The reality of a girlhood dream come true was still sinking in Sunday morning for Portland’s Ali Wallace, the newly crowned Miss Oregon 2015.

“To be honest, I still think I’m dreaming. It’s surreal,” Wallace said, hours after topping a field of 21 contestants at the Seaside Civic and Convention Center.

In claiming the title, the 21-year-old Wallace followed in the footsteps of her mother, Tammy Fazzolari Wallace, who was Miss Oregon 1987. The younger Wallace made time for a brief chat Sunday morning with The Oregonian/OregonLive, with a day full of interviews and public appearances looming ahead.

“The real reason I’ve wanted to become Miss Oregon is because I grew up going to the pageant every year,” Wallace said. “This is just something that touched my heart as a child.

“I’ve grown up looking up to these women and always wanted to do something in return. Having the opportunity to inspire young girls and be a role model is unreal.”

The newest pageant winner portrayed herself as something of a homebody with interests that include film and dance.

Ali and her 18-year-old sister, Bridgette, live at home with their parents, Tammy, a dance teacher, and Chip, owner of a collections agency.

“I have a really great relationship with my family. We do practically everything together.”

On her own, “I watch a lot of movies and make small film projects on my computer,” Wallace said. “And I grew up dancing, so it’s both a hobby and a passion. I like contemporary, lyrical, modern, jazz kind of stuff.”

That dance background came in handy during Saturday’s talent competition, as the brown-haired, hazel-eyed Wallace performed a lyrical dance to an acoustic version of the Sam Smith song “Latch.”

Wallace won the Miss Portland title earlier this year but she also has a strong suburban connection. She grew up in unincorporated Washington County, with a Portland address, and graduated from Sunset High School in the Beaverton School District.

She’s now a junior at Portland State University, where she is majoring in film. The next school year will be put on hold, though, because of Miss Oregon schedule demands.

She’ll have an opportunity to promote her platform, “Traumatic Brain Injury Education and Awareness,” a topic that dates back to when she injured herself as a high school freshman on the varsity cheer squad.

Wallace was practicing a tumbling move, essentially a running backflip, when she fell onto her head and neck and temporarily lost full vision in her left eye and partial vision in the right eye.

“I was 15 when I suffered my traumatic brain injury,” she said. “At the time, I didn’t know what a concussion was, what a traumatic brain injury was. It wasn’t something you really heard a lot about, so I didn’t understand what I was going through.”

As she met with doctors and learned more about traumatic brain injuries, she got involved in volunteering and talking to students about her experiences and recovery process through Oregon Health & Science University’s ThinkFirstOregon program.

It took almost a year to become active again, but even today Wallace said she deals with migraines and issues with her balance and speech.

“I really have to work hard and think about what I say so that I’m articulating my words and not coming across slurred.”

As the 69th Miss Oregon, Wallace wins a $10,000 college scholarship and a spot in the Miss America pageant Sept. 13 in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

She and her peers were judged on talent, interviews, evening gown, swimsuit and an on-stage question. In Ali’s case, “it had something to do with drones and whether it was OK for neighbors to use one to spy on you.

“I just said it would be inappropriate and an invasion of privacy. You wouldn’t be happy if a neighbor came up to your window with a camera and took pictures. With a drone, it’s the same thing.

“But,” she added, “I thought it was OK for the NSA to use it.”

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Kaylee Nelson, Miss Three Rivers, received first runner-up honors Saturday.

Other top contestants were:

2nd runner-up: Allison Burke, Miss Mount Hood

3rd runner-up: Harley Emery, Miss Lane County

4th runner-up: Alexis Mather, Miss Clatsop County

— George Rede

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