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Giving Up Was Never an Option

Amala Edwards showcased her skills from Baltimore, Md. to Kansas City, Mo. and on to Leipzig, Germany. Now, she’s mentoring a new generation of champions.
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Amala Edwards in Kazan, Russia during the 2019 WorldSkills Competition. Photo by Craig Moore.

Amala Edwards comes from a family that loves to entertain and cook. It was that love that led her to study culinary arts when she was a student at Western Vo-Tech Center in Baltimore, Md. That’s where she learned about SkillsUSA.

“My high school culinary arts instructor — Chef Lisa Tomecek — introduced me to SkillsUSA in the 11th grade,” Edwards says. Already working as a waitress, Edwards was interested in the Restaurant Service competition (called Food and Beverage in those days) because she felt very confident in her serving skills.

“I don’t remember much about my state competition experience other than those competitions feeling super easy,” Edwards explains. That same year, she won the state competition, which led her to the National Leadership & Skills Conference, held at the time in Kansas City, Mo.

“I went into the competition feeling well-trained, mentally prepared and confident,” Edwards says. Despite those positive feelings, however, she didn’t win a national medal that first year, which she says left her “absolutely devastated.”

However, this setback left her determined to compete again the following year. “The next year I trained even harder,” she says.  “I won a gold medal at my second state competition which allowed me another chance to compete at nationals.”

The second time, Edwards emerged victorious as a national Food and Beverage gold medalist. “Giving up was never an option,” she says.

Onto the World Stage

In March 2012, Edwards was asked to interview for the opportunity to represent the United States in the Restaurant Service competition for WorldSkills 2013 in Leipzig, Germany. Along with other past medalists, Edwards participated in the interview, but was initially not selected for the team.

In the fall of 2012, Edwards was asked to replace the competitor that had previously been selected.  “Of course, I said yes to being on the world team!” she exclaims.  

Even though she had significantly less time to train for the 2013 event, Edwards was determined to compete.

“Representing the USA at WorldSkills would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I couldn’t pass up,” she says.

The WorldSkills event offered several activities leading up to the competition. One particularly memorable event for Edwards was, “One School, One Country.” Each country was paired with a local school in Leipzig to help form a cultural bond with the host country. “Schoolmates from the host country mailed [the team] letters and drawings prior to our arriving in Germany,” Edwards explains. “We were very excited to visit the school and meet the children who sent us letters.”

For Edwards, one of the top highlights was carrying the flag for the United States during the Parade of Nations, part of the WorldSkills Opening Ceremony.

That moment crystallized everything for Edwards.

“What an honor and privilege,” she says. “I think about that moment more often than you would think. The Opening ceremony was when it hit me that I really made it to the world stage, the Olympics of skilled trades, and it was time for me to represent!”

Edwards describes the four-day competition that followed as “challenging.”

“Not once did I think the WorldSkills Competition would be easy,” she says.  “However, the Restaurant Service competition at WorldSkills is drastically different than the SkillsUSA national competition. I gave the competition my absolute all, but ultimately, I didn’t medal.”

Onto the World Stage Again

The experience competing at SkillsUSA and WorldSkills left Edwards with the desire to give back. In 2019, she returned to the WorldSkills Competition in Kazan, Russia. This time as a volunteer.

“I was part of the Member Support team, which provided support to members, both current and prospective,” Edwards explains. “I was also the host for the Restaurant Service competition and responsible for booking restaurant service reservations.”

Edwards described the difference between competing and volunteering this way: “The pressure level is way less as a volunteer versus being a competitor at WorldSkills,” she says while noting that there was still some pressure. “I wanted to be certain the competition (as a whole) was a success. However, being a competitor is way more intense.”

As a whole, Edwards is glad her competition days are behind her, but her drive to continue serving remains. She plans to volunteer again at WorldSkills in Lyon, France, in September 2024.

“Skilled trades are something that I will always be passionate about and encourage youth to explore,” Edwards says.

And her advice for the current WorldSkills USA team? “Stay focused, have fun, and embrace every moment of the journey,” she says, pointing out that each team member has been selected because they are “insanely talented” at their respective skills.

“Each of you have been selected because you have what it takes to represent our country on the world stage. Whether you medal or not, you’ve made it this far. That alone is an honor.”


See photos from the 2013 WorldSkills Competition:

Follow the WorldSkills USA team:

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