Ellen Bryan still remembers the day her life was drastically altered. On June 13, 2000, Bryan's sister, Christina, was working at the golf course the family lives on and was struck by lightning.
"She went into cardiac arrest and didn't have oxygen to her brain for over 10 minutes," Bryan said.
There was a three-foot deep hole in the ground next to her sister, but it's still unknown if it was a direct strike.
The manager from the golf course called the Bryan home and they immediately left to see Christina. Bryan still had on her swimsuit from practice, she said.
"I asked my mom ‘can people die from this? What's going to happen to her?'" Bryan said. "My mom said, ‘This is serious, Ellen.'"
Her mom was right.
"She was very unresponsive and had no idea where she was," Bryan said. "She still can't talk today but nods her head, is in a wheel chair and is fed through a feeding tube."
"We are always trying new things," she said." There is always the hope that she will get better, that where she is now is not where she is going to stay."
Those first few years
"The first couple of years, Mom and Christiana were constantly traveling back and forth from the hospital," Bryan said. "As a sixth grader going through junior high, that made it tough."
The family celebrated Thanksgivings and Christmases in the hospital, Bryan said.
The sisters used to play golf together when they were younger. Bryan used to say she wouldn't golf until Christina could golf again as well. She held onto that vow for seven years until she decided to golf in her sister's honor.
"Before, she was one of my biggest role models; I wanted to be a mini Christiana," Bryan said. "I suddenly didn't have her there, I didn't have that person to model everything I did after."
But her sister is still an example to her today.
"She is not the role model she was before, [the accident], but [she is] probably even more of a role model in my life now just by how she handles and accepts life," Bryan said.
Lightening safety campaign
As a telecommunications major, Bryan needs to work well under pressure.
Phil Bremen, a telecommunications professor, had a discussion with her about competing in beauty pageants.
"What she gets out of pageants puts a great deal of emphasis on poise," he said.
Poise is also needed for television news, which will help her in her future career, Bremen said.
In the Miss America system, which Bryan is preparing for her sixth competition in the organization, each contestant needs to have a platform.
"It fell into place that it was lightening safety," Bryan said.
"Pageant participants have to adopt causes and be articulate about them," Bremen said.
Although it had been seven years since the accident, talking about her sister was difficult at first.
"The first couple years through Miss America it was hard to talk about, hard not to cry," Bryan said. "I never knew when the emotions would come again."
Bryan has spoken for The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for three years now and speaks all over the country, including Nashville, Chicago, Ohio and Florida.
In the sunshine state, she helped with a Radio Disney event.
"I loved Radio Disney just because you could teach the kids who really need the knowledge," she said.
In 2009, Bryan and her sister participated in a public safety announcement for lightening safety which was televised all over the country.
One thing she is pushing for is large outdoor venues to buy storm safety kits to help protect people in places like parks and recreational centers.
Bremen taught Bryan in her first year of telecommunications and is her academic advisor.
"She is certainly focused, but humble," he said. "She puts emphasis on the cause for instance rather than herself and is very family-orientated."
Bremen said he is impressed Bryan doesn't show any resentment toward Christina even though so much attention is focused on her, which often happens between siblings.
Looking toward the future
"Lightening safety will be something I'll always be passionate about and continue teaching about," Byran said. "As long as people are still getting hurt, I will still be out there hoping to help people change their minds in storms."
"I've learned to not take things for granted, that everything in life is a gift," she said.
Simple tips that could save your life
* When thunder roars, go indoors
* Go inside a building that has 4 walls and a roof or a vehicle
* Don't wear rubber tennis shoes outside
* Don't stand under trees
* Stay away from windows
* Inside, don't be by plumbing or electricity
* Shelter houses in parks are not safe
* Don't watch from your open garage
Fact: Lightening can strike up to 10 miles outside of a storm