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Friends, family say Miss Kansas has always been breaking stereotypes

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(AP Photo/The Press of Atlantic City, Edward Lea). In this Tuesday Sept. 10, 2013 photo, Theresa Vail, Miss Kansas, takes part in the swimsuit competition during the first night of the Miss America Pageant at Boardwalk Hall, in Atlantic City, N.J. (AP Photo/The Press of Atlantic City, Edward Lea). In this Tuesday Sept. 10, 2013 photo, Theresa Vail, Miss Kansas, takes part in the swimsuit competition during the first night of the Miss America Pageant at Boardwalk Hall, in Atlantic City, N.J.
LEAVENWORTH, KS (KCTV/AP) -

Miss Kansas is getting a lot of attention for breaking the mold and showing her tattoos at the Miss America Pageant, but those who know her say that's nothing new. She's been doing it since her days at Leavenworth High School.

In the choir room or in combat boots, Theresa Vail knew how to make her own way through high school.

"Theresa had it in her mind from the beginning, ‘this is what I want to do, so I'm going to audition for the school play, I'm going to be in ROTC,'" said Trish Klima, a guidance counselor at the high school

And she's carrying that attitude through the Miss America Pageant, where her goal is empowering woman to overcome stereotypes and break barriers.

"For the past six years I've been an American soldier," she said in an interview.

Growing up a Vail meant finding a way to stand out from the start, in a pack of eight.

"It goes Melissa, then Becky, then Mark, then Patrick, then Christopher, then Theresa, then John, and then myself," said little brother Matthew Vail.

Matthew Vail is still holding down the fort at Leavenworth High School.

"All my friends, even the teachers, ‘your sister's unbelievably hot, can I get her number?' Unbelievable," Matthew Vail said.

But growing up in a military family, the youngest in the family said Theresa Vail never wanted to be a beauty queen.

"She does not want to be that pretty little girl that gets what she wants, when she wants it, and it comes from the military side. We were all raised like that, you have to earn everything in this life," he said.

Right now, Theresa Vail is earning attention for bearing her tattoos during the swimsuit portion of the competition on Tuesday – the Serenity Prayer on her right side, words she said helped her through bullying, and the insignia of the U.S. Army Dental Corps on her left shoulder.

"Getting that tattoo is her motivation because she can't fail at it, or it wouldn't make sense having it," her brother said.

And Theresa Vail's signature marks aren't turning off any fans at her old school.

"I think she'd be a great representative as Miss America, and we'd all be proud," said choir teacher Connie Baxter.

Theresa Vail is a 22-year-old senior at Kansas State University. She's also a member of the Army National Guard who wants to become a military dentist.

Her platform is helping women overcome stereotypes and break barriers.

Given her platform, she wrote on her blog last month: "What a hypocrite I would be if I covered the ink."

The Miss America pageant is back in Atlantic City, N.J., after a 6-year absence. The finale will be Sunday night.

Copyright 2013 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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