LACONIA — Laconia’s very own Ashley Marsh will compete for the title of Miss America in less than two weeks.
“It’s been a whirlwind of an experience,” said Marsh, 2021’s Miss New Hampshire Winner and lifetime Laconia resident. “This was my 5th year competing, my last year I was eligible to compete. So it was sort of 'you know what we're gonna have fun and give it all we got' and I ended up taking home the title.” Marsh explained that 2020 was technically the last year that she was eligible to compete due to her age, but the pandemic cancelled the event. As a result, Marsh was grandfathered into this year’s competition.
“At Miss New Hampshire this year, I was 26 and I was competing against 18 year olds. Which is a little weird. Because they’re fresh out of high school and I haven’t been in high school since 2013,” Marsh recalled, stating that she will be the oldest contestant at this year’s Miss America pageant as well.
When COVID-19 shut down the world last year, it granted Marsh a golden opportunity to work on her social impact for the Miss America pageant. Marsh is a lifelong athlete and a certified Crossfit coach. This past year, she has worked with the Special Olympics, and traveled around the New Hampshire-Massachusetts area to give body positivity workshops at various dance studios.
“My social impact is ‘Fit for Life.' It’s all about showcasing that no matter what your age or ability that you can live a fit and healthy lifestyle,” Marsh explained. “When the pandemic hit last year, I actually went 65 days straight of online at home videos on my Facebook page for people just to get their bodies moving.”
Marsh’s videos were aimed at a wide array of fitness levels, and included exercises people could do from the safety and comfort of their homes.
In addition to her passion for fitness, Marsh is also an avid dancer.
“I’ve been dancing since I was 2 years old at Broadway North,” Marsh said. “I’m now a teacher there. I have always stuck to tap dancing. Through middle school I was involved in the Boston Tap Company, the New England Tap Ensemble and Speaking in Tap. I've always shared a love of tap dancing, so that’s what I compete with at Miss America.”
This year is Miss America’s 100th anniversary, making it particularly historic for Marsh as a competitor. In those past 100 years, a lot has changed for the better, according to Marsh. One change has been a gradual shift from the emphasis on physical appearances towards personality, social responsibility, scholarship and being more inclusive.
“Miss America used to have a swimsuit competition. From there, a lot of girls would develop eating disorders trying to look their best self in a bathing suit. You’re being judged so of course there’s a whole bunch of mental aspects to that. And a lot of girls didn’t want to compete because they didn’t like that.”
Since the competition eliminated the swimsuit category, Marsh said it’s encouraged a wider array of contestants to compete.
“It’s been more inclusive. More and more girls, all races, shapes and sizes, everyone feels more comfortable,” Marsh said. “Truly our class this year for Miss America, all the girls are incredible. Whoever ends up with the title, the program's in good hands. I think the direction Miss America is going is awesome to be more inclusive for a lot of people.”
In addition to inclusivity, Marsh wanted to highlight the importance of scholarship. "I’ve earned over $50,000 for my education because of the program. I’ve learned public speaking skills, interviewing skills,” Marsh explained. “People ask me, ‘you are in the older range of things, so why do you need scholarship dollars?’ I graduated with my master's last year, now I’m able to put all that money towards my loans.”
If Marsh wins Miss America this year, she would make a special mark in the history of the pageant.
“Obviously I’d love to win. I’d be the first Miss NH to ever win miss america. But the goal is definitely to make the top ten,” Marsh said. “If I can make top ten, we’ll put New Hampshire on the map and that’s awesome.”
The Miss America Pageant will be streamed on Peacock TV December 16 at 8 p.m.