The rise of digital media over the past decade has drastically changed how we seek and acquire information. Yet, it doesn’t seem all that long ago that I was scouring the pages of printed magazines for beauty tips, fashion trends, and career advice.
Back in the Spring of 2003, as I was perusing Glamour magazine, a promotion caught my eye. It was an ad for a short-essay contest, titled ‘Best of You’, sponsored by Glamour magazine and Sally Hansen . The requirements were to describe in 500 words or less, how I (or someone I knew) used the best of myself (or them) to help others.
I was barely twenty one at the time – working forty hours each week, attending college courses full-time, and raising a toddler on my own. And although spare time was limited, I eagerly volunteered and raised funds for local American Heart Association (AHA) non-profit events.
The AHA’s efforts were dear to me because the organization had funded the technology that was used during my dad’s emergency triple bypass – a surgery that prevented him from having a heart attack or stroke … and undoubtedly spared his life.
And the surgery didn’t just save my dad’s life. Two weeks post-op, he was blessed with the opportunity to meet his first grandchild – my daughter.
As I submitted my short essay to the competition, the thought never crossed my mind that I might actually win. But, when I received a call a few months later from a New York area code, I had a feeling that things were about to change.
“This is Emily,” I nervously stated as I answered the phone.
“Good afternoon, Emily. I’m so glad I reached you,” said a friendly voice.
“My name is Jennifer Cherniske. I work in marketing for Glamour Magazine and I have some exciting news to share with you, on behalf of Glamour and Sally Hansen beauty products. Are you sitting down?”
“Yes, I am sitting down.” What on Earth could she be calling about that I needed to sit down for?
“Great. Do you remember entering a short-essay contest a few months ago, called ‘Best of You’?”
“Excellent. It is my pleasure to inform you that you have been selected as one of four grand prize winners of the 2003 ‘Best of You’ competition!”
“What? I won? Are you serious?!” My heart started racing.
“Yes, you did. You won. How do you feel?!”
“I … I don’t even know what to say? I’m in disbelief … what does this mean, exactly?”
“Well, logistics still need to be worked out, but you’re looking at an all-expense paid trip for yourself and one guest to New York City early next year where you’ll meet executives from Glamour and Sally Hansen.”
“Wow. That’s just … WOW. I had no idea!” I was about to lose my mind. It felt like I had just won the lottery.
“The team is very excited to meet you. We’ll do our best to coordinate a time frame for the trip that works with everyone’s schedules. How does that sound?”
“Amazing! But … I think I’m in shock.”
Jennifer shared her contact information and promised to follow up with more details in the week ahead before ending our call.
I was floored. How did I win?! I immediately called my best friend to share the news, and told a few family members in the weeks that followed.
Outside of a high school band trip to California and a trip to Florida for F.B.L.A. nationals, I didn’t have much experience traveling on my own – especially that far from home. I was also young mother … and had never been away from my daughter for longer than a day at a time. I was thrilled, anxious, and nervous all at once.
It was easy to decide who I wanted to take as my guest on the trip. Sarah Anne had been my best friend, my partner in crime, and my trusted confidante since middle school. I was delighted when she agreed to skip a few days of class and work to join me for an adventure in the ‘Big Apple’.
The trip was scheduled for February, 2004. Mother nature, however, was in the process of making other plans. The morning before we were set to fly out, Sarah called me, concerned.
“The weather guy says we’re going to get snowed in.” Well, that’s lovely.
“They’re predicting one to two feet of snow overnight. We should drive over this evening and get a room at one of the airport hotels.”
I’d already made arrangements to leave my daughter with family that evening so that I could leave early the next morning without rushing or disrupting anyone’s schedules. I’d just have to leave her a bit earlier now.
We booked a room at a hotel that would allow me to leave my car in their lot for the duration of our trip, dropped my daughter off, and made the trek to Kansas City.
It was cold and snowing the next morning when the shuttle picked us up at the hotel to catch our flight. We didn’t realize the extent of the snowstorm that we’d escaped until Sarah’s mom called.
“Hi Mom. What’s up?”
