Vancouver's transgendered Miss Universe Canada contestant says she feels like she's already triumphed by earning the chance to compete at this weekend's pageant. But make no mistake: she also plans on making a serious run for the ultimate prize.
Jenna Talackova said Tuesday the beauty competition will be "a great battle" and that she's "in it to win it."
"It is a competition, I have to perform to my 100 per cent best because all of us ladies are rehearsing and training so hard," Ms. Talackova said as she and 61 fellow contestants appeared at a west-end school to encourage kids to work hard and follow their dreams.
"It's going to be a great competition."
At the same time, Ms. Talackova admitted there were larger issues at stake for her, describing her journey to the crown as a fight for equality.
"I've set a precedent for a lot of women in my situation so once I step on that stage every woman in every other country that doesn't have the option that I have now can fight for it. I feel so blessed with this opportunity," she said.
The 6'1" blonde beauty ignited a media firestorm after she was initially disqualified from the pageant because she isn't a naturally born female.
But pageant owner Donald Trump overruled the decision and said Ms. Talackova could take part.
Tuesday's school visit was part of several public appearances scheduled in advance of the Miss Universe Canada pageant in Toronto, which will crown a winner Saturday night.
"If it works out, then great. If not, I'm so proud of myself," Ms. Talackova said after greeting elementary and junior high students at St. John Vianney Catholic school.
"I've won in so many other ways that I feel good about it."
Pageant rival Marta Jablonska, a 24-year-old MBA student from Hamilton, commended Ms. Talackova for her courage and described her as "a sweetheart."
But even as reporters swarmed her leggy rival while ignoring most of the other contestants, Ms. Jablonska doubted the extra media attention would shift odds in Ms. Talackova's favour.
"Jenna's representing herself and fighting for what she believes in and the pageant is a competition between 62 girls that are on equal footing," said Ms. Jablonska.
"Even though there is some overlap, I don't think they have too much to do with each other, other than that people may already have a first impression of Jenna.... A lot of the judges and everyone else will see us for the first time on stage. Whether that's an advantage or disadvantage I'm not sure."
Vince Moretti, principal at St. John Vianney, said controversy that dogged Ms. Talackova had not followed her to the school, noting that no parents had complained or questioned his decision to invite the pageant contenders.
"We are a welcoming community and it's not an issue here and I don't want to make it an issue," said Mr. Moretti, adding the women were invited to "speak about their positive experiences."
"They discuss values about hard work and respect, (the need) to strive to better themselves and to show that they've achieved something worthwhile."
Ms. Talackova underwent sex-change surgery at age 19 and has said she knew from an early age that she was born the wrong gender.
She said she's proud to be opening the door for other transgender pageant hopefuls who may want to follow in her footsteps.
Ms. Talackova, who hopes to become a model for Sports Illustrated and Victoria's Secret in the future, said she wants others to know that anything is possible.
"We were born crying — does that mean we're going to be a crybaby all of our lives? No," she said.
"You develop your inner self, your inner soul and to embrace your individuality is what I want to give to this world. I want to get this message out about embracing who you are and what you're doing."