Whether she’s in a sleek dress or a callous gi, this Pinay beauty pageant winner and Judo champion is breaking down barriers.
When you think of beauty pageants, you think of perfect smiles, “world peace” speeches, and (unfortunately) Steve Harvey. But this Fil-Am breaks the mold of the stereotypical beauty pageant winner, and she does so with her badass judo skills.
Amelia Castillo Fulgentes, better known as NayNay by her close friends and family, was born in Naga City and grew up in the US from the age of 7. The 23-year-old is currently wrapping up her Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration at the University of Colorado.
But while she may come off as your typical college student–trying to balance her academics with a social life–Fulgentes’ world is far more colorful outside of the classroom.
For starters, in 2015, she joined the Miss Philippines USA pageant upon the behest of her family. And though it wasn’t something she was particularly crazy about, she still gave it her best and took home the Miss People’s Choice Award and the title of Miss Philippine Airlines in the process.
“It was incredibly difficult for me to adjust to the pageant lifestyle, but I am truly blessed to have such supportive parents to help me push through,” she shares with DojoDrifter.com. “Even though I wasn’t completely into it, I learned many life lessons that I will always carry with me. Of course, winning one of the titles feels good, but it’s not about the crown. Winning a crown doesn’t make you who you are. Going through the journey and making memories—that’s what it’s all about.”
Clearly, there’s more to Fulgentes than a crown and a sash. After all, she’s one of today’s must-watch athletes in the US judo circuit.
Fulgentes is a shodan (first-degree) black belter in judo and is currently ranked number 2 in the USA in her weight division. She’s also the two-time reigning National Champion. NayNay has likewise made waves internationally, making it onto two junior world teams and placing 5th and 7th at a number of world cups.
Fulgentes has trained most her life in the US, but she made it a point to train with Filipino judokas during her visit to the country last year. She says she had a packed schedule during her visit to the Philippines. Nevertheless, she made sure she got to train at the Ultimate Judo Fighters Club (UJFC) in Pasay under former Philippine Team Judoka Julie Divina, who had extended motivating words to Fulgentes during her pageant stint.
“Training at UJFC was honestly one of my favorite parts of my trip home,” she shares. “I felt very welcomed and I enjoyed meeting everyone. I would definitely go back and visit again in a heartbeat!”
Though a reunion with UJFC is bookmarked for the indefinite future, it remains as just one of many plans for the budding judo star.
“For my judo goals, I just want to take it one tournament at a time and see how far I go. Hopefully as far as an Olympic Team and possibly an Olympic medal,” says Fulgentes. “I have many future goals but I don’t want to look too far ahead because I don’t want to lose sight of what’s in front of me. I feel like focusing on the end goals make you miss the journey.”
Through all her experiences–from the bright lights of a pageant stage to the painful lessons of a judo mat–Fulgentes has learned to see the world differently. That includes her unique perception on beauty.
“We all have different views and opinions on what beauty is,” she says. “To me, beauty comes from within, it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the way you look. It’s about believing in yourself and having the confidence that you are capable of anything you put your mind to. Society perceives that we must look or act a certain way, but we don’t have to follow their ways. You have to be able to carry yourself the way you want. It doesn’t matter what others say or think about you. It’s your life, you do what you want with it. Don’t be afraid to stand out!”