Nov. 13, 2011
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Rebecca Hodge loves to perform and make people smile. She did both Saturday for a final time inside Kinnick Stadium as a member of the University of Iowa spirit squad.
"You feel so much energy when you're down there," Hodge said. "We're in front of the student section and students go right along with us, especially this year at Kinnick. The fans really get into it, and it's great."
Hodge is decked in her black and gold cheerleading outfit on Hawkeye game days (she also cheers up to three times a week for volleyball, basketball and wrestling). For the next year you might also see her in a sash and crown. Earlier this fall, Hodge was named Miss Iowa USA 2012.
Hodge won the honor Oct. 16 at Newton High School, capping a two-day event she entered "for the experience."
"I was shocked, but excited-shocked," Hodge said. "I was there for the experience and I wanted to win, but I didn't want to get my hopes up that it wasn't going to happen. It was a really good feeling."
Hodge, 21, grew up on a farm near Kalona with three brothers and a sister; she participated in gymnastics for 12 years. Hodge made the 15-minute daily commute to Weber Elementary, then Northwest Junior High, then West High School, graduating in 2008. She is a senior at the UI, majoring in elementary education and scheduled to student-teach in the fall of 2012.
After high school, Hodge intended to enroll at the University of Kansas, but she experienced health problems and spent time at the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics. Instead, she attended her hometown university and the rest is history.
"I stayed here and it turned out for the best," Hodge said.
Somewhat like her college choice, Hodge became a cheerleader and Miss Iowa USA 2012 by chance. She describes her family as construction and hunting-oriented, so entering a modeling-based pageant was "out of my element."
Hodge was a member of the dance team in high school and spent her first two years at the UI in the dance program. One day she was "messing around" at the gym and cheerleading coach Gregg Niemiec asked if she would try out for the Iowa squad.
"I did and that's been a lot of fun," Hodge said.
She never entered a pageant of any kind as child, but became intrigued when a co-worker received a letter about the Miss Iowa USA 2012 pageant.
"My friend thought I would be perfect for it and told me I needed to try out," Hodge said. "I thought, `I'm not one of those girls'...but I guess I am."
Hodge filled out an application and mailed it along with a photograph. She knew nothing about pageant preparation, so her mother's hairdresser phoned a friend who briefed Hodge on the dos and don'ts of pageant life.
Once in Newton, contestants were judged on an interview and then evening gown and swimsuit competitions.
Hodge bettered approximately 40 others for the Miss Iowa USA 2012 crown and will compete for Miss USA 2012. The winner of that moves on to the Miss Universe 2012 pageant.
Hodge credits her experience with the UI spirit squad for assisting her in becoming Miss Iowa USA 2012.
"You learn a stage presence during cheerleading and you can really flip it on, and that helped me," Hodge said. "It was like performing: you go out there, you smile, you work the crowd; performing in general helped me a lot."
For the next year, Hodge will receive an on-line calendar of commitments provided by her manager.
"She gives me all these opportunities and I try to say yes to all of them," Hodge said.
Her life will be filled with charity events and photo shoots, walk-a-thons and even marathons.
"I'm excited. It's going to be so much fun," Hodge said. "I'm having a great time, and I'm going to experience a lot in the next year, and I can't see where it takes me."
When her term as Miss Iowa USA 2012 ends, Hodge would like to explore the country and gather as many experiences as she can. And then...
"I will come back to raise a family in Iowa," she said with her trademark smile.