Daja Dial

Miss South Carolina 2015 hits home with diabetes awareness and prevention platform

Karen Floyd: You finished seventh in the Miss America Pageant. Congratulations. Tell me a little bit about your family.

Daja Dial: I have three brothers, three pets. My oldest brother is 26. He actually has Type I Diabetes, which fueled my passion for the American Diabetes Association and is why I chose that as my platform. Then I have a 16-year-old brother and a 10-year-old brother.

Q: Are you a girlie girl or tomboy?

A: Tomboy for sure. I prefer being without makeup, without dressing up. Do I love those things? Yes. But I would much rather be in sweatpants and a big t-shirt on my couch watching Netflix.

Q: Is there a person in your formative years who really impacted you?

A: The very first time I competed in a pageant I was 17 years old and a junior in high school. I ended up winning that pageant and my Miss Queen, who was Desiree Puglia, went on to win Miss South Carolina that year, 2010. She has been a part of my life ever since.

Q: How did that friendship impact you?

A: To know that Miss South Carolina is not my entire life. This is just a stepping stone in my life into something else, something greater. For Desiree that was motherhood and so that’s been beautiful to see because one day I hope that’s me. I can’t wait until I have children and to be able to do and share the love that she has with her child. So, for me, it was knowing that Miss South Carolina is just a small portion of this incredible life that I get to live.

Q: And do you have a significant other?

A: I do. His name is C.J. Davidson. He played football at Clemson and he’s been fantastic. His family knew nothing about pageants and then I threw them into this. I won Miss South Carolina, and they were like, “Who is this girl? What is a pageant? What is happening?” They’ve been amazing. C.J. had a football game, so he didn’t get to come. So they watched Miss America and loved it. Now they’re all in.

Q: So where is C.J.?

A: So he’s in Clemson still training. He just had Pro Day at Clemson just a few weeks ago and so he’s waiting on this process of the craziness of trying to go into the National Football League.

Q: What was your favorite childhood memory?

A: Favorite childhood memory? Probably growing up eating Sunday dinner with my family. My great-grandmother was definitely sort of like the nucleus of our family, and we would go to her house every Sunday after church and eat there. My grandparents actually own a soul food restaurant here in South Carolina. So that’s a big part of our family. Before they opened that up, though, it was Sunday at her house, and food is a big part of us. I love food. The restaurant is in Fountain Inn, South Carolina, right off 385. It’s called Sam’s Restaurant. But that’s our family. If I had to pick one word for our entire family, it would be food.

Q: Is there one thing that happened that really affected you more than perhaps others?

A: Absolutely. 2009 when my brother was diagnosed with type I diabetes. We got a phone call. He was hanging out with friends. They dropped him off at the ER and left him there and we went. My mom’s a nurse and so it was hard, getting there, and realizing that she had sort of let those signs and symptoms pass over her and not really recognize them. He’s 6 feet 5 inches and laid in that hospital bed in ICU at 119 pounds. So that is the single scariest day of my entire life. He’s actually been back several times since then. It’s been a long journey for us. But that first time I would say he was probably there for three or four days.

Q: What is the single biggest misconception that people have about Miss South Carolina or the pageantry world?

A: I think the mean girl stereotype. It’s definitely not “let me stick my foot out and trip you up so you can fall down the stairs.” It’s not like that at all. We completely embrace and support and spread the message and the movement of women empowerment. We are fueled by the accomplishments of other women and support that. I know that I’ve met some of my best friends through the Miss America organization. They push me to be greater and do better each and every day because of the things that they’re doing.

Daja Dial during the evening gown competition in Miss America in September 2015.

Q: You started at 17, and you are 23. What is the reign of the current title?

A: One full year. So I was crowned last June, on June 27th, and I will crown the new Miss South Carolina, so I guess two days short, on June 25th of this year.

Q: And are you looking forward to that date, or are you sad about that date?

A: It’s a mix between the two. This is not a normal way to live by any means. It’s not glamorous. I travel the state every single day alone. As a 23-year-old, I drive across our state in my car by myself with months’ worth of clothes inside of it. I won’t really miss the driving, but it’s all the incredible opportunities to effect change in our youth on a personal level. That’s what I won’t want to let go of.

Q: What is your platform and call to action?

A: It is both awareness and prevention. Awareness that type I is not type II; that they are not the same. My great-grandmother was blind from complications from type II diabetes. My grandmother is pre-diabetic. So it’s about preventing those individuals from living with this disease and then gaining the awareness that type I and II are not the same and that we still need funds for a cure.

Q: Type II diabetes and the prevention component, do you want to talk about that a little bit?

A: Absolutely. There are so many things that go into someone that has type II diabetes. The biggest issues that we hear now are obesity and the lack of physical activity and not eating the right foods. It is no longer called adult onset because we’re seeing it in so many children nowadays. When I go into schools to talk about diabetes, a lot of times our youth are stopping their physical activity when it’s no longer a requirement, when it’s no longer a credit for a class, and I remind them that this is something you have to carry throughout the rest of your life. They don’t want to have toes or limbs cut off. If you take care of your body, many hard things are avoided.

Q: What gives you the most joy?

A: Food. One hundred percent.

Q: You must exercise an awful lot to stay as fit as you are.

