MANILA -- "Is this a sign?" Miss Universe Philippines Gazini Ganados told participants at the finish line of a recent charity run. She placed in the top 5, one week before she leaves for the US for the country's fifth crown.
Ganados joined the Bayani Run without fanfare to help raise funds for the Coalition of Services for the Elderly or COSE. The 23-year-old Palestinian-Filipina is promoting elderly care to honor her late grandmother who raised her while her mother worked abroad.
"The pressure will always be there. It's fueling me," Ganados told ABS-CBN News, in between posing for selfies with fans. "I'm transitioning the pressure to something positive."
Should Ganados succeed reigning Miss Universe Catriona Gray, it will only be the second back-to-back win in the pageant's nearly 70-year history. Only Venezuela has the distinction of having two successive titleholders, from 2008 to 2009.
Ganados said her Miss Universe campaign would have Filipino symbolism, but with a "different flavor." Gray's finals gown was designed to mimic the lava flows on the Mayon Volcano while her national costume celebrated the Pampanga Christmas lanterns.
"There will be symbolism but it will not be the usual. It will not be what Cat did. Kung putahe siya (If it were a dish), it's a different flavor," she said.
"Siguro, humba, lechon, because I'm from Talisay City. I'm going to be the lechon," she said with a chuckle.
A big meal is not something that Ganados has been able to enjoy recently. She has been shuttling between Manila and Cebu City to practice walking in the still-unfinished gowns by Cebu-based Cary Santiago.
Santiago, who did Ganados' hot pink gown for Binibining Pilipinas, will create her national costume, preliminary gown and finals gown, the beauty queen said.
"Mommy Cary is a perfectionist who doesn't do anything unless it's artsy and elegant at the same time," she said. "I'm pretty sure you will be in awe."
Ganados said her grandparents in heaven would be her lucky charm while competing in Atlanta, Georgia. The finals will happen early morning of Dec. 9 Manila time.
Minus television cameras, Ganados has been working with COSE and the Luwalhati ng Maynila, a home for the aged in Marikina City that is run by the city government of Manila.
"The most important thing here is she raised awareness of her advocacy among millennials," said COSE executive director Emily Beridico.
Beridico said COSE received pledges for donations from those who learned that Ganados would participate in the charity run.
"Even after Miss Universe, I think her advocacy will continue because it is grounded on personal experience, her grandmother," Beridico told ABS-CBN News.
Ganados' COSE and Luwalhati advocacy is grounded on an undergraduate thesis on senior citizens at the University of the Philippines-Manila, advised by Calvin de los Reyes, a global health professor.
"I've been witness to Gazini, the silent force, working on her advocacy and making a difference in the lives of the elderly. I hope that in the future, more beauty queens will see the value of grounding their advocacy on research," De los Reyes said.
Ganados' social media hashtag, #GanadoForLoloAndLola promotes 4 ways for the public to become elderly care advocates: start at home, volunteer, support policies for older persons, and engage in research and other activities that promote the welfare of older persons
Ganados said her preparations have been going well. Her mentor is beauty queen maker Rodgil Flores, whose recent Miss Universe wards include Mary Jean Lastimosa and Rachel Peters.
She has also worked with talk show host Boy Abunda and Miss Universe creative director Jonas Gaffud, Flores' erstwhile rival in the pageant coaching circuit.
"If there's pressure, you have goals. If you have goals, you have something to look forward to," Ganados said.
Ganados said she was looking forward to meeting her rivals, including Brazil's Julia Horta, South Africa's Zozibini Tunzi, Indonesia's Frederika Cull and Thailand's Fahsai Paweensuda, all considered front runners.
Asked who she would like to win if she were not in the running, Ganados picked the Thai contender.
Fahsai, she said, is close to Filipinos having participated in the 2017 edition of Miss Earth in Manila.
Counting the days to her departure, Ganados said she would perfect her walk in her Cary Santiago gown.
"I want to learn how to walk with it, to really feel it," she said.