At 71, Marissa Teijo is the oldest person to compete in Miss Texas USA. She says she hopes to inspire others

Damond Isiaka
6 Min Read


CNN
 — 

Bejeweled and sequined with her hair teased high, Marissa Teijo, 71, made history last weekend when she donned six-inch heels and walked across the stage of the Miss Texas USA competition, to thunderous applause.

“My team told me that I got a standing ovation,” Teijo told CNN. “All I know is that they were cheering.”

The El Paso resident is the oldest contestant to ever compete in the pageant, its director told CNN.

Teijo’s age is not the only reason her participation broke barriers in the pageant world. She is also married, a mother and previously divorced – all previous disqualifiers until last year, when the Miss Texas USA rules changed, according to the pageant’s website.

Born in 1952, Teijo grew up on a cotton and maize farm in Lazbuddie, a small town in Northwest Texas. She is the second oldest of four children, and she and her siblings spoke English among themselves and Spanish to their parents, who migrated to the US from Mexico.

“My father made us work every summer, from dawn to when the sun set. But I liked it. It was a lot of walking. We had to walk up and down the rows and take out all the weeds with a hoe,” Teijo recalled.

She said those early days on the farm instilled a love of being active. As an adult, Teijo said she ran, exercised at the gym and even started competing in bodybuilding competitions when she was 40.

“I have twelve trophies,” Teijo said.

Teijo (second from left) grew up on a farm in Texas.

For more than four decades, the grandmother of three taught second grade and was a substitute teacher. After she retired during the pandemic, she was recruited to join a modeling agency. Teijo said she was urged to compete in a local pageant, but she initially decided against it.

“I didn’t think it was something I would be able to do,” Teijo said.

But she changed her mind when her agent told her how much she could inspire others with her healthy lifestyle. She was already doing it in her community.

“I thought, ‘Yeah, you know what. If I’m already getting a few people that tell me that I’m their inspiration, I can inspire a lot more,’” she said. But I thought it would just be Houston and El Paso.”

To prepare for pageant competitions, Teijo said she hired a “tough” trainer and started weightlifting more intensively. She said because she’s in her early 70s, she worried if she trained really hard, she’d get injured. Instead, she’s now in even better shape than before.

Teijo said she competed in bodybuilding competitions when she was 40.

But at the pageant rehearsal last weekend, when a choreographer instructed contestants on where to walk for each portion of the competition, Teijo said her confidence waned.

“The practice was grueling. Oh my gosh. I kept making so many mistakes. I was getting nervous,” she admitted.

Her pageant roommate noticed her struggling with the choreography and gave her a hand.

“She said, ‘Do you want me to help you down the stairs?’ I said yes because I was afraid of falling. And when she walked down the stairs, she stopped and held out her hand so I could walk down. I thought that was so kind of her,” recounted Teijo.

The septuagenarian said she was surprised by how accepting all the other contestants were, too.

“All the girls were so nice and sweet to me, and they came up to compliment me, telling me I was beautiful and ‘How do you get your abs?’ It was just really, really nice.”

Despite the flubs while practicing, Teijo proudly told CNN she got it right during the competition.

Aarieanna Ware, who was previously Miss Dallas, took home the title of Miss Texas USA. She’s set to compete in Miss USA on August 4.

After the competition was over, women of all ages waited for her in the lobby of the Hilton Houston Post Oak hotel, showering her with praise and admiration. She said positive comments have flooded her Instagram and Facebook pages, too.

“I wasn’t as fancy and as polished as the other girls, but I did it,” said Teijo.

She said she knew she wouldn’t win, but that wasn’t her goal. It was to inspire women to be active, especially through weightlifting and healthy eating.

“It’s something that will keep you looking young, and you don’t just do it for vanity’s sake. You don’t do it for beauty. It’s to be healthy, to be strong and be able to do things as you get older.”

Things like Miss Texas USA.

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