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Miss South Dakota Kaitlin O'Neill discusses her journey to compete for Miss America

Courtesy of Kaitlin O'Neill
Kaitlin O'Neill is crowned as Miss South Dakota.

The attached audio is from SDPB's daily public-affairs show, In the Moment.

Kaitlin O’Neill of Groton is representing South Dakota in this year’s Miss America pageant.

O’Neill’s journey to compete for the coveted title was difficult. She struggled for years to overcome depression and an eating disorder.

“When I went to college, that was really the eye-opening experience that helped me realize the severity of where I was at in high school," she said. "I had more of an open dialogue with friends, heard other people's experiences, and realized I'm not alone.”

O’Neill wants to use her platform to help others, so she created the social impact initiative BLOOM.

“And it is all about helping individuals — no matter what age you are, what background you have — work towards a healthy balance mentally, physically and emotionally," she said.

O’Neill travels to schools around the state sharing her personal journey to recovery and said the positive response from students is overwhelming. She hopes having national attention will help expand her initiative.

The 100th annual Miss America pageant is Thursday night at 7 Central, 6 Mountain on NBC Universal’s Peacock app.

No South Dakotan has ever won the crown.