Grace Turner first walked across a stage at 13.
As an eighth-grader, Grace sprouted above many of her classmates. Her mother gave her a nudge toward the Miss Wyoming Teen USA competition, a push to help her gain confidence and get comfortable with her new height.
“I thought it would be a great opportunity for her to realize that she can be confident and beautiful — and also play basketball and ride horses and work at the ranch,” Grace’s mom, Laura, said. “I love that fact that they place so much emphasis on the interview and speaking intelligently.”
Though she didn’t take the crown that year — “I was like a baby in the system,” Turner said — she kept at it. She competed again at 14, then 15, taking a break to focus on basketball. Last year she jumped back in for the last year she qualified, and in September, she was crowned Miss Wyoming Teen USA, rising to the top of 30-some competitors judged in three categories: active wear, evening gown and an interview.
While work goes into the two former categories — she worked out with personal trainers and learned how to walk in heels (“When I wear 5-inch heels, I’m 6-foot-6”) — the interview is what she hangs her crown on, she said.
Last year competitors were asked to describe their hardest decision. In her speech she detailed her choice to be with her grandmother as she died last spring.
“It’s a big deal being in there when someone passes away. It’s tough,” she said. “It was such a heavy and emotional decision for me just to be in the room, knowing her my whole life. It really did leave an impact.”
She had practiced the speech, as she practiced many questions with her mom, learning “it’s really important to know what you’re going to say.
“If you speak without thinking, it really never ends well,” she said.
She credits her pageant work for building her public speaking skills.
“I was really not confident at all,” Turner said. “I think today kids are not great at speaking because of cellphones and social media. We can hide behind our screens.”
Public speaking is also largely what the crowned Miss Teen does during her reign, traveling the state to lend a hand for service projects and promoting the pageant. Turner identified combating hunger as an interest while competing, and has since traveled with the Wyoming Food Bank around the state.
Though she knows the pageant circuit well, she’s probably still best known for her life off the stage. The Jackson Hole High School senior has long been a dedicated part of the Broncs girls basketball team and a dominating presence on the court.
“Other than having a week where she had to be at some kind of Miss Wyoming Teen practice, you’d never know she was doing that,” Jackson Hole High School girls basketball coach Sean Shockey said. “She doesn’t flaunt it … she just comes to practice and works hard and gives us everything she had that day. That’s just another thing she’s got to do after practice.”
She’s also known for her ranch roots, as “the ranch girl who works at Triangle X.”
The granddaughter of Harold and Berniece Turner, she spends much of her summer at the family dude ranch in Grand Teton National Park. When not at Triangle X she was often found at the Pinto Ranch, a cattle ranch owned by her maternal grandma, the late Carol Curran, and Curran’s brother, Ernie Cockrell.
Being part of a long line of dude ranching entertainment may have encouraged her love of guitar and added to her interest in singing, a gift she inherited from her mother.
In 2020 she’ll surrender her crown — well, the title; she gets to keep her crown — to the next Miss Wyoming Teen USA. She’s not sure if she’ll compete in the next step up, Miss Wyoming USA.
“It’s definitely something I wouldn’t want to pass the opportunity on, but I think I would want to be older,” she said.
“I’m a competitive person,” she said with a smile. “I like to compete. I’m not afraid to say that.”
For now she has her sights set on her freshman year of college at the University of Wyoming, where she plans to study nursing. She also has been enjoying her crown, something she admits she sometimes wears around the house.
— Sports Editor Chance Q. Cook contributed to this story