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Created on Tuesday, 08 September 2015 07:00 | Written by Jason Vondersmith

Erica Hand towers over competition as international champ

Playing basketball and volleyball while growing up in Woodburn, and not having anything to do with pageants, Erica Hand never envisioned that she would attach the title “Queen” to her name one day.And she is “Queen,” as the reigning Miss Tall International.

“I’m Queen Erica, Miss Tall International,” she says.

Oh yeah, royalty? “I’ve known this my whole life,” she says, jokingly, “people are starting to realize it.”

Hand, 36, works as an instructional administrative assistant for the math and sciences career technical program at Portland Community College-Southeast Campus. She entered adulthood very aware that her height — 6-foot-1 — set her apart from other women and, on the urging of her mother, Hand joined the local chapter of the decades-old Miss Tall International organization. She was reluctant at first to become involved, but after a relationship ended, she joined last October “because it was a social club.”

One thing led to another: Hand heard about the Miss Tall Portland contest, which involved a nomination at a house party, and she became the title holder in 2014 because of her involvement in activities. At the Tall Clubs International convention in Sparks, Nev., in July, judges evaluated contestants from the United States, Canada and Europe, and Hand talked about being from Portland and all the bridges in the city and how bridges bring people together. In addition, the contestants performed a skit, competed in an evening gown competition, and answered questions from the emcee.

The questions?

“How would you define success?” Hand says: “Having family, friends, a job that I love, and being able to travel and have a good life.”

And, “You were just hired to play a character at Disneyland, which character would you pick?” She says: “I would be Cinderella, because she lives in a big castle, and she’s somebody that little boys and girls can look up to. When I think of Disney, I think of Cinderella, the ultimate fairy tale.”

Hand won over the judges, and became Miss Tall International.

In the coming months, Hand will be treated like a queen. She’ll be the guest at a Las Vegas club gathering in September, and then in Chicago in January and possibly Boston and Arizona.

“The club flies the queen out to do publicity and promotions, maybe TV and radio,” she says. “I have my own handler. One of the rules is the queen doesn’t touch money. That’s super cool.

“In Reno, we’d have dinner and I’d come out in my crown and sash and everyone would stand up and start clapping. My sister would roll her eyes. I was loving it.”

There have been other women from Portland who have reached the highest honor of the Miss Tall world — Holli Jennings in 2009 and Jane Baldwin in 2007, recently.

The funny thing is, Hand was one of the shorter women in the contest. “I look at the pictures, and there are women towering over me. I felt so petite,” she says.

Growing up tall was just a fact of life for Hand, the daughter of Philip and Kathy Hand of Woodburn, who always had to find bigger pants and shoes for their daughters. Her parents were tall, her sister, Kristen, was tall.

“Nobody was small in our house,” Kathy Hand says. “She fit in. When you’re of Scandinavian heritage, they don’t make you small.”

Erica adds: “Growing up in high school I was always the tallest person, and all the class photos you could always see me towering over everybody else. I’ve always enjoyed it.” The only little issue was trying to find a taller fellow to date.

Hand, a 1997 Woodburn High graduate and 2003 University of Oregon grad, has heard all the comments: Do you play basketball? How’s the weather up there? What size shoe do you wear?

People would tell her, “Gosh you’re so tall.” Her response: “Oh really? Thanks.”

She has always been proud of her height. It’s a small club to be in the same class as other tall women and Hand really felt at home as part of the Tall Clubs International, because “it’s a way to get together and support each other” through activities such as wine tastings, bike rides, museum tours, house parties, concerts and movies. Women are 5 feet 10 and taller, men 6-2 and taller.

Hand was just elected social chair for the Portland club.

Her message to other tall women?

“Stand up tall and embrace it,” she says. “I think it’s getting more and more normal, as people are getting taller and there is more awareness. It’s more acceptable.”

Sheryl Lutz has been named the new Miss Tall Portland. She lives in Portland. And Mr. Tall Portland, Robert Hicks, attended Benson High School and lives in Portland.

For now, Hand stands on top of the Miss Tall world.

“I tell people I won and they say, ‘What? That’s so funny. Erica Hand, what?’ Because that’s so not me. That’s what makes it fun.”

Her mother says: “We’re very proud of her. I hope it gives her opportunities to meet new people and see new things.”

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