NEW GLOUCESTER – A young woman from New Gloucester has made history for her home state on one of the world’s most glamorous stages.

Miss Maine USA, Katherine “Katie” Ashley Whittier, finished as the fourth runner-up in last weekend’s Miss USA 2010 pageant in Las Vegas. The pageant was won by Miss Michigan USA.

Whittier, 26, is the first contestant from Maine to finish in the top five at Miss USA, said Mackenzie Davis, executive director of the Miss Maine USA and Miss Maine Teen USA pageants.

“To hear my name called, it was a huge rush,” Whittier said during a telephone interview Tuesday night from Cincinnati, one of the stops on her flight back home to Maine.

Her family and friends said Whittier’s impressive finish was even more remarkable because Miss USA was only her second pageant — after the Miss Maine USA competition in November.

“I am so proud of her. She has made history for the state of Maine,” said her close friend and former University of Maine basketball teammate, Ashley Underwood.

After graduating, Whittier and Underwood went to Europe in 2008 to play professional basketball in a league in Switzerland. Whittier, who started at center, played one year before returning to the United States.

Whittier attended the Miss USA pageant last year to watch Underwood, last year’s Miss Maine USA, compete. Underwood persuaded her friend to try out for the 2010 title.

But Whittier didn’t decide to try out until about three weeks before the Miss Maine pageant was held.

“I knew she would be successful,” Underwood said. “She is so tall and beautiful.”

Whittier, who was a basketball standout at Gray-New Gloucester High School, is 6 feet 1 inch tall — one of the tallest women to ever make it to the top five of the Miss USA competition.

At one point, Miss USA host Curtis Stone teased her about her height. He is shown in a news photo kneeling next to Whittier and holding a microphone that barely reaches her shoulders.

During the two weeks she spent in Las Vegas, Whittier and other contestants did a controversial photo shoot wearing lingerie. Critics said the shoot, “Waking Up in Vegas,” went too far. When asked that question by the contest judges, Whittier disagreed.

“I told them I thought the photos were classy. I said Miss USA can be sexy and smart,” said Whittier, who won the swimsuit competition and placed third in the evening gown section of the contest.

Whittier, who majored in business marketing and minored in childhood development at UMaine, plans to pursue a modeling career. She says she is done playing basketball.

“My body is shot,” she said. “It’s a chapter in my life that is over.”

Whittier said she plans to spend time at her parents’ home in New Gloucester, catching up on her sleep.

Her parents, Ron and Marlene Whittier, were looking forward to their daughter’s arrival. They operate the Whittier House, a group home for autistic adults. Their daughter has been heavily involved with the home, which tries to integrate people with disabilities into the community.

“Katie has been involved with Whittier House from its beginning,” said her father, who established the home in 1999.

Whittier has been involved with Special Olympics and Autism Speaks.

“I’m very proud of her,” her mother said Tuesday night. “She has worked very hard to get to where she is. Education always came first, even though modeling was always an interest to her. My heart is still jumping with joy.”

Whittier’s flight was expected to arrive around midnight in Portland. New Gloucester firefighters were expected to escort her home. The firetrucks were scheduled to meet her at the Gray exit of the Maine Turnpike.

 

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: dhoey@pressherald.com