Randi Sundquist is poised and confident as she prepares to talk to a group of girls at Grand Prairie High School. You'd expect nothing less from the former Miss Nevada, who is now a dancer for the Allen Americans Ice Angels and works for Dallas-based Rebel Athletic.
But then she tells the story of how she was teased, taunted and bullied as the new kid in elementary and middle school in Nevada.
"I remember sitting alone in my closet, thinking that if this is what my life is going to be, I don't want it," she said in an interview. "It was very real to me. It was that dark and that lonely -- and I was desperate to get out of it."
Love from her family pulled her back from suicidal thoughts, and 18 years later, that scared teenager has become an outspoken voice "for the broken hearts of bullied children," she said.
Sundquist is the face of the Rebel Against Bullying Movement and regularly organizes what she calls "practice crashes," where she drops in on cheerleading practices to offer words of encouragement. In late February, Sundquist and four Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders surprised the Grand Prairie High School cheerleaders to talk about bullying.
For Sundquist, the best way to teach is to tell her own story.
"I was ganged up on by groups of students, teased, pushed around, and sometimes for my own safety, I asked teachers if there was anything I could help with inside to avoid going out to recess," she said. "I literally tried to find any reason not to go outside on the playground."
She held out hope that things would get better when she moved up to middle school, but it got worse.
"Everything continually escalated," she continued. "I remember my school picture being passed around, drawn all over and given back to me. And I remember my heart just kind of sinking."
The bullying reached a boiling point and a fight ensued. It was terrifying, she remembers: "I don't know how to fight," she said.
A teacher ultimately pulled the children apart and escorted them to the principal's office. In a heartbreaking turn, Sundquist remembers the principal asking the other girl if she felt better for causing the trouble. "Yes," the girl said.
While Sundquist says she had the support of her mother, father and sister and "dance family," she never forgot those turbulent times. Anti-bullying became her platform when she got involved with the Miss America Organization while in college at University of Nevada at Las Vegas. She had no previous pageant training but went on to win Miss Las Vegas. Two years later, she won the title of Miss Nevada, in 2012.
"I think that talking about my experience with bullying served as a catalyst in the healing process," she said. "I think every person has things that they go through and brush under the rug and never talk about them. I don't have an answer as to why they chose me or why it was always me, and I will never know. But I now know that the platform I was given was for a purpose."
As Sundquist traveled all over Nevada speaking against bullying, she made a trip back to her junior high school where the fight occurred.
"I spoke in the lunchroom where the fight started, and when I walked the students through what happened, you could've heard a pin drop. It was a powerful and profound moment," she said. "Then I went into the hallway, signed the anti-bullying poster as Miss Nevada and I'm pretty sure I cried."
Now, Sundquist has moved to Dallas to work for Rebel Athletic and join its campaign against bullying. "When I gave up my crown, I had invested so much time and emotion into this topic that I didn't want to just stop," she said. "Rebel has given me a second chance at having another way to help girls without having to be Miss Nevada."
One of the people in attendance at the Grand Prairie High School practice crash was Randi's mother, Denise Sundquist, who admits, "I don't think we realized truly the magnitude of what was going on."
"When she tells the story now, I'll tear up because I feel bad as a parent," Denise said. "It's heartbreaking, but there's so much that you really don't know. I don't know if she was afraid to tell us or if she was telling us and we weren't hearing her.
"I'm very proud of her," she continued. "She's always been very headstrong, which is probably why some people didn't like her when she was younger, and that's probably why she is where she is today."