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Mathis competing for Miss America crown tonight

Miss Georgia, Leesburg’s Carly Mathis, will compete in Miss America tonight, airing live on ABC at 9 p.m. (File photo)

Miss Georgia, Leesburg’s Carly Mathis, will compete in Miss America tonight, airing live on ABC at 9 p.m. (File photo)

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Mathis was named a preliminary winner for lifestyle and fitness winner. (Special photo)

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From left are 2014 Miss America Competition preliminary winners Miss Georgia Carly Mathis (lifestyle and fitness), Miss America 2013 Mallory Hagan, and Miss Florida 2013 Myrrhanda Jones (talent). (Special photo)

ATLANTIC CITY — There she is … Miss America?

Could the dream become reality for Leesburg’s Carly Mathis tonight? It just might, if this past week’s preliminary competitions at the 2014 Miss America Pageant are any indication. Fifty-three contestants representing the United States and its territories have spent the past week in New Jersey rehearsing for their big night and competing in preliminary events that will help determine their final rankings at the pageant.

Already one of seven finalists for the Quality of Life award — which is based on a candidate’s platform — Mathis capped off the week with a preliminary win for Lifestyle and Fitness.

Mathis took time from her busy schedule to speak with The Albany Herald about her experience so far.

“I’ve been here for a little over a week now, and I’m just having the best time,” Mathis said.

“But we don’t get a lot of sleep,” she laughed.

After receiving word of her nomination for the Quality of Life award, Mathis interviewed with a panel about her platform, heart health and heart safety.

“Being named a finalist for that really means a lot to me,” Mathis said. “Heart health is something that’s very important to me, and it’s nice to know the judges recognize that.

“That nomination has been my favorite part about the week so far. It’s really special to me because it’s about more than just looking pretty or saying the right things. This is an issue that is very personal to me, and that I try to live out on a daily basis. It was nice to be able to speak with the judges about it and tell them more about who I really am and why this platform is so important to me.

“I feel content; I could go home now and still feel rewarded because I was able to do that.”

After making various appearances and competing in preliminaries for interview, talent and on-stage question, Mathis was named the Lifestyle & Fitness winner Thursday night. Besides earning valuable points contributing to her final score, Mathis also earned a $1,000 scholarship.

“I feel really good about how things are going so far, Mathis said Wednesday, one day before her preliminary win in the swimsuit competition. “The talent and on-stage question competitions went well, and I just hope that I’m building up some points for myself.”

Regardless of who ultimately walk away with the crown Sunday night, Mathis knows she has had the experience of a lifetime.

“I know it sounds cliche, but I really have made friends for life here,” she said. “People ask me all the time if the contestants actually get along — but we do. I think it’s because we don’t know anything about each other, and we’re all starting from the same place.

“At the end of the day, we’re all here for the same reason.”

Mathis’ family is in Atlantic City to support her through this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“Even my brother is coming, and he never comes to the pageants,” Mathis said. “But I think he realized how special it is when I told him that men have a better chance of competing in the Super Bowl than women do in Miss America. So, he’ll be here.”

The Miss America pageant airs live from Atlantic City at 9 p.m. tonight on ABC. A behind-the-scenes look at the contestants journeys to the crown will air at 8 p.m. on a special edition of “20/20.”

For more updates and photos from the week, visit the Miss America organization’s Facebook page or its website at www.missamerica.org.