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Fargo woman wins first runner-up in Miss USA pageant

Miss North Dakota Audra Mari takes the runway Sunday during the evening gown portion of the 2014 Miss USA beauty pageant in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Photo by Reuters

BATON ROUGE – Fargo’s own Audra Mari came within a hair’s-breadth of the Miss USA title, coming in first-runner-up at the pageant here Sunday night.

As the final results were read out, Mari, Miss North Dakota, screwed her eyes closed and clutched hands with the then-Miss Nevada, Nia Sanchez.

   Mari’s Facebook page had been going berserk with posts by friends and well-wishers since the Fargo woman made it into the final 10 contestants on Donald Trump’s Miss USA pageant, nearly an hour before.

  Mari, a former high school hockey player and current NDSU Communications and Public Relations student, described herself to the Forum in an interview last month as not having grown up being a “pageant girl.”

  She said she didn’t get into pageants until being recruited into and winning Miss North Dakota teen, ultimately giving up hockey, soccer and volleyball in order to pursue modeling and pageants.

    As the evening wore on, and the field was winnowed down to the final 6 contestants, Mari kept her cool.

   The final questions of the night are designed to test a competitor’s grace and composure in a live interview situation, and the question Mari was asked was fairly personal.

  When a show host asked her how her former bullies back home might look at her now, she replied that many of them had already apologized for her past behavior.

  Mari praised her former bullies for being “big people” in acknowledging their past unkindness.

   In both her ready answer and her composure, Mari may have been drawn on the experience she’s had in extemporaneous public speaking since becoming first runner-up at the Miss Teen USA pageant in 2011.

  Her reply to a question about bullying at that pageant drew attention from Seventeen Magazine afterward.

   She is also an advocate for the STOMP Out Bullying Organization.

  If for some reason Miss USA cannot perform the duties required of her, Mari, as first runner-up, would be expected to step in to fulfill that role.