After competing in 16 beauty pageants, and always coming in runner-up, the 23-year-old beauty queen said she didn't get discouraged and remained strong to her motto, "If this opportunity is meant for me, it will not pass me by."

Last July, Brittany Payne’s determination finally paid off when she was crowned Miss Earth USA 2015 in Ontario.

Born and raised in Tehachapi, Payne is now reaching for the stars as she heads for Vienna, Austria, for a month-long odyssey to compete for the international title of Miss Earth. The 2010 graduate of Tehachapi High School will compete against other Miss Earth title holders from 90 countries.

"When I say, 'Brittany Payne representing America' into the microphone, it's gonna hit me hard," Payne said. "I have always known that I wanted to be on stage."

Payne captured the national title of Miss Earth with her platform "Greenhouse Awareness and Self-Sustained Gardens."

"It's very different than Miss Universe or Miss America," she said. "It's very eco-friendly and about environmental protection. We don't win money and we don't win a car."

While in Austria, Payne said she will spend the full month undergoing rigorous evaluations as judges will determine her knowledge on everything from pest control to the greenhouse project.

"They want someone that's the whole package," said Payne. "As Miss Earth, our motto will be 'Beauty For a Cause,' so we are not just a pretty face. Every day will be packed with activities such as planting trees, going into schools and teaching or volunteer work. We are going to be very challenged when it comes to being able to go, go, go. We will be planting trees in the dirt, and then 15 minutes later, they are going to want you in heels and a dress with makeup done for an interview."

Growing up in Bear Valley Springs, Payne said she loved riding the family's horses and playing soccer, and considered herself a tomboy.

"I have been dancing since I was 4 years old, starting out with the Tehachapi Dance Theater," she said. "They look for someone like that, someone who is willing to get dirty, but still be poised."

While she was a junior in high school, Payne participated in her first pageant when she competed in Miss Tehachapi Junior Miss. She went on to compete and win the title of Miss Earth California, which was held at the BeeKay Theater in Tehachapi under the direction of Debbie Rea.

Payne said she has learned a lot along the way.

"I have never had a coach," she said. "I've done this all on my own, and I have worked really hard. I have grown and come a long way, which I am very thankful for."

Although she said she would get frustrated with each near-miss of the elusive crown, she never walked away empty-handed.

"Each loss was a gain because I would get a phone call or an email saying, 'We want you for this job,'" the beauty queen said about the modeling and film jobs she received through her pageantry.

She keeps her 5-foot, 10-inch frame chiseled by spending several hours every day in the gym and keeping a vegetarian diet.

"I don't know when the last time was that I had a drink or something fattening to eat," said Payne. "I was never a party animal, and I'm OK with that."

Her boyfriend of two years, Nimai Delgado, supports her pageantry, and will travel to Austria to root her on.

"Nimai is at every one of these things. He competes in fitness competitions, and I support him in every one he does. We are like a power couple that supports each other back and forth," said Payne.

However, the beauty queen said her biggest supporter is her grandmother, Alyce Payne, 82, of Washington state.

"I talk to her every day on the phone," she said. "My grandmother lifts me up, and tells me she loves me every day. She is my number one fan."

Her parents, Michael and Kimberly Payne, still maintain the local homestead, where Payne says she first learned the value of growing your own food.

"What's important comes out of the ground, and not out of a package. My mom has been growing a garden for years, and I've been helping her with it," she said. "I am thankful to my parents. They gave me life, and they taught me wrong from right."

The international Miss Earth pageant will be held Dec. 5. This year's theme will be climate control. The pageant will be televised, but Payne said she is not sure when it will air in the United States.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I look forward to the challenge," said Payne.

To young girls interested in pursuing the world of pageantry, Payne had this advice: "I would say do not give up and do not listen to anyone but yourself because people will try to mold you and tell you what to do."

When asked what beauty represents to her, the blond bombshell shows a modest side.

"Beauty is something on the inside, and it shines through you. It's having your own opinion about something you believe in and not backing down, and being passionate about every single thing you stand for. Pretty is what you are, and beauty is what you do with it," she replies.