On the Runway
and the Gangplank

Miss Maine bridges two disparate walks of life

By Jack Sullivan

On Lexie Elston’s first day at her new job, her radio alerted her about a motorcyclist being thrown from his bike. As of that morning, it was her duty to rush to the emergency.

On the rural coast of Maine, it’s not unusual for a marine patrol officer to be first at the scene, and when Elston pulled up in her Department of Marine Resources truck, blue lights flashing, she had arrived before paramedics or police cruisers. As she exited the vehicle, she heard a bystander shout, “Help! Help! Over here.” 

“That’s me,” Elston thought to herself. “I’m the help.”

This scenario—which did have a happy ending, as the man was flown to the nearest hospital—was a far cry from the career she pursued as a teenager, one fraught with pressure and drama, though remarkably different.

Elston, now 26, entered the world of pageantry and modeling when she was attending Windham High School.

“When I was in school, I had no time for regular extracurriculars. I wasn’t on any sports teams. My thing was pageants,” she says. At 16, she won Miss Teen Maine United States, and after competing in the 2012 Guess Girl Contest, she began modeling for the brand, widely known for its jeans.

She relocated to Los Angeles and then Miami to pursue that modeling career, which she says was rife with demands and sometimes unkind cracks, such as being accused of having “1980s prom hair.” Elston finally returned home to continue her education and pursue another passion. She enrolled at Southern Maine Community College and earned an associates degree in marine science. She also worked as a park ranger on Mackworth Island and interned for the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries in Stonington which further fostered her passion for marine biology.

Elston recalls a day in her time on Mackworth when the rangers found baby seals in need of rescue. The marine patrol tended to the helpless seals, and as Elston watched them do their jobs, she realized what direction she wanted to go with her career and signed up to attend the Maine Criminal Justice Academy in Vassalboro.

At the intersection of Elston’s two passions, she found herself modeling on a lobster boat for a shoot with designer Ashley Lauren.

At the academy, cadets endure a first-hand experience of the pain inflicted by oleoresin capsicum, also known as pepper spray. “It burns so bad, you have no other option but to stand there and freak out,” she says.

There also is the culmination of a cadet’s combat training known as “the final fight,” in which cadets must prove to be physically fit and knowledgeable in self-defense by engaging in hand-to-hand combat with a strong and experienced officer. The cadets have three chances to pass, and should they fail on the third try, they don’t take part in graduation ceremonies.

Elston, in her own words, is not a fighter. Facing a 6-foot, 5-inch-tall, 275-pound man and being pinned under him resulted in two consecutive failures. Feeling more pressure from the third “final fight” than any pageant interview, she emerged victorious.

Soon, she was headed to Jonesport as a new Maine Marine Patrol officer.

“Growing up, I never thought that I would want to be a police officer,” she says. “The number one thing that interests me about the marine patrol is that it’s actively protecting marine resources. I have a passion for the animals. I love the science of them. And the coolest things come up in traps. Little lump fish, starfish, and urchins,” she says with a smile, “and I’m always picking them up and taking pictures of them because I want to share them with the world.”

For those who work on the water—and for those who work in law enforcement—there is no typical day on the job. Elston’s workday depends on the tides and the weather, but more importantly, it depends on the activity on the water.

She routinely boards boats, hauls traps, and inspects gear, but the seasonality of the fisheries makes each time of year a different experience. Sometimes, she finds herself out on the flats checking on clam diggers. Other days, she monitors the scallop harvest. Perhaps the most unpredictable of all her duties is responding to emergencies like search and rescue missions, and, of course, the occasional land-based emergency as well.

When on the job, Elston is prone to take out her iPhone to photograph the creatures that show up in traps which she then shares on social media.  PHOTOS: Lexie Elston

Except for her few days off, even when Elston is at home, she is on call. Emergencies in the Gulf of Maine don’t always fall within the 8-hour workday.

“It’s a lifestyle,” she says when describing the work. “There’s no other job quite like it.”

Elston is currently working towards her bachelor’s degree in marine science at the University of Maine in Machias. And she continues to pursue pageantry and does modeling on the side. Since moving back to Maine, she earned the title of Miss Maine in 2019 and competed in Miss Earth in 2022.

She believes her experience in modeling and pageantry continues to give her skills she applies to her work as a marine patrol officer, such as perseverance, which is critical while being nitpicked by pageant judges and modeling agents, and also while working long, physically demanding days on the water.

Elston and her fellow marine patrol officers sort through and weigh lobsters.  PHOTO: Michael Wilson

Perseverance also proves to be critical for a young woman whose career straddles two different male-dominated fields—law enforcement and science. Elston notes that her experience as a woman in her career is remarkably different from that of a man, but she does find reason to celebrate the incremental growth of female representation. Her 2021 graduating class at the criminal justice academy had more women than any previous year, with 16 of the 67 graduates being women.

“I can be girly,” she says. “I can do my pageantry, and then I can turn around and get pepper sprayed in the face and become a marine patrol officer. Hopefully I can set an example for someone to let them know they can be both of those things.”

Jack Sullivan is the Multimedia Storyteller for the Island Institute.