Miss Universe Jamaica 2021 Daena Soares’ excitement is palpable, so much so that the 22-year-old says she feels “breathless”. Speaking with a burst of energy, Soares shared that “although everyone else gets breathless out of feeling nervousness, I experience it out of excitement”.

The 70th edition of the Miss Universe preliminary swimwear and evening gown competitions, along with the presentation of the national costumes, concluded yesterday in Israel’s Red Sea coastal city of Eilat. It began with the candidates adorned in Portia & Scarlett dresses, introducing themselves in batches of four.

Soares’ national costume paid homage to her home parish, St Elizabeth. Designed by Dermoth Williams, it “is made chiefly from green burlap and decorated with accents that celebrate the rich resources of the region in Jamaica from which it takes inspiration,” said a post made to the official Miss Universe Jamaica Instagram account.

She told The Gleaner that she has chosen to “release all nerves and expectations” heading into the final round of the competition tonight and to “trust the process, do my best in hopes that I make everyone proud by doing so”.

The two-hour preliminaries were hosted by reigning Miss Universe Andrea Meza of Mexico and America TV personality Carson Kressley and live-streamed via the Miss Universe YouTube channel and Facebook page.

“A lot of my preparation has been mental,” Soares said. “Albeit the physical aspect is just as important, but competing with so many talented and amazing women requires one to have high levels of self-awareness and reassurance.”

She added, “I have been working hard [for] this moment, remembering through it all how much the Miss Universe Jamaica team and I invested to get here, and not to let negative thinking sidetrack me, was important.” The pageant queen certainly channeled her confidence as she sashayed across the stage in a wine-red, high-waisted bikini for the swimwear round. Then when Soares appeared in the royal blue Dermoth Williams Couture evening gown — staying true to her unique Miss Universe mantra — she strutted as if she was ‘soaring to the crown’.

Soares explained, “Sometimes we like to major in the minor and disservice ourselves of a great experience. My recommendation would be to always try to soar, soak up the experience, because the lessons and opportunities are too valuable to miss out on. What started out as a play on my last name has really embodied my journey. Soaring is an act of gracefully moving, and I believe it’s something we can attach [it] to life as well.”

She shared that the experience in Eilat has been greater than one can imagine, with some of her highlights including sightseeing, going into the communities to learn the traditions of the country and interacting with dolphins in the wild.

“The culture and people here are very different than what is perceived, which is why I believe in the importance of travel and having new experiences. The trip overall has been amazing, but one of my highlights, funnily enough, was visiting dolphins that are able to roam free and swim inshore on their own terms.”

Earlier in the week, the Miss Universe Organisation (MUO) President Paula Shugart had a briefing with the 80 candidates competing for the international title, which was an enlightening experience, Soares said.

“The briefing was actually quite relaxed, contrary to popular belief, the MUO president is quite a believer in destiny; that ‘whatever happens on Sunday night will be that girl’s destiny’, so whatever happens to me on Sunday night is my destiny. Acknowledging and embracing that has been very freeing, and I was happy to hear it from the president herself,” she said.

“The best advice I received was about breathing, which came from my organisers and was reiterated by Miss Shugart. She reminded us all to breathe, not to get too caught up in the moment and remain grounded and present through breathing was how I got through the preliminaries, and I am ready for the finals,” Soares continued.