An Unforgettable Day for the Rose Queen

Erika Winter’s alarm clock went off at 2 a.m. last Friday. The big day had finally arrived. While most people in Pasadena were winding down their New Year’s Eve celebrations and heading to bed, the 2016 Rose Queen sprang from hers and was out the door five minutes later — still wearing pajamas.
What followed was a series of memories that Winter has since described as “the most exciting day of my life thus far.” The 18-year-old Flintridge Prep senior officially etched her name into Pasadena lore as she rode down Colorado Boulevard in the Rose Parade, and later she stood at midfield next to Stanford and Iowa football players for the coin toss of the Rose Bowl Game.
But these iconic appearances were just the tip of the iceberg for Winter.
It turns out that Jan. 1 involves a lot more than what meets the television camera’s eye.
After the Tournament of Roses van scooped up all seven members of the Rose Court from their respective houses, the young women were whisked to a salon to begin their transformation through hair styling and makeup.
“The adrenaline started pumping as soon as we were picked up,” Winter said. “We drove down Colorado Boulevard with the thousands of people sleeping on the street. It was really crazy to get to see what we were going to be seeing in a few hours.”
Following beautification, the high school seniors arrived at the Tournament House to eat breakfast and change into their dresses — green ones for the six princesses and a white one for Winter. The first sun of 2016 was just beginning to peek over the horizon, but the majority of Colorado Boulevard’s campers were still asleep.
Up next was a final round of media appearances. Reporters and camera operators from dozens of outlets descended on the front lawn to catch up with the court for the last time before the girls boarded their float a few blocks away on Orange Grove Boulevard.
The 127th Rose Parade began at 8 a.m., six hours after Winter had awakened. The specially designed float — featuring a bejeweled crown and plenty of roses — glided up the street before turning right onto Colorado Boulevard, an intersection known as “TV corner” because of all the cameras waiting to broadcast the procession around the world.
“That was very surreal,” said Winter. “Everyone kind of talks about it, but you really don’t know what it feels like until you’re in it. It was crazy, because you hear the hundreds and thousands of shutters from all the cameras taking photos of you all. …
“Once you really turn and you’re past the TV corner, then you’re just looking at the people — all of them waving and screaming your name. That was absolutely incredible. Just hearing people who I don’t even know who were holding their programs up and trying to do the wave with us and just screaming at how they think you’re beautiful and how accomplished you are … was like a celebrity moment.”
Winter’s parents, Tim and Kristine, were sitting just past TV corner. They watched 20 floats and bands pass before their daughter’s moment arrived.
“I looked over and they were just sobbing,” said Winter, who had attended almost every prior Rose Parade with her parents before she became an actual part of the festivities this year. “My whole family was crying and screaming. It was funny. I could always pick out my friends and family in the crowd because they were standing up and waving posters and cardboard cutouts of my face.”
Two hours later, the Royal Court Float had traveled nearly six miles to reach the end of the line near Victory Park on the other side of town. The members of the court changed dresses and received a police escort back across town to a VIP tailgate event in a Rose Bowl parking lot.
“That was nice,” said Winter. “We got to sit and eat food there and decompress for 45 minutes, maybe. We get to say hi to our families and friends, who are all there, which was very fun. My parents gave me a massive hug and started crying.”
The Rose Court was then led into a waiting room in the bowels of the 90,000-seat stadium. The girls emerged from the tunnel just as “The Granddaddy of Them All” was about to get underway. After being introduced on the field, Winter and the princesses took their seats at the 50-yard line and watched Stanford run away from Iowa in the 102nd installment of the storied game.
More than 16 hours after Winter had awakened, her day — and official reign as Rose Queen — was finally over.
“I definitely didn’t, throughout the entire experience, really feel like I was the Rose Queen because I’ve always put it on a pedestal since I was little,” said Winter, who took a much-needed day off from school the following Monday. “I didn’t really think that it was happening to me until we were on that street and there were little girls who were just like I was waving and yelling back up at us. That’s when it hit me, I think, that we were really influential and making an impact. That’s when it became a reality. It was crazy. I can’t even put it in words what that felt like.”

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