When Colorado Springs physician assistant Liza Gainey entered the Ms. Veteran America pageant in January, she didn’t picture becoming a finalist.
“I was at work when I found out, and I did a little happy dance,” said Gainey, an Army veteran, mother of two and wife to Air Force Lt. Col. Joe Gainey, stationed at Peterson Air Force Base.
She certainly didn’t picture finals being held virtually, due to a pandemic.
“We’re going to miss the camaraderie,” she said. “I think it would be easier if it were all together, but it’s still exciting.”
Gainey is one of 25 women who will be competing in the Oct. 11 finals of the annual competition, intended to showcase “the woman behind the uniform.”
Although the event will be held online, the stakes remain high and preparation is rigorous.
Competitors are expected to be camera-ready and in their gowns for the online event, and to pre-record their runway walk and talent exhibition.
For her talent, she plans to lip-sync and sign to “Hero” by Mariah Carey — a song she says is a fitting choice, given the many types of heroes on the front lines of the coronavirus fight, including service members and medical workers.
Gainey fits in both categories. Raised a military brat, she served as a nurse in the Army before becoming a physician assistant. She left the service in 2015 to start a family, after serving in family practice at Evans Army Community Hospital on Fort Carson.
While finishing a doctoral degree in medical science this past spring, a couple of courses she took — global health and disaster medicine — inspired her to research ways she could serve her community.
An internet search lead her to Final Salute, a nonprofit that helps homeless female veterans find safe housing.
“It just clicked,” she said. Volunteering with the nonprofit “was a way to continue service and to raise awareness for homeless women veterans.”
The nonprofit introduced her to the competition, which she decided to use as a platform to raise awareness about, and money for, the charity.
“It’s a cause I can believe in,” she said. “I can serve, in a way. Even if I don’t make Ms. Veteran America, I will continue to support it.”