A university student who overcame personal tragedy is raising money to compete in the Miss Universe Canada pageant.
Alexandra Day, 19, will be participating in the pageant, partly to honour her mom, Michelle Vandale, who was killed in Abbotsford on Remembrance Day in 2009.
"It motivates me in everything I do," said Day. "She often used me as her guinea pig," she recalled of her mom, a professional photographer. "It reminds me of her every time I do work in front of a camera."
Day was only 16 when on Nov. 11, 2009, her stepfather, in the grips of a schizophrenic delusion, killed her mom.
The undiagnosed mental illness turned the formerly laid-back, kind man into a withdrawn, paranoid stranger in three months.
Her mom had a few cysts in her abdomen, recalled Day. That morning her stepdad had the strange idea there must be a demon growing inside her mom's stomach and that he needed to kill it. He killed Vandale and then set fire to their home.
"I still feel guilty I didn't see what was going on," she said. Now studying psychology and criminal justice at the University of the Fraser Valley, Day can see the signs.
"But back then, none of us had ever dealt with it," she said. "Mental heath is such a taboo and we hardly talk about it."
In the aftermath, Day struggled with grief,
depression, anxiety and PTSD. For about two years afterwards she didn't think she would be able to achieve her goals.
"I thought it was all over," she said. "Overcoming all that, it has been a huge factor in my development. I know whatever life throws at me, I can take it."
She eventually forgave her stepfather, who was found not criminally responsible because of his mental illness.
She plans to pursue a PhD, open her own private practice and start a non-profit summer camp for youth. Day only started participating in community pageants last spring, and has applied to join Miss Universe Canada.
She's trying to raise about $10,000 to compete in the national finals in Toronto on May 25.
"It's about becoming the best person you can be, physically and emotionally, and becoming a good role model," said Day. "Like anything in life, if you can learn from it, it can only have a positive impact on your future."