By Starrla Cray
HOWARD LAKE, MN “I was hit by a semi back in 2008,” Howard Lake resident Afton Kielsa said. “My PT Cruiser was totaled that night.”
Despite her car being pushed along by the semi and flipped over, she was able to walk away with just a few scratches.
How? Kielsa credits her seatbelt.
“I have always worn my seatbelt,” said Kielsa, 22, the daughter of Richard and Cathie Kielsa. “You see so many people on the news who get hurt and they weren’t wearing their seatbelt. I’m not going to take that chance.”
Now, Kielsa is sharing her story and the importance of buckling up with a wide audience, as Midwest’s SUPER Miss.
“Cross your heart, not your fingers,” she reminds drivers and passengers.
The SUPER Miss pageants are a personal development opportunity for women throughout the world. Delegates promote a personal platform and/or the national seatbelt use awareness platform.
In June, Kielsa went to Montana to compete with other representatives, and was the winner of the community service award and first runner up for the international title.
“This has been a blessing and a humbling opportunity wearing this crown and representing this pageant, because this has opened so many doors for me for the future in a world I never imagined that I would be a part of,” Kielsa noted.
She recently attended Sparkle Night at the Minnesota Twins game, and was able to walk the field with many other festival and pageant representatives from throughout the state. A highlight of the event was having her picture taken with Twins players Ben Revere and Danny Valencia.
Parades have also been rewarding for Kielsa.
“My favorite so far would have to be the Fourth of July parade in Delano, because it made me see how in-depth our country really is when it comes to being an American,” she noted.
Kielsa said she’s grateful for the many car dealerships that have provided her with vehicles to use, such as Holt Motors in Cokato, Morrie’s Ford in Buffalo, Ryan Auto Mall in Buffalo, and Merit Chevrolet in Maplewood.
“It’s been a blast riding in convertible Mustangs, Cameros, and Sebrings, to the mighty F-150 truck,” she said.
A life-saving message
Promoting seatbelt usage has been at the forefront of Kielsa’s reign.
“To me, safety isn’t a hobby; it’s a living,” she said. “As a victim of a car crash, I am proud to say that I walked away from the accident because I was wearing my seatbelt.”
According to results from the National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS), conducted annually by the National Center for Statistics and Analysis of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, seatbelt use in the US reached 85 percent in 2010.
Ten years ago, seatbelt use was at 73 percent.
Seatbelt usage has been increasing steadily since 1994, accompanied by a steady decline in percentage of unrestrained passenger vehicle occupant fatalities during daytime, according to the NOPUS survey.
“‘Cross your heart, not your fingers’ is my motto on seatbelt safety, because many people take for granted seatbelt safety,” Kielsa said, adding that young adults often have so many distractions that they forget to buckle up.
“It’s one of those things that people should get into a good habit with,” she said.
A royal history
Midwest’s SUPER Miss isn’t the only crown Kielsa has worn. Her first pageant experience was as Little Miss Oakdale in 1997.
In 2008, when she was living in Albertville, Kielsa was also named Wright County’s Fairest of the Fair Princess.*
“I’d always enjoyed the fair, and wanted to represent,” she said. “It was a great opportunity, that’s for sure.”
Aside from pageants, Kielsa also enjoys volunteering with the American Heart Association, Meals on Wheels, adults with disabilities, and much more.
“It’s helping the community become a better place, and I just love it so much,” she said.
Kielsa is a 2007 graduate of Rogers High School, and recently completed an exercise sports science degree with a minor in coaching from St. Catherine University. This fall, she is finishing graduate work in nursing at Bethel University.
To learn more about the SUPER Miss pageant, click here.
*This article has been modified to reflect correct information.