Before she stood tall on the Miss USA stage, Alexis Lete spent four seasons sporting a GW uniform on the volleyball court.
Lete, who was crowned Miss Indiana in April, finished third runner-up at the Miss USA Pageant last Monday. Lete, who played for the Colonials from 2015-18 as a middle blocker, said her time in the program and as an athlete helped her advance in the pageant by teaching her how to compete.
“I’ve been used to competing my entire life,” she said. “It didn’t feel like anything that I wasn’t prepared or ready for. It felt like I was just going out there to do business like usual.”
The annual pageant features 51 participants from all 50 states and D.C. Competitors must first win their respective state pageants before taking the Miss USA stage to compete in swimwear, evening gown and a final question round that asks about topics like climate change, prison reform and gun laws.
One month after donning the Miss Indiana crown, Lete was expected to compete for the Miss USA title in May, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the competition schedule by seven months. Lete said she was in a holding pattern for the summer and was only informed of the November pageant in September, prompting her to ramp up training.
Lete called her preparation for the competition a “boot camp” for the best version of herself. She met with a personal trainer and stylist, attended makeup and hair lessons and “religiously” read the news to stay up to date on current events for the question round.
“It’s not like you’re competing against another girl or anything like that,” she said. “You’re really competing for the best version of yourself.”
When Lete arrived at the competition – which was held at Elvis Presley’s former home, Graceland, in Memphis, Tennessee – she said she was tested for COVID-19 every other day, wore a mask when not on stage for the competition, filled out daily health surveys and underwent daily temperature checks. She added that the participants were kept to clusters of 12 to avoid large gatherings.
Lete said she “subconsciously” always wanted to vie for a Miss USA title, but her original dream was to walk the runway in a Victoria’s Secret show. After the cancellation of the brand’s fashion show in 2019, Lete said she fulfilled her dream during the swimwear round of the Miss USA competition.
“I’ve always wanted to be a Victoria’s Secret model walking down that runway, and I got to do that on the Miss USA stage,” Lete said. “I put on a bathing suit and had this flowy cape on me, and I kind of had my Victoria’s Secret moment. One of my dreams has come true through that, and it was just an amazing experience.”
After being discovered in a mall in Indiana during high school, Lete said she modeled her senior year of high school. She added that she was discouraged from pursuing the modeling when she initially joined the volleyball program and was instead told by coaching staff to focus solely on being a GW athlete.
Former head coach Amanda Ault resigned in 2017 and current head coach Sarah Bernson took over the program, a change that Lete said caused her to get back into modeling. She said Bernson gave a platform to her and other student-athletes to pursue their passions.
“I have to thank her for helping me be this woman who walked on stage as nothing other than herself,” she said. “In previous years of my life, I’d always been told to fit into this box or to do this, or I can’t do that. Having someone tell me that my dreams are attainable and telling me that I am perfect and just as worthy the way I am was really huge for me.”
She said “within a month” of reentering the industry she had a gig booked in New York, and in October 2018, Lete walked the runway for D.C. Fashion Week.
Lete said now that she has her platform as Miss Indiana, she hopes to continue encouraging people to follow their dreams and lead by example. Professionally, she said she wants to break into the male-dominated field of game show hosting.
Senior libero Sydney Welch, who was Lete’s teammate for two seasons and roommate in 2018, said seeing her on the national stage empowers other people, both within the volleyball team and beyond it, to pursue their dreams confidently.
“People who see GW volleyball see her, and they’re like, ‘Oh, yeah. That’s amazing. We want to be like her and step out of our comfort zone,’” Welch said. “She’s a determined person, and she goes and gets what she wants.”
Welch added that when she joined the program, Lete was the first person to befriend her and welcome her to the team. She said Lete’s ability to make people feel included permeated into the culture of the team, which now holds stronger bonds because of her.
The program posted a photo last week of Lete celebrating with her teammates after securing a point with a kick save at the 2017 Atlantic 10 quarterfinals to wish her luck before the Miss USA Pageant. The photo, Bernson said, captured Lete’s tenacious attitude and willingness to see a play through.
“It was one of those special moments she contributed to, and she made sure we won the point,” Bernson said. “For me, that’s one of my favorite pictures of being a coach here, and she said it was one of her favorite pictures too. That’s a great moment that represents Lete.”
Will Margerum contributed reporting.