“Sarah, did you make it to the airport? Is your flight cancelled? We can’t get even get out of the driveway. School is canceled. And they’re calling for another foot of snow.”
“Really? I don’t think we got that much here. Everything is fine. We’re both checked in and waiting to board the plane.”
“Oh good. I was worried you’d be stuck there.”
We sat quietly on the plane, waiting for what seemed like forever while crews de-iced it. Eventually we were on our way, though, with a direct flight into La Guardia. Stuck in Kansas, we were not!
The experience of a lifetime…
Two small-town girls in the big city
After locating our luggage, we spied a car service that had a sign with my name on it. I felt like a celebrity.
And then we almost died.
Well, by NYC standards, I suppose the drive from the airport to our hotel was nothing out of the ordinary, but I’m fairly certain that one if not both of us incurred head injuries, bruising, whiplash, and possibly a concussion. The driving throughout the remainder of our trip did not improve, either.
Our room was in the Millenium Broadway Hotel on Times Square. Mind you, the nicest hotel I’d ever been to was the Disney Dolphin Swan Hotel in Disney World for F.B.L.A. Nationals. I felt like I was wandering through Wonderland … and as though I was worth a million bucks.
We entertained the bellhop on our way up to our room on the 43rd floor, debating whether there were any buildings in the entire state of Kansas that had 43 floors. We determined that there were not. Incredible … and we weren’t even staying at the top!
There was a gift waiting on one of the beds when we entered the room. A Sally Hansen beach bag packed full of the brand’s beauty products. I wasn’t a high maintenance girl by any means, but it was like Christmas with all the frivolous little things I would have never asked for or spent money on for myself.
I let Sarah pick out a few items and also gave her things I knew that I’d never use. I mean, come on. What does a girl with thick, naturally shaped eyebrows need eyebrow pencils for, anyway?
Our stomachs had been growling since our plane had touched ground, so we decided to hit the streets and check out our surroundings.
NYC had been pummeled with snow in the weeks prior to our trip, and there were piles of snow on the curbs and street corners to dance around. Surprisingly, while everyone was freezing and buried in snow back home, we were roaming the streets of NYC in sweatshirts and jeans. Jackpot!
That evening, Jennifer met us in the lobby of the hotel and introduced us to the three other winners and their guests. Two of the other winners were also college students, and the fourth winner welcomed our label of ‘Group Mom’, as her daughter (who had come along as her guest) was nearly the same age as the rest of us.
We rode in a limo to dinner at a fancy French Vietnamese restaurant called Le Colonial. My family hadn’t been very cultured with food outside of traditional Mexican dishes, so I was a bit fearful of the menu that evening.
We were introduced to and seated between execs from Glamour Magazine and Sally Hansen and each of the winners were given $500 in travelers checks to spend during our trip. I also divulged in my first Cosmopolitan, which I didn’t much care for and have not ordered since. But it looked pretty.
The next morning we received makeovers that included hair cuts (with a shampoo and head massage to die for), professional makeup, and mani-pedi’s at a ritzy salon in the Bergdorf Goodman store. We then traveled to the Conde Nast headquarters, where a press conference was held in our honor. Each of the winners was presented with a giant $2,500 cardboard check, representing a donation that was made by Glamour and Sally Hansen to the charity of their choice. We also received individual, engraved crystal Tiffany stars to commemorate the event.
Our itinerary was left open for the evening, so we decided to cut loose on the town. The others went to see Broadway shows (which I now regret not taking advantage of), while Sarah and I toured the city. We were disappointed to find that SoHo, aka ‘the village that never sleeps’, was shuttered after it had rained all afternoon. We also managed to find Canal street, which was quite an experience.
The last morning of our trip, we rode to a warehouse for a photo shoot. The winners each got glammed up again – only this time, in addition to having our hair and makeup done, we received new outfits and shoes, and participated in a professional photoshoot. One of the group photos from that shoot was published in an ad in the June issue of Glamour magazine to promote the 2004 competition.
The award and trip were a once-in-a-lifetime experience, shared with extraordinary people and the beginning of life-long friendships
Take a peek at a few photos from our ‘glamorous’ fifteen minutes of fame.