Gabrielle Buchan was supposed to be recuperating from a basketball knee injury. Instead, she was taking home to the title of Miss Georgia Jr. Teen on Sunday.
"We weren't even sure that I was going to be able to make the pageant," the 14-year-old known to her friends as "Gabby" said Monday.
"I had been practicing my talent all year, and then I was not able to do it at the pageant."
Despite the setback, Buchan wowed the judges with her poise, presentation and passion.
"I want to show girls to be themselves. I wasn't there with a pageant coach. I never had a speaking coach. I never had any form of poise coach," she said, recalling her interviews with judges. "I want to show that being who you are is the best and the judges love that answer."
Buchan will represent the state of Georgia during the week of Thanksgiving at the national pageant in Anaheim, Calif.
"When they said ‘Gabrielle,' I dropped. I was crying. I could not believe it. I was in absolute shock. It hasn't hit me yet, the reality that I'm going to California," she said.
Dedicated to celebrating America's greatness and encouraging its future leaders, the National American Pageants award $1.5 million in cash, scholarships and prizes to recognize and assist the development of young women nationwide.
New this year, each girl that qualifies for the national pageant has a chance to won a new 2015 Ford Mustang Convertible.
"Three years ago, I would have never imagined I would have been up on a stage," she said. "When I first started pageants, that was the time I kind of shut down and I wouldn't talk...and just sit there, like the shy girl."
At a towering 6-foot tall, Buchan said she was often bullied in middle school about her height.
"But when I get up on stage, I'm a completely different person. And now, with this title, I think I've shown everyone that has bullied me or has said that I couldn't do it, I've proved them wrong," she said. "That's the best feeling--showing people that I can do it."
An incoming sophomore at Dawson County High School, she is the daughter of Bob and Tiffany Buchan.
Competing in pageants for the last two years, Buchan is the reigning Miss Dawson County and Miss Pickens County.