Written by David Shivers
It’s hard to look at Carly Mathis now and picture her as once being an overweight, insecure teenager.
On January 20, the Leesburg native and reigning “Miss Georgia” told the Kiwanis Club of Dougherty County the story of her transformation and her “Miss America” pageant experience and platforms.
Now 23, she admits that as a high-school student she was overweight and self-conscious.
“My friends all had great metabolisms and they could eat whatever they wanted and they were all super-thin, and I was never that way but I kept trying to go along with it. So most of the time after school we would go to Sonic and I would have a cheeseburger, have a milkshake.
“I was so conscious about myself, about my weight, that I tried to find comfort in another place, which ended up making the problem even worse.” But, she continued, she took control of her life and “decided to become healthy and happy, and in a healthy way. I never starved myself.”
Competing in pageants helped Mathis in her transition from awkward teenager to poised, confident young woman. After a series of pageant wins in the local region, including Miss Historic Southern Plains, Miss Georgia top 12 finalist, and Miss Georgia Cotton, she entered the Miss Georgia competition as Miss Atlanta. Winning the Miss Georgia title propelled her to vie for Miss America 2013 in Atlantic City, N.J., an experience she described as “crazy.”
As the new Miss Georgia, she said, “I cried a little bit when I won, but it was more of a relief, because I worked so, so hard, and then I had two months to get ready for Miss America. That was a whirlwind.”
In Atlantic City, she said, “You don’t have time to think that last night of Miss America. We had a minute and a half to change clothes…so it was a crazy, crazy experience.”
She finished at Miss America as a Top 10 finalist, but didn’t make the final five. Still, “I just wanted to make the first cut, I wanted to make the top 15. I wanted to make the town that I came from proud and happy. So I made the top 15 and I thought, ‘This is great, it’s awesome.’”
Her home community returned the sentiment many-fold. “The hometown support I had I think was better than any other girl there. I was probably in the top three of the most views of my hometown video. I cannot thank everyone enough for the support I had at Miss America.”
Now halfway through her reign as Miss Georgia, Mathis stays busy upholding her title responsibilities.
The four points on her crown, she explained, stand for style, service, scholarship, and success.
“It’s not just the pageantry or walking around on stage or looking pretty, looking good in a bathing suit. It’s a lot to do with service.” One of the service areas is “hospitals in the Children’s Miracle Network, and we’re very lucky to have one here in Albany at Phoebe, where I’ve been able to go and visit a couple of times, and it’s my favorite thing to do.”
Mathis says a special inspiration there was a little boy named Ty who she met on her first visit. “When he was born the doctorstold his parents he may never be able to walk, may never be able to speak. But through the Children’s Miracle Network he is able to walk fairly well and he can speak a little on his own. He is the most adorable child you will ever lay your eyes on; he is always so happy, and every time I see him it just warms my heart and makes me realize just how important that organization is.”
The Children’s Miracle Network is part of her organization platform, but she also has a personal platform to promote, and that is heart health and safety. Three off her grandparents either died from or survived cardiac and vascular conditions, and Mathis herself was urgently warned by her doctor as a teenager about her cholesterol level.
“It’s scary when you’re 19 years old and if you don’t change things then you pretty much know how you’re going to die,” she said. “That’s when I decided I had to make a huge difference.” She now weighs 25 or 30 pounds less than she did in high school, she said.
She says, “When I was young I didn’t want vegetables, I wanted a baked potato or French fries. Now I don’t want to eat those things. I’ve learned to like vegetables.” One of her favorite things in talking to kids at schools is to teach them “to eat the colors of the rainbow.”
In a few months, Mathis’ time as Miss Georgia will be over and she will crown her successor, who she hopes will also be from this area. As for her future, she is already a University of Georgia graduate with a degree in broadcast journalism and she plans to work toward a law degree. That, she said, would enable her to combine her two passions to work as a legal journalist or analyst.
In the meantime, she challenged the Dougherty Kiwanians to “inspire some other person and make a difference in their life.”
“It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from,” Mathis said. “You can inspire others, and you can make a difference.”