Sydney Taylor’s brunette tresses are at home under a softball helmet or a glittering crown. Miss Teen Louisiana USA traded beauty tips for fitness tips during a year altered by a global pandemic and her own heightened call to advocacy and community service.

The Bayou Princess’s not-so-fairytale journey comes to an exciting milestone Nov. 7 when she will compete for the Miss Teen USA title at Elvis Presley’s world-famous home, Graceland, in Memphis, Tennessee. The Miss USA pageant will run during the same week, so Taylor will be traveling with her self-proclaimed “bestie” Mariah Clayton, the reigning Miss Louisiana USA.

“They have a lot of regulations in place,” Taylor said of plans at Graceland due to the pandemic. “I know there'll be around 300 people in the audience, and it will be streamed on the Miss USA website and Facebook.”

The whole world has been riding a wave of change in 2020, but Taylor’s life was changing as she evolved from a double-sport athlete at Doyle High School to an aspiring beauty queen. She played both softball and basketball in high school and was very new to pageant life when she competed and was crowned Miss Louisiana Teen USA in October of 2019.

”I started last year after I was finished playing sports after spending my entire life being an athlete,” she said. “I was never a super girly girl; I would never do that, but once I finally did, I realized how much more comes with it and how much it can really open doors.”

Taylor had a lot of confidence from the playing field, but she found added confidence, and she hopes that she can share those positive paths with other young people. “That's what I want to show people,” she said. “Anyone can do it; you don’t have to fit a certain mold or be a certain type of person.”

The reign was also vastly different because COVID-19 restrictions limited public appearances and travel after March of 2020. “I think it really it held us back from doing a lot of appearances and go into a lot of places and things that we really wanted to do,” Taylor said. “We had to adjust because everyone had to adjust, and I think we actually made the most of it over Zoom and doing what we could over the cloud and things like that.”

Taylor said she is grateful for the early months of her reign. “The first half of our year was pretty normal,” she said. “We had from about October to March of just regular appearances and events, and it was a lot of fun. And then when COVID happened and we didn't have any, but lately, we've had like one or two.”

The constant period of change and a developing public life also changed Taylor’s career aspirations. Her original plan was to study engineering, but she is happy in her second year at LSU studying mass communications and prelaw. As she travels the state meeting young people, she offers a wide range of inspiration and life paths.

“I'm finding myself every day, and I look back and I know that 5-year-old me would be so proud of where I am now,” she said. “That's all thanks to everyone in my life who pushed me to get this far, but I definitely know that I surprised myself, and I never thought that this would be my life.”

Taylor has her eyes on both her past and her future as she approaches a national audience. If she becomes Miss Teen USA, she will use her platform to advocate for U.S. veterans. She grew up hearing about the plight of her grandfather, who returned from the Vietnam War greatly scarred and afflicted. “My grandfather fought in the Vietnam War, then he came home, and he faced homelessness and PTSD,” she said. “I don't think anyone who gives their life for their country should ever have to go through this they come home.”

Taylor’s grandmother shared stories that included how her grandfather lived in the woods. Taylor’s father often sneaked out of the house at night to bring food to his father.

Leveraging both communications and law is a goal for Taylor that includes developing an app to help veterans with painful transitions. “Those kinds of things just really hit me, and I just realized that there's so much more that we can do,” she said. “One day, I hope to create a program or an app or something that will help people simulate back into regular life, because it's just not the same as going from a war zone to coming home, going to work, and hanging out with your family every day.”

The young beauty queen has her sights set on healing and helping American’s veterans. “It's a big transition, and I don't think it gets enough attention,” Taylor said. “I believe there's a lot more benefits that veterans should get, and that's what I want to advocate for throughout year for my 15 minutes.”