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The Contest That Changed My Life Forever

From winning a blue ribbon in a second-grade contest to getting a dream vacation, these stories prove that big or small, there's life-changing magic in winning.

Saurabh Jindalcourtesy Saurabh Jindal

I paid off my student loans thanks to winning a trivia contest

In 2002, Saurabh Jindal was a recent college graduate and so broke he couldn’t even pay his graduation fees. Then he decided to enter a trivia contest called This Time, You Are the Champion, the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. “I ultimately ended up winning the equivalent of $2,000 which was a substantial amount in India,” he says. “The winnings not only allowed me to erase my loan for college but it helped me make the Travel Talk app.” He adds that the win also made him a bit of a celebrity in his small town, garnering him invitations to speak at local functions. “Winning the contest was a great experience for me as it gave me confidence and made me feel happy to be in the limelight for a bit,” he says. Whether you’re thinking of going on a TV contest yourself or just enjoy the local trivia night at the bar, keep up your skills with these 50 trivia facts only geniuses get right.

Monte Evanscourtesy Monte Evans

I won $25,000 and used it to help kids in my community

Monte Evans has always been passionate about the power of sports to change lives, particularly for kids, but he never had the resources to turn his dream into reality. That is until he won a contest put on by Sam’s Club in 2017. The Walmart giant was looking for ideas for ways to help the local community and he was the winner for his idea for a sports club that would work with local schools to help improve kids’ physical and mental health. The prize was a $1,000 gift card plus $25,000 to put towards his business. He used the money to co-found the Competitive Edge Athletic Performance Center in Woodbridge, Virginia, and the Dale City “Lightning” Track Club. “I’ve been able to develop sports training, local school and childhood obesity prevention programming, upgrade our training equipment, and secure training space,” he says. But the real winners are the kids—in addition to providing athletic training, Monte also offers educational programs like SAT/ACT prep courses and school tutoring to make sure they have everything they need to succeed as well-rounded adults. “I’m so proud to know that our hard work and sacrifice is valued in our community,” he says. Want to give your own kid an edge? Check out these 19 secrets of straight-A students.

Monsterboy-at-MAD-by-Joanna-Benson-9courtesy Joanna Benson

Winning concert tickets off the radio helped me start my own band

In 2017, Veronica Wirges and her husband feared they might be at the end of their music careers. Their projects had all broken up or finished and with no more work on the horizon, they considered quitting for good. Then Veronica had a small stroke of good luck, winning a radio contest from WFMC Jams. The prize? Two tickets to Bonnaroo, a music festival in Tennessee. The couple took in the shows and filled extra time by busking at one of the campgrounds. They were hoping to just sell a few of their remaining CDs but instead, they attracted the attention of a writer who put their story on That story lead to more work and the couple started an indie-pop band they named Monsterboy. They’re now playing festivals of their own, including Austin’s SXSW. “Winning that contest was like fate had stepped in and pointed us back towards music,” she says. Want some more inspiration to get you moving on your big goals? Read these 32 secrets of people who’ve crossed major items off their bucket lists.

Lynn Schockmelcourtesy Lynn Schockmel

Taking first in a face-painting contest helped me see myself as a real artist

Looking at Lynn Schockmel’s artwork is like being transported to another world—the body painting artist is so skilled that she can turn human skin into almost anything you can imagine, with stunningly realistic results. But she wasn’t always so confident in herself. Ever since she was a child, she’d loved painting and would do it on any surface she could find, including any hands and faces that would hold still long enough. People told her she was talented but she didn’t see herself as good enough to be a “real” special effects artist. That is until she won a face-painting contest at a local fair. “As the contest winner, I got published in the newspaper and I felt like it kind of ‘proved’ the quality of my skills, both to myself and others,” she says. Since then, she’s branched out into all types of body painting and even placed in the top 20 at the World Bodypainting Championship.

Christina Williamscourtesy Andre Cormier

Winning $50 as a poor child inspired me to reach out to others who just need a little help

Raised by a single, immigrant mother, Christina Williams and her two siblings didn’t grow up with much. So one day when the family was listening to the radio and heard a call-in contest announced, Christina decided this was her opportunity to get something more. The third-grader called in and after answering a few trivia questions, won the $50 prize. “It wasn’t much but to me, it was everything because it showed me there were bigger things and opportunities out there,” she says. Her mother helped her deposit the money in her very own bank account which started her on the road to financial freedom. Now, as an adult, she doesn’t have to worry about money much but she’s never forgotten that small win as a child. “It inspired me to start my current project called Back Getters, a company that helps others ‘have each others’ backs’,” she explains. “I want to inspire people to make kindness, empathy, and compassion a priority in every interaction they have because every single one of us is so powerful and our actions, big or small, can have a huge impact—just like that $50 I won from the radio station.” You can start changing the world right now with these 50 random acts of kindness that don’t cost a cent.

