For Miss Iceworm 2020, persistence and determination are key

Ria Smyke, center, is crowned Miss Iceworm at the Iceworm Variety Show. (Jan. 31, 2020) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Eighteen-year-old Ria Smyke doesn’t shrink from a challenge. Her weekdays are an almost solid wall of classes, ballet lessons and band meetings. She’s mastered tricky compositions on French horn, trumpet and piano, including an arrangement of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s dizzyingly intricate “Flight of the Bumblebee.” On weekends and evenings, she unwinds not by binging on Netflix, but by hiking, kayaking and practicing art.

Smyke was named Miss Iceworm at the Jan. 31 Iceworm Festival Variety Show. For her, the toughest part wasn’t the essay-writing — it was the judging interview. Along with other Miss Iceworm candidates, Smyke was asked to answer questions like, “What is a defeat you have overcome?” and, “What is your definition of happiness?” This process was, to say the least, not Smyke’s definition of happiness.

“I’m not a huge talker,” Smyke said. “Being open with people is something I’m really not good at.”

Smyke experiences discouragement, exhaustion and frustration as much as any teenager. What she prides herself on is her ability to confront and overcome these difficulties. In times of serious adversity, Smyke has also been able to fall back on a support network of family and teachers. In 2018, when a new set of dental braces interfered with her trumpet and French horn practice, Smyke was tempted to quit music altogether. Music teacher Chelsea Corrao encouraged Smyke to keep practicing until the braces came off.

“You have to find things you love doing and keep pushing yourself to do them, even if you have setbacks or don’t feel like you want to,” Smyke said. “You have to take breaks sometimes, but you should always find your way back to that thing you love doing… Sometimes it’s like, ‘I’m tired and I don’t really want to go to dance today.’ But I know that I’ll like it once I’m there.”

Asked to pen an essay for her Miss Iceworm application, Smyke chose to write about the way Cordova confronts adversity, responding to tragedies like the October 2019 accidental death of hiker Neil Durco with an outpouring of support both practical and emotional.

Upon being crowned Miss Iceworm, Smyke was awarded a $2,500 scholarship. Smyke is considering studying psychology at either the University of Alaska Anchorage or Montana State University, she said.