For Your Health

News from the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences

There she is…

Second-year UND physical therapy student Sidni Kast takes her Miss North Dakota crown to the Miss America Scholarship Competition

Sidni Kast knows how to answer a question.

“Yeah, lots of practice,” smiled the second-year physical therapy (PT) student from a couch at the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences. “Keeping answers in a timeframe – 20 seconds – can be difficult.”

That skill in answering interviewer questions with both clarity and concision is a result of the fact that Kast has had plenty of practice lately: the recently named Miss North Dakota has been giving a lot of interviews.

“Exercise is a huge outlet for me to reduce stress,” she laughed of the increased stress that has accompanied the title, adding that learning to control an interview has taken practice. “I walk on the treadmill and listen to interview questions, pause the interview, and then answer those questions. You can answer the same question so many different ways in order to control which direction the interview goes. Learning how to do that has been valuable.”

Such repetition is necessary, though, said the Minot, N.D., native, even if it means she feels like she’s “on” all the time. Because soon the newest Miss North Dakota will join 50 other winners (49 American states plus the District of Columbia) at the Miss America Scholarship Competition in Hartford, Conn., from December 12–15, 2022.

She needs her responses to be both correct and succinct.

“We only get ten minutes to interview with the judges,” Kast shrugged. “Overall, I really just try to stay true to myself with all the preparation, because at the end of the day, that’s what they’re looking for.”

Miss Norsk Høstfest

So how does the daughter of two computer scientists (and UND alumni) in Minot end up at the Miss America Pageant?

It all comes down to Norsk Høstfest, said Kast. Norsk Høstfest is an annual fall event held on the North Dakota State Fairgrounds in Minot. Founded in 1978 by a collection of locals interested in celebrating in their Scandinavian heritage, and Norwegian culture in particular, the festival has become North America’s largest Scandinavian festival. In addition to its entertainment, Scandinavian cuisine, and Norsk arts and crafts, the Høstfest hosts the Miss Norsk Høstfest competition.

“I’m not a pageant girl – far from it,” confessed Kast, who earned her undergraduate degree from Minot State University. “I always grew up going to the Hostfest, and there was always a Miss Norsk Høstfest. My mom one day said, ‘You should sign up for this.’ We had no idea it was in relation to the Miss North Dakota organization or Miss America at the time, but what got me involved were the scholarship opportunities.”

Explaining how “PT school is just like any professional school – it’s not cheap,” Kast said the prospect of five-figure scholarships caught her eye.

“Having that kind of support to help me get started and worry less about the expense of school and more about what I’m learning in school is huge,” she said.

Support for school notwithstanding, Kast said she found that performing in such competitions came more naturally than she had anticipated.

“I’m a lifelong performer,” she said. “I always did musicals in high school and choir and played instruments. Once I was done with high school, I didn’t have that opportunity anymore – I really had to find my own outlets and the Hostfest and Miss North Dakota competitions allowed me to perform again and really express myself in a way words can’t always do.”

Miss North Dakota and beyond

After winning Miss Norsk Hostfest, and later winning Miss Grand Forks following a last-minute entry, Kast figured she might as well try for the Miss North Dakota crown (after consulting with UND Department of Physical Therapy Chair Cindy Flom-Meland).

So she ran for Miss North Dakota, won, and is now headed to the televised national event – after finishing her final exams for the semester.

To that end, Kast will be performing – her “talent” is playing piano while singing – rock band Queen’s “Somebody to Love” at the Miss America Pageant in December.

At least 90 seconds of it. Like most interviews, talent displays are frustratingly, if necessarily, truncated, she said.

Performance aside, other components of the national competition include the private interview, an eveningwear competition, an onstage interview, and the presentation of a social impact initiative. On this last, Kast is advocating on behalf of the One Body Movement, a “holistic approach to overall health focusing on the mind, body, and spirit,” she said.

This program helps Kast educate others on the importance of listening to one’s body by focusing “not so much on how we look, but more on how we feel.” She alternately explores each leg of the wellness stool – mind, body, and spirit – to help her audience understand the importance of balance in overall quality of life.

As she put it, one summary of the concept she likes to keep in mind is: “if you don’t make time for your wellness, you will be forced to make time for your illness.”

Win or lose

Win or lose, the fourth generation UND student wouldn’t trade the experience for the world — and she’s already convinced that her pageant involvement will make her a better physical therapist.

“I love helping people, but I also love the physical aspect of physical therapy, and it’s something that has really shaped who I am,” concluded Kast, adding that while her primary interest has been sports PT, she also might specialize in women’s rehabilitation and therapy. “Once I reach the clinical stage and get that hands-on learning, I think I’ll have a better understanding of what exactly I want to do.”

Describing how accommodating the Department of Physical Therapy faculty and staff have been – “I love the PT program here. It has been a phenomenal experience” – Kast also says her PT classmates have been supportive.

“They knew me before I was Miss North Dakota, and so they don’t look at me any differently.”

And that, said Kast of being treated like every other PT student, is the best award of all.

By Brian James Schill