Statesboro, Georgia was my destination for the week following Easter. I had been hearing for a few weeks before I made it to South Georgia that the Statesboro Kiwanis Rodeo was definitely one for the books! I spent the week with many new friends taking turns driving to the next visit. We had a full schedule, but managed to have lots of fun! School visits are always such a fun part of my day and I truly enjoy educating the students about the sport of rodeo. I appeared at several after school programs throughout the week. I spent a few early mornings with radio interviews and community organizations, including the Rotary Club and Kiwanis Luncheon. It was an honor to speak at both events and give thanks to all the many sponsors that support the rodeo.
One of the highlights of my week was meeting Freedom, the Bald Eagle at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center on Georgia Sothern’s Campus! Meeting Freedom has been a Miss Rodeo USA tradition for the past several years and I was so excited to continue the trend! Freedom’s handler, Steve, took time to educate Bill, Ashlee, Lisa, and I on mannerisms associated with Freedom and insights into her daily life. Freedom was found with a beak beyond repair at a very young age. She was not able to be released into the wild, but don’t worry, she lives the life that all Bald Eagles dream of, with Steve that is. As soon as Steve walks into Freedom’s sight, she lets us all know that she knows who he is. Steve demonstrated putting on Freedom’s “hood” that goes over her eyes so that she can calmly be outside her enclosure. As soon as Freedom was positioned over my right shoulder, the hood was taken off and we took amazing photos that I will never forget!
Freedom takes flight at the University’s Football games each season. She flies from the top of the stadium down to Steve every time! Although I wish I could have watched her at a game, just petting her was pretty cool! During my time at the wildlife center, I walked around to visit the other animals that are being rehabilitated and met another Eagle! With my career as a Veterinary Technologist, I generally love all animals, except a few. We walked inside the nature center for Steve to show us more animals. Next thing I know, there is an albino corn snake hanging around my neck and it is all I can do to not freak out about it! The snake wrapped around my banner and by this point, I decided it was time for the snake to return to its tank! We all walk into another locked room, which I thought, “wonder what’s in here?” We found a hissing cockroach, bearded dragon, and a 115lb Burmese Python. Clearly, I know why the room was locked! Steve was really disappointed that he didn’t have enough staff to get the python out. I was okay with that. Adventures at the Wildlife Center came to an end as we invited Steve to the rodeo.
After long days of sponsor visits and photos, I did have the opportunity to ride with a Kiwanian member at a local stable. Evermore farms invited me to come out and have horse therapy with them! Although I’m used to riding western, I tried Hunter Jumper for the first time and absolutely had a blast! I learned how to jump and LOVED it! Thank you to Wendy for teaching me the basics of jumping!
Rodeo time neared as we worked hard throughout the week with promotions. As projected, the rodeo was a big success in the community and the stands were packed both nights! On Thursday, I met a precious family that would be coming to take part in the rodeo on Saturday night. Sweet Sweeden and Irelynn, two young girls from the area that were so excited to go to the rodeo! Both girls rode with me in a sponsored J.C. Lewis Pickup Truck Saturday night to bring awareness to Irelynn’s blood disorder. The 7 year old adorable little girl has a form of anemia where she has to have a blood transfusion every week to live. If you met Irelynn in person, you would never know that she has this disease because she loves life and now loves rodeo!
What I really like about traveling around and meeting so many new people and organizations, is the amount of community involvement that they work so hard to achieve. Each organization uses profits from the rodeos to go back into the local charities to benefit the people of the community. The Kiwanis Club does just that and uses all of its proceeds to benefit others!
Sunday I got to help the stock contractor, Danny, move stock to the next rodeo. I helped in moving the 10 bulls down the road. I really enjoyed the day spent feeding, hauling, and helping out with whatever needed to be done! Monday was spent similar as we finished moving all the stock to Evans, Georgia.
Tuesday was back to work with David and Wendy Speight to promote the American Hero Pro Rodeo! We worked hard all week to get the word out and visit as many schools and sponsors as possible. This rodeo was put on by the nurses at the Burn Unit and benefitted the residents of the Ronald McDonald House. I went on a tour of the Ronald McDonald House and learned that everything they do has volunteers or has been donated. It’s great to have visited an organization that helps many families of children with long term illnesses. One of the best parts of the house was a secret room that the tour guide let us see. They say as each child walks into their facilities, they open this room full of toys and they get to pick one. I know that simple gesture will light up a child’s world!
I have a tradition that I have carried on so far throughout my travels as Miss Rodeo USA. It seems everywhere that I go, I find an adventurous activity to get involved in! During my stay with Wendy and David, we went down to the pond to shoot beavers! It was also a chance for me to shoot an AR15 for the first time! I hit the beaver house, but did not even see a single beaver! Oh well, I still had fun in the woods of Georgia! I also had the opportunity to go on motorcycle ride to an event to honor a fallen police officer. Two wheels are definitely different than four legs, but it was cool to do something different to honor a former community member.
Rodeo nights at the Columbia County Fairgrounds proved to be very successful! The opening ceremony was held to honor the heroes of the community. The American Legion riders presented the colors while respect was paid to EMS workers, law enforcement, and armed forces. Kids enjoyed the activities in the Kid Tent and contestants gave their best to the crowd in Evans. It sure was a busy two weeks, but I wouldn’t trade it to do anything else! I’m off to the next adventure in Oklahoma!