A: Let me tell you, it’s been difficult. So I cheered at Clemson for three years and I was used to that being a part of my everyday routine; working out, practice, games, and we go year round at Clemson. It was difficult to transition to driving every single day. Trying to figure out the times that fit along with trying to figure out how I can eat healthy when I’m on the road. It’s really difficult.

Q: So what was your takeaway?

A: My takeaway was that I just had to find the time.

Q: So you’ve taken a hiatus from Clemson this year?

A: Yes, you are required to take the year off from school or work, whatever it is that you do, because this is 100 percent a full-time job.

Q: And let’s talk about Clemson and we were talking beforehand about your love for the Clements —

A: What I think I love the most about them together as a couple is that they are so present and so visible. You see them on campus. You see them at games and I love that. They are very interactive with the student body and we need that. At Clemson, we have the number one happiest students in America, just a little tag, but they contribute to that because we’re able to see them and they’re a part of everything, and that makes us feel special that they feel that they should come to our sporting events or whatever it is. They’ve been incredible on that part. For me personally, it’s receiving a text saying, “Hey, I got an email saying how incredible you were at this Clemson event. Thank you so much for doing that.” It was a text after Miss America saying, “We’re so proud of you. Thank you for representing our university, our state.” Those are things that you can’t put a price tag on, that I will take with me for the rest of my life.

Q: Do you describe yourself as an introvert or an extrovert?

A: One hundred percent extrovert.

Q: What’s the best part of the day for you?

A: Best part of the day. When I get home and I’m no longer driving. Listen, driving is exhausting, and I didn’t realize how much it was until this job.

Q: Do you work seven days a week?

A: Usually I do, at least five to seven days.

Q: And if you had to point to your greatest accomplishment to date, what would that be?

A: Probably raising over $30,000 for Children’s Miracle Network in about six weeks. All these other things are great. Winning Miss South Carolina is great. But winning isn’t about me. It’s really not. I’m a Miss South Carolina who hardly ever wears her crown or sash, really. Because it’s not about me. I want other people to see what those symbols mean about hard work and perseverance and using them for the good of others. So that was my good for others. I wanted to win so that I could help other people. I didn’t do it alone by any means, but doing that, not for me, but for someone else feels incredible.

Q: How many times did you actually compete for the title?

A: Five times. So the very first year I was top 15. I thought that was incredible. The next year I actually went back and didn’t place at all. The next year I was top 10. The next year I was second runner up and then this year I won.

Q: That shows a lot of perseverance. What was the one thing that pulled you over the top?

A: I went in without any expectations. I think the other years — the first couple years I was in it because I wanted the scholarship money. That was my focus. Around that third year I realized okay, I really want this job and this is more than just about scholarship money. But this year I came in and I said okay, I know that whether I win or lose this is my last year, but I’m going to have fun and enjoy it and just do my thing. I went in to interview and was just me. I was okay with “whatever happens, happens” and that was a freedom I didn’t have the other four years.

Q: What about movies?

A: My favorite movie is Forrest Gump.

Q: If you could pick a favorite meal, what would that be?

A: Fried oysters, probably. Crème brulee is my favorite dessert.

Q: Who do you go to for advice?

A: My mom. One hundred percent. She and I are best friends. She’s ­— and I hate to be cliché like that but our relationship is so special. I couldn’t imagine going through any of this without her, and she’s one that I can talk to about anything. When I’m feeling any kind of way, I can talk to her.

Q: And what’s your favorite thing to spend money on?

A: I’m a shoe and bag kind of girl.

Q: What lesson would you want others to know that you’ve experienced but perhaps they haven’t?

A: When I go into middle schools I tell the same story every single time. I said my fifth grade teacher gave me the best advice I’ve ever been given in my life. She said you are known by the company that you keep. And so I tell every single middle school class that I go to those words because they need to know that. They need to know that the people you’re surrounding yourself with can affect and will affect the things and the choices that you make in life. So surround yourself with people who are wanting to do and be the same things that you’re wanting to be so that you’re not left behind in a negative way or your life takes a sharp left turn in a direction that you didn’t plan on it going.

Q: Where do you see yourself 20 years from now?

A: Twenty years from now. Hopefully a mom with kids. I hope I’m married and have children and I hope to start a nonprofit organization.

Q: If you had one wish, what would that be?

A: One wish. To find a cure for diabetes. I say that because, when my brother was diagnosed in 2009, Dr. Ferraro said you’ll forever have two birthdays, the day that you were born and the day that you were diagnosed. We had Diabetes Day at the Capital the other day, and I said I can’t wait for the day when he has three birthdays, the day that he was born, the day that he was diagnosed, and the day that he’ll be cured from diabetes.

Q: And do you have a favorite word?

A: Believe.

Q: What inspires you?

A: What inspires me? Other women, my friends. They inspire me because we’re all in such different areas of our lives. Some are getting married, some are just getting jobs, and some are graduating college. I’m still on my way to all of those things. They inspire me to keep going, to keep pushing, to be better, and I talk about that all the time in schools too. We have to keep that going down our generations and letting them know that it’s about pushing and building each other up, breaking that glass ceiling, and that takes team effort.

Q: Which kind of takes us to the final series. What would be your dream job?

A: I want to be a food critic.

Q: And what would be your least favorite job?

A: To be a zoo keeper.

Q: We wish you God speed and everything good to follow. Thank you.

A: Thank you so much.

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