It wasn't a hard decision for Leah Stuart to enter the Miss Destin competition in 2008.

“I live and breathe Destin and I’m very proud of my city,”said Leah, who was born and raised in the city. “What a better way to represent the whole culture of being part of the luckiest fishing village than winning Miss Destin.”

Leah said she was in total shock when she heard her name called out as the 2008 Miss Destin.

“I was so excited because I had never done anything like that before,” she said. “None of us were pageant people, but I really wanted to win this and become an ambassador for Destin.”

Leah said she has a lot of fond memories of representing the city during the Rodeo.

“All of the little girls would come up to me and tell me that they wanted to be just like me when they grew up,” she said.

Being a role model for little girls was always something Leah wanted to do.

The month of October is also very special for Leah because her birthday falls on Oct. 25.

“I was able to spend my 18th birthday at the docks. I decided to wear a tall stuffed birthday hat and had my crown on top of it,” she said.

Leah’s birthday celebration at the Rodeo was going smoothly when the unimaginable happen.

“I was trying to walk into the tented area where we do the weigh-ins and the top of my hat hit the tent and knocked my crown off and into the water,” she said.

The accident occurred toward the end of the day when the sun was going down.

“We tried to look for it with flashlights, but it was too dark. I thought it would be lost with tide,” Leah said. “I was sitting there thinking it was toward the end of the Rodeo and I am going to have to finish out my reign without my crown.

“Of course that will happen to me because I insisted on wearing that obnoxious hat to let everyone know it was my birthday,” she added. “I shouldn’t have worn that hat, but it’s all about creating memories.”

The next day, she was told that someone had worn snorkel gear and searched for the crown.

“I was so happy that they were able to fish it out from the water," she said.

Leah now lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, and is an area sales manager for the Clorox Company. Six months ago she got engaged to Chris Kamerer. They are planning a fall wedding next year at the Emerald Grande in Destin.

Despite it being nearly 10 years since she wore the crown, people still recognize her as a former Miss Destin when she comes back to visit her hometown.

“People will come up to me and say my daughter took a photo with you,” she said.

Leah said next year, for the 10th anniversary of her time as Miss Destin, she plans to again celebrate her birthday at the Rodeo.

“We are going to celebrate my birthday at the Eodeo and a couple days later get married down the street,” she said. “It’s a nice full circle coming back to my Miss Destin days.”

Leah encourages anyone who might be thinking of running for Miss Destin in the future to go for it without any reservation.

“Experiences like this set you up to be a professional at a younger age. Going into college, I had a lot of experience talking to people I didn’t know,” she said. “Being Miss Destin exposes you to multiple audiences and helps you transition from a teenage to a young adult.”