NEW GLOUCESTER – When Miss Maine USA, Katie Whittier, a New Gloucester beauty queen, boarded a jet plane bound for Las Vegas on Sunday, her goal was to win the coveted title Miss USA on May 16.

And, if she wins, the next step will be to represent the USA in the Miss World contest.

The 26-year-old has had a lot of experience as a champion. But the former basketball star for Gray-New Gloucester High School and the University of Maine at Orono and said the beauty contest was a first-time effort when she filled in the forms in September.

Her win over 15 contestants crowned her Miss Maine USA 2010 at the competition held at Portland’s Holiday Inn by the Bay at the end of November.

The Miss USA Pageant, owned by Donald Trump, will be held at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas.

The Miss Maine USA and Miss Maine Teen USA competitions are the official preliminaries to the Donald Trump/NBC events of Miss USA and Miss Teen pageants.

“I played basketball and represented my state and took a lot of pride in my state. Basketball became my passion,” she said.

“I modeled in Boston during the summer and was doing OK when a friend convinced me to do the pageant,” Whittier said. “It’s totally out of my reality.”

One of the first challenges she encountered was trading in her sneakers and learning to walk on stiletto-style high heels confidently and safely.

Since November, she prepared nonstop for the contest. Whittier worked with a runway coach, an interview coach and a personal trainer in New York City and here.

“The state director of the contest, McKenzie Davis, a former Miss Maine in 2004, has done everything possible to get me ready,” Whittier said. “It’s great to have a director that knows everything. I’m very thankful for everything she’s done.”

“Actually I’m a very shy person; now I’m more confident and can let people open up more. It’s about confidence.”

Her 16-day wardrobe for Las Vegas hung in her living room on a clothes rack on Friday. She unveiled cocktail dresses, high heels and ensembles in gold and silver, bright colors and animal prints for all the different events and competitions planned for the contestants.

Some outfits are embellished with sequins, fashionable shimmering fabrics, lacework and elaborate styles. Sponsors donated several outfits, and others required extensive shopping trips. “You know it’s not easy to find clothes when you’re 6 feet, 2 inches,” Whittier lamented.

The blond beauty knows firsthand about winning and working hard. She played forward in two championship competitions for Gray-New Gloucester High School. Then she for the Black Bears, eventually becoming a starter, and team leader.

Her sports and academic experiences have taught her about pressure, being the best and working on team cooperation and the pride that comes from those efforts.

After college, she played for a woman’s basketball league in Switzerland and then traveled to Italy to teach English and begin some modeling work.

For several months this year she has worked with Click Models and completed a bridal shoot for a magazine, was a cameo as on the TV show “Law and Order, SVU.”

She also works as a caregiver in her family’s group homes, Whittier House on Route 100 and Route 122 in New Gloucester.

“This is crazy,” Whittier said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and there are no letdowns. I did everything and I’ll have no regrets.”

To follow her progress, visit her blog on