For Miss Buffalo 2020 Nina Zesky, a return to the pageant scene means more to her than one might think.

Nina is legally blind. Many told her pageant girls don’t wear glasses, but what they didn’t realize was that would be the fuel she would use to make it to the state finals.

"The muscles in my eyes don’t talk to my brain. I had little girls coming up to me with their glasses on saying, 'We look like you.' And I started to think about it, and I realized when I was a little girl, I didn't have a me to look up to, and it really hurt my confidence," she said.

This is her final time at Miss New York due to age requirements.

"Here we go, one last talent round!" she said, which makes the return to the stage this time around so special for her.

A trained gymnast, Nina joined 20 other women competing for the state crown over the weekend. Contestants were required to take COVID tests and quarantine ahead of the competition. Those who weren’t vaccinated were required to keep masks on throughout their time together.

What You Need To Know

  • The Miss New York Scholarship Competition was held at the Paramount Theater in Peekskill over the weekend

  • Participants were required to get COVID tests and quarantine ahead of the competition

  • Sydney Park, Miss Five Boroughs, was crowned Miss New York 2021, and will compete in the 100th Anniversary edition of Miss America in December

"We just mesh and bond so much together, so it’s wonderful that we’re actually able to be this close," she said.

Organizers credit a strong team for pulling it off after a year of great uncertainty.

"I am most proud of everybody that I work with. Everybody on the Miss New York organization team are all volunteers. We don’t get paid to do this. We all have full-time jobs," said Sloane Lewis, executive director of the organization.

She was Miss Kansas in 2012, and competed alongside current director of communications Anna Laura Strider, Miss Alabama 2012.

"The organization has shaped me in so many ways, to be able to be back with the same women who had the same experience I did," Strider said, adding that it speaks to the sisterhood Miss America offers its contestants.

"We’re out there in our communities. We’re public speakers. We are advocates. We are fundraisers. We’re philanthropists. And being able to showcase that to the public, to the judges, is what this is all about," Zesky said.

Fordham law student Sydney Park was crowned the winner over the weekend. She is an advocate for gender equality in sports and spends her weekends coaching a girls soccer team in the Bronx.

She will compete in the 100th Anniversary Edition of Miss America later this year.