knew I would be on that stage, but by no means did I ever think I would be on the Miss America stage. It's something we all dream of, obviously. But to be here is surreal."
"There's never been a Miss Iowa to be Miss America," Wiebers added. "To be able to represent my state, and to be able to speak nationally ... there's nothing that would mean more to me than to be able to speak for all the kids who aren't able to. I want the world to know these kids deserve a childhood, and they deserve to have an ambassador for their cause."
Wiebers' platform is the St. Baldrick's Foundation, a childhood cancer charity. She took a year off from the University of Iowa, where she plans to finish studying communication, to serve as Miss Iowa.
Win or lose the Miss America pageant, the young woman said her goal is to help more kids like Josh and eventually start her own nonprofit.
"This is my calling, pageants or not," she said.