PASADENA, Calif. — Susan Hopkins is walking even taller than usual after taking home the crown in this year’s Miss Tall International pageant.
Hopkins, who grew up in Port Deposit, won the annual pageant for tall people in Pasadena, Calif., on July 3 while representing The Tall Club of Orange County — and, unofficially, her native Cecil County.
Previously, Hopkins competed in the Miss Tall International pageant in 1979 as Miss Tall Dallas and in 1991 as Miss Tall Pacific, but she did not win either time. This year, however, the third time turned out to be the charm for her to emerge victorious, which she said felt incredible.
“I was overwhelmed with gratitude, happiness, relief and joy,” she said. “What was neat was seeing the reaction from the Orange County club, especially the president, Shirleen Murphy. I don’t think she could have been more excited if she had won the lottery. I was so happy for her.”
Hopkins also learned that she is The Tall Club of Orange County’s first Miss Tall International, something she said she is honored to have achieved for the club.
But Hopkins said the best part of it all was when her two brothers — who are also tall people, both well above 6 feet — told her how proud they were of her.
To qualify to be a member of Tall Clubs International, women must be at least 5 feet, 10 inches, and men at least 6 feet, 2 inches. Hopkins just made the cutoff at 5 feet, 11 inches, though she swears she used to be 6 feet tall before losing an inch off her height during her years as a runner.
“I guess all that pounding pavement took its toll on my bones,” she said.
Back when she lived in Cecil County, Hopkins said she could have never imagined that she would be competing in, let alone winning, an international pageant for tall people from across the United States and Canada.
“When I was growing up in Port, I would have never believed any of this,” she said. “It seemed to be for other people who were more educated or sophisticated or worldly. “
In fact, Hopkins struggled with her tallness while growing up as it was difficult for her to find clothes that fit or guys who would date a tall girl. But she has since been able to embrace her height, and now she encourages others not to shy away from what makes them different.
Hopkins first heard about Tall Clubs International while watching the game show “Truth or Consequences” and several of the contestants on one episode were part of the club. After moving to Dallas, Texas, she joined the local tall club in 1977.
While she was dressed as a court jester for the personality portion of this year’s pageant, Hopkins got through the first few lines of her skit before realizing her microphone wasn’t working.
With hundreds of eyes staring at her in dead silence and the DJ having to cross the auditorium to fix her mic, Hopkins improvised and started doing “a little vaudeville, soft shoe dance back and forth across the stage” to keep the audience entertained.
“It was all I could think of in the moment,” she said. “Everyone laughed and by then the DJ was there to turn on the mic in the back of my costume.”
Despite the initial awkwardness of the situation, Hopkins said everything worked out in the end.
“What seems bad, may not be after all,” she said. “After the pageant, many people said they were impressed with how I handled the malfunction. I remained calm and didn’t panic. They would not have seen that side of me if it hadn’t happened.”
It turns out the jester costume was the perfect choice for Hopkins, who said it is important for her to keep things light-hearted in her day-to-day life.
“Bad things happen to all of us and I’m certainly no exception,” she said. “I’ve read inspirational quotes, books and articles. What they have in common is, basically, you have to pull yourself up and get past it. It takes time and it’s not easy, that’s for sure.”
At the end of Hopkins’ personality skit, her closing line was “Why just fit in? We were born to stand out.”
Everyone has their insecurities — which are even more greatly magnified through social media today — but life is about accepting those differences that make someone unique, Hopkins said.
Although she felt like an outcast when she was younger, Hopkins said her height turned into an advantage as she got older, helping her with modeling, sports and standing out in a crowd.
For people who are self-conscious of some characteristic about themselves, Hopkins suggests reading biographies of people who similarly struggled with part of their identity and see how they used that part of themselves to create success.
“Find others who are similar when they were your age and see how they overcame it,” she said. “For example, Jay Leno is dyslexic. He had to work harder to get through school, but that work ethic helped propel him to great success ... Most had many failures, but got back up the next day and kept trying. What seems like a disadvantage can become an advantage down the road. Just don’t give up. Don’t listen to the critics.”
As she serves as the reigning Miss Tall International and an ambassador for Tall Clubs International, Hopkins said she plans to promote the club and increase membership, especially among young tall people.
Currently, the closest club to Cecil County is in Baltimore. However, people can also start their own chapter, or become a “member at large” to travel to other clubs’ events and the Tall Clubs International convention in July of each year. For more information, people can visit www.tall.org or Tall Clubs International on Facebook.