jme thomascourtesy jme thomas

Starting an animal rescue helped me win a car, which helped me rescue more animals

Starting a charity is important work, but it’s rarely profitable and so it was for jme thomas. She’d spent seven years building up Motley Zoo, an animal rescue in Redmond, Washington, but any money she made went straight back into the zoo. “Then, as crazy as it sounds, in one year I won two cars in two different contests,” thomas says. She decided to sell the first car to pay her living expenses and the second car, won from the Toyota Cars For Good contest, she used for her animal rescue. They were even able to get a custom zebra-striped car wrap to help advertise the rescue and adoption facility. “This car has been a huge deal for us. Now when we drive in the city, tourists stop us and take pictures and people honk, wave and yell out ‘I adopted my dog from you!'” she says. “Another surprising bonus is that people treat me nicer when I am driving too and let me merge with no problems.”

Katrinacourtesy Tosha Gaines

Winning a weight-loss contest changed my body and my life

In a story many working mothers will relate to, Katrina McKinney spent years putting other people’s health ahead of her own. Finally the Birmingham, Alabama, native decided it was her turn and in July of 2017 she resolved to lose weight and get healthy. She didn’t want to go it alone, however, and she knew a little competition would make her more likely to stick with her goals so she signed up for Precision Nutrition’s life transformation contest. Over the next year, she worked with her coach, eventually losing 41 pounds and 38 inches. Thousands of people voted for her and she won the contest, along with $25,000. But it wasn’t the money or even the weight loss that was the game-changer for her. “This contest not only transformed my nutrition and fitness but my personal identity and approach to life,” she says. “Now I see myself as a fit and healthy woman, and I learned how to eat, move, and live in congruence with that identity.”

Namita Kulkarnicourtesy Namita Kulkarni

Winning a dream vacation helped me start a new life

“I’ve always been really passionate about traveling and sharing that experience with others,” says Namita Kulkarni. But as a yoga teacher traveling on her own dime, it was hard to do. She decided to enter a travel contest called “Grab Your Dream.” “They asked us to show our passion for travel so I submitted a picture of me jumping off a waterfall in Mauritius,” she says. The stunning picture won her a spot in the finals and after a round of interviews, she was chosen as a winner. Her prize? A 12-day dream vacation to Bolivia. “Bolivia blew me away with her bizarre beauty,” she says. “Seeing geysers, volcanoes, alpacas, salt flats, flamingoes on frozen lakes, and lakes of various colors opened up my sense of what’s possible in the world.” This trip inspired her to launch her blog, Radically Ever After, to document her exciting trips. Now she is living her dream, traveling the world and teaching yoga. “Winning the contest gave me the confidence to pursue what I really love most,” she says. Get inspired to take your own travel photos by checking out these 15 most colorful natural features in the world.

Henna Hundalcourtesy Henna Hundal

A contest in elementary school led me to my grown-up career

In 5th grade, Henna Hundal decided on a whim to enter her school’s “Speech Meet” contest. “I did an original, corny monologue about gratitude and friendship and I won first prize,” she says. “All I got was a little royal blue ribbon but I proudly hung it up in my room.” However, that humble ribbon lead to big things, changing the course of her life by helping her decide what she wanted to do for her career. “I’m not sure precisely what so elated my ten-year-old mind about this small win at the time, but in hindsight, I understand it marked the first time that I found my voice,” she explains. “It was the first validation I had that my words mattered and that even as a small, unassuming adolescent, what I had to say was worthy of being heard. It gave me the courage to be more outspoken—to speak up and speak out wherever my words could make a difference.” Today the little blue ribbon is gone but the contest’s legacy lives on as she is now a nationally syndicated radio host of The Henna Hundal Show.

Nicole Ingraffiacourtesy Nicole Ingraffia

A third-grade school contest taught me to have bigger dreams for myself

When nine-year-old Nicole Ingraffia heard about the school-wide contest to design a holiday card to be used by the Atlantic City hockey team, the “Boardwalk Bullies,” she couldn’t wait to get started. She’d always loved art and she knew exactly what picture she was going to do. “I drew a snowman leaning up against a hockey stick and handed it in, not expecting to win,” she says. “A week later, newspaper reporters and cameras came into my classroom to let me know that I had won the contest and my design had been chosen.” That feeling stayed with her as she grew, helping her to recognize that she was valuable and so was her work. “In a world telling me to grow up and be a nurse or something else ‘practical’ at such a young age, winning the contest was validation to me that maybe I didn’t have to be what everyone expected me to be,” she says. There’s a real strength in communities, like these 22 heartwarming stories of things people have done to help their neighbors.

Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte Hilton Andersen, BS, MS, has been covering health, fitness, parenting, and culture for many major outlets, both in print and online, for 15 years. She's the author of two books, co-host of the Self Help Obsession podcast, and also does freelance editing and ghostwriting. She has appeared in television news segments for CBS, FOX, and NBC.

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