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Posted at 05:48 PM ET, 06/04/2012

Miss USA runner-up Nana Meriwether of Maryland: I was a high school wallflower

Miss Maryland USA Nana Meriwether in Las Vegas on Sunday. See a gallery of Miss USA photos. (Isaac Brekken/Getty Images)

Don’t they all say something like this? Nana Meriwether, the world-class beauty from Potomac, Md., who came in second at Miss USA on Sunday, insists that she was a total nerd as a kid.

“I was the most insecure,” the 2003 Sidwell Friends grad told us. “In high school, I had maybe two friends. I couldn’t speak in front of people.”

So how did she end up on live national television in a tiny bikini? After a long career in volleyball — a two-time NCAA All-American and former Olympic hopeful, who played professionally overseas — she retired a few years ago, only to realize “I still felt I needed to be competing in something.” (Read earlier: Nana Meriwether, Sidwell grad, is 1st runner-up at Miss USA)

Entering the world of pageants for the first time in her mid-20s, she had immediate and tantalizing success, coming close three years in a row to snagging the Miss California USA title while doing graduate work out west.

“It’s such a great way to build your character and confidence,” she said. “I’m a completely different person. . . . I’m friends with a lot of people from Sidwell still, and they’re like, who are you?”

For all the physical attributes on display at Miss USA, Meriwether says it’s mostly a mental game. “You’re comparing yourself to 51 girls, you’re looking for signs, like ‘Does [pageant owner] Donald Trump like me? Does the board like me?’ You get wrapped up in conspiracy theories. . . For me, playing sports, I knew how to handle a competitive situation.”

Meriwether applauds as Culpo is named Miss USA. (Isaac Brekken/Getty Images)
Now, Sidwell Friends — that’s a competitive place, if not one known for pageant girls. Meriwether laughed: “My classmates are all super – I can’t tell you how many are at Harvard, discovering new things and changing the world. I took a very different route! But no one else in my class can say they were Miss Maryland USA.”

Now that the pageant chapter of her life has closed, Meriwether is working on med school applications, weighing modeling offers and — not surprisingly after her positive new experience with public speaking — “thinking of maybe doing politics in the future,” she said. “I have the ambition for it now.”

Read earlier: Nana Meriwether, Sidwell Friends grad, is first runner-up at Miss USA, 6/4/12 (Elements of these two stories appear combined in Tuesday’s print edition.)

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By  |  05:48 PM ET, 06/04/2012

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