MARQUETTE - Kaylyn Kutchie is a determined young woman.
That determination helped her win the Miss Upper Peninsula USA title recently. It's helping her prepare for the next step, competing in the Miss Michigan USA pageant in September.
You would never guess unless you were told: Kaylyn Kutchie has a brain tumor.
Iris Robare, left , won the Miss Upper Peninsula Teen USA crown, while Kaylyn Kutchie earned the Miss Upper Peninsula USA title. (Jacqueline Wiles photo)
"I was diagnosed at age 20," she said. "Stage 2 cancer. I still have it. Dr. (Richard) Rovin did the surgery here in Marquette and 40 percent of the tumor is still there."
Along with her parents Michael Kutchie and Peggy Kutchie, Kaylyn made the decision not to have chemotherapy nor radiation. Now a five-year survivor, Kutchie has check-ups every six months.
"Nothing has changed with the tumor and we don't know what will happen," she said. "Dr. Rovin said I could live forever with it. Or maybe it will grow. But we don't know.
Miss Upper Peninsula
Kaylyn Kutchie of Ishpeming, winner and Most Photogenic
Taylor Kulju of Ishpeming, first runner-up and Miss Congeniality
Amy Kuivanen of Marquette, second runner-up
Miss Upper Peninsula Teen
Iris Robare of Gladstone, winner
Nicole Gustafson of Garden, first runner-up, Most Photogenic and Miss Congeniality
Marja Balconi of Marquette, second runner-up
"I wake up in the morning and I forget about (the tumor)," she said. "I don't let it define me. And I don't let it limit me in any way."
Indeed, when Kutchie learned the Miss Upper Peninsula USA pageant was being put together, she got to work.
"I did a lot. I hired a personal trainer," she said. "I got a pageant coach. And I did a lot of research online."
She wanted to be prepared for all aspects of the pageant as three areas count equally: a private interview; on-stage evening wear competition; and on-stage swimwear competition.
History was another motivation.
"I used to compete in pageants (locally) when I was younger," Kutchie said with a smile. "I never won and that ticked me off."
But win she did at the Miss Upper Peninsula USA pageant, which took place at Forest Roberts Theatre at Northern Michigan University in Marquette on April 25, as did the Miss Upper Peninsula Teen USA pageant, won by Iris Robare of Gladstone.
Kutchie, a graduate of Ishpeming High School and NMU, is preparing for the Miss Michigan USA pageant, which will be in Port Huron Sept. 13-15. The winner of that title goes on to compete for the Miss USA crown.
"I am working on fitness and on diet," she said, as she pointed to her left. "And I thank God I have her."
Her is Jennifer Skogman-Wagner, the director of the Miss Upper Peninsula USA and Miss Upper Peninsula Teen USA pageants.
Escanaba native Skogman-Wagner is a veteran of pageants herself, having competed in several different programs through the years, winning the Michigan's Perfect Miss crown a few years ago.
After she married in late 2011, Skogman-Wagner contacted the Miss Michigan USA organization as she wanted to volunteer, maybe helping backstage. Instead, pageant officials had another idea.
"They thought I would make a great representative as a director," she said. "My goal in this is to inspire others. I came from a tough background. I was in foster care for awhile as a child. I want kids to know that they can chase their dreams, that coming from a troubled childhood shouldn't hinder them in pursuing what they want to do in life."
Skogman-Wagner and Kutchie both said they are thrilled to be working with Rock native Crystal Hayes, a former Miss Michigan USA, who is helping out as a sponsor, a coach and a photographer.
"They are the two best coaches I could ever ask for," Kutchie said of Skogman-Wagner and Hayes.
Appearances for the two newly crowned queens are being lined up now, Skogman-Wagner said. They will be at the Dancing with the Stars event in Marquette May 23 and at the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life in Escanaba June 2.
"We're working on Fourth of July parades, too," Skogman-Wagner said.
Anyone interested in being part of the sponsorship for the U.P. title winners as they go on to the state level or who would like to learn more about the program can email Skogman-Wagner at JLSWdesign@gmail.com.
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org