This blog was written by guest blogger; Miss Rodeo Mississippi 2009, and Miss Rodeo America 2010, Kelli (Jackson) Russell!
I recently asked friends to share why their favorite rodeo queen was their “favorite”—why they admired or adored a certain rodeo queen. I smiled, laughed, and cried reading their responses. The stories that my friends shared with me depicted author and poet Maya Angelou’s famous adage: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” No one who shared a story with me said they loved and admired a certain rodeo queen for how excellent of a rider she was, how well she spoke, or how incredibly beautiful or creative her wardrobe was. No, every single person who replied to my query told me story after story of actions that each “amazing” rodeo queen took that made them feel valued, special, and appreciated.
While these stories were similar insofar as the ways they made the storyteller feel valued, one story depicted humility, while another emphasized boldness. Yet an additional story described kindness. Each answer, while somewhat similar, highlighted different characteristics. The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines personality as the attractive qualities of an individual as they are impressed upon others. At the Miss Rodeo America Pageant, personality is judged (per MRA Rulebook) on a young woman’s intelligence (common sense), education (conversational ability), attractiveness (quiet confidence), interest in others (kindness), self-projection (charisma), temperament (life outlook) considerateness (maturity), public appearance (professionalism), and personality reflections (uniqueness). In my fifteen years plus years of being involved in rodeo queening and attending the MRA Pageant, I’ve heard countless stories from contestants of their hours spent prepping for speeches, horsemanship, the written test and so on; however, I have never heard a young woman say she spent hours prepping for the personality portion of the pageant. Yet, as I was told story after story, people didn’t remember speeches, wardrobes, or horsemanship patterns. They remembered certain women for their unique personalities and the way they made them feel.
I often ask individuals why a new Miss Rodeo America is crowned every year—why the current titleholder doesn’t serve multiple years. Most people laugh and say she’d get burnout. After living the life for a year, I can tell you that I firmly believe a new Miss Rodeo America is crowned each year because each young woman brings something unique to the title: unique passions, unique talents, and a unique background. Simply put, she brings her own personality to the title. And with own distinctive perspective, each new Miss Rodeo America is able to see and do things (therefore making people “feel” certain ways) that others would have missed and not have been able to do.
When I held my first rodeo queen title, it was daunting to me because I was trying so hard to be as charismatic and friendly as the first Miss Rodeo America I met—California’s Brandy DeJongh (Miss Rodeo America 2000). I slowly realized that I while I loved and admired Brandy, I could never make myself into her (even though I could recite her California speech from the MRA Pageant from memory and I attempted to style my hair exactly like hers). In trying to be just like her, I made myself into a second rate version of Brandy. I discovered that it was okay to admire and even to emulate Brandy, but overall, I needed to try to become a first rate version of myself. It was important for me to be me. Being “you” as a titleholder and in life and pageants means discovering what makes you unique. What makes you different from other young women? What distinctive qualities, talents, and attributes can you bring to the title that will leave a lasting legacy?
When I think of former Miss Rodeo Americas that I have met, I think of Brandy DeJongh’s charisma, Tara Graham’s leave-something-better-than-you-found-it vivaciousness, Kara Brown’s considerateness, Lori Bortner’s intelligence, Darci Robertson’s infinite talents, Selena Ulch’s kindness, and so on. Did you pause on my list and think that you either didn’t know them or that’s not the way you remember them? Well, that’s okay—each of us have our own memories stemming from our own individual perspectives. The point, though, is that each of those young women exemplified most if not all of the characteristics listed above from the rulebook; however, they exemplified each one through the unique lens of their own personality.
I could never be as photogenic as Chenae’ Shiner, as friendly and easy-going as Paige Nicholson, be as great a storyteller as Amanda Jenkins, or have the infectious, magnetic laugh of McKenzie Haley. Again, that’s okay, because I’m not them—I’m me. For the young women reading this that are titleholders: you’re not them either, you’re you. I hope that you’ll realize the importance of being “you” and that you have your own unique talents and gifts to bring to a title (and to life!). So if you’ve decided that you want to pursue a title (which is a job!) for the right reasons—to serve as an educator, spokeswoman, role model, and promoter for the sport and association you love—then you should consider: first what unique attributes you bring to the title and then secondly, what type of legacy you will leave. For me, I saw myself as a Mississippi girl; I wanted to be remembered as a trailblazer and someone who helped individuals who arrived at rodeos as simple spectators, leave there as lifelong fans. So instead of spending a few hours agonizing over your wardrobe or practicing your speech, grab a pen. Start writing your story—and remember the importance of being you and bringing your own unique passions, gifts, and talents to the title to leave your lasting legacy.