LORAIN — Lexi Zvosecz was so intent on learning about and experiencing her French culture that she saved up her own money from her life-guarding job in order to visit the country each of the past two years.
That determination earned her something money can't buy. She was crowned Lorain International Festival queen Thursday night.
Zvosecz, 18, a Lorain resident and recent graduate of Magnificat High School in Rocky River, rose to the top of a field of 22 girls representing 14 nationalities. Princesses are judged on their poise and their knowledge of their nationality.
"This is unbelievable. This is unreal. Reality has not even sunk in yet, but I could not be more happy," Zvosecz said moments after the curtain came down.
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Puerto Rican princess Taylor Soto was first runner-up, Italian princess Veronica Jachym was second runner-up, and Croatian princess Megan Beal was third runner-up.
"Every girl growing up wants to be a princess," Zvosecz said. "I got to live out the princess and the queen. I didn't expect it, so it just makes it even more incredible."
Zvosecz said her mother was an International Festival princess as a teenager and she grew up attending.
"I've gone to International Festival every single day of every single year for as long as I can remember," she said.
Zvosecz's great-grandparents came to the United States from France, she said.
Zvosecz first traveled to France in 2012 for 14 days with her AP French class, spending five days in Paris and the rest of the time living with a French family. She returned this year to visit the same family.
"I paid for it all myself because I could not wait to go to France," she said.
During the pageant's talent portion, which is not judged, Zvosecz recited a French poem.
Besides her French studies, Zvosecz is involved in more activities than even she can list: volleyball, soccer, key club and animal outreach, is a Eucharistic minister and participates in myriad other service and faith activities.
"Pretty much, you name it," she said.
All four court members have a busy year ahead of them as they represent Lorain and the International Festival at festivals around the state of Ohio.
Zvosecz says she's up for the challenge.
"I know it's going to be very busy, but I'm ready to welcome that with open arms," she said.
Before she starts visiting other festivals, though, she has three days to preside over her own.
What's she looking forward to? What else.
"The food is probably like one of the best parts," she said. "I don't even know if I'll be able to fit in my dress after.
"It'll be great. I'm really looking forward to seeing everyone else and all the princesses."
Zvosecz, who was sponsored in the pageant by the Church of St. Peter in Lorain, plans to attend Xavier University in the fall to major in nursing and minor in French.
"I'm so grateful for my family, and I know this next year is going to be the best year of our lives," she said.
The Lorain International Festival bazaar is this weekend at Black River Landing. Hours are Friday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. with opening ceremonies at 6 p.m.; Saturday, noon to 11 p.m.; and Sunday, noon to 6 p.m. The parade is 11:30 a.m. Sunday on Broadway and West Erie Avenue.
Contact Rona Proudfoot at 329-7124 or email@example.com.