An impactful interview with Dakota (Passey) Rice on her life leading up to the title, the year of her reign as the National High School Rodeo Queen, and her thoughts and advice for those interested in competing in the Rodeo Queen Competition.
The Back Story:
I grew up on a farm a mile and a half out of a small town. My Dad was a cowboy and my Mom was a farm girl. Naturally this combination instilled in me a great love for animals, the land, and rodeo. My Dad told me I would never be allowed to rodeo because he believed rodeo was no place for a lady. I had watched every rodeo I had ever attended from behind the bucking shoots with my Dad. He used to compete in the roughstock events and then went on to fight bulls for 15 years, so that is where I watched the magic take place.
My dream was actually to become a steer rider, but I took up sports instead. A few concussions and post concussion syndrome later I was no longer allowed to play sports and I was absolutely heartbroken. My Dad asked me if I would be interested in barrel racing, this was something I had always wanted to do so I jumped at the chance. We bought my first barrel horse Bandit and I was hooked. My high school rodeo career began in grade 10.
The Race for Rodeo Queen:
I remember seeing THE most beautiful girl I had ever seen at the Lethbridge Pro Rodeo, it was Miss Rodeo Canada Brittany Foster. I remember thinking to myself, I would love to be just like her. I knew about Rodeo Queens because my cousin had run for Miss Rodeo Canada as Miss Rodeo Okotoks. I had even dressed up as a rodeo Queen for Halloween quite a few times, but it wasn’t until I watched Brittany Foster that I KNEW it was something I wanted to do. I then discovered that the Alberta High School Rodeo Association had their own Queen Contest. I did all the research I could, talked my parents into letting me run, and put in hours and hours of preparation.
I then competed at the AHSRA Finals in June 2011 and ended up winning every category except one, which I tied in. I was the underdog of the bunch and my win was completely unexpected. I became Miss High School Rodeo Alberta 2011-2012. We then focused all of our preparation towards Nationals. The biggest Rodeo Queen Pageant there is. I competed against over 40 girls from all over the United States, Canada and Australia. I was told before heading down that the judges would never pick me. There was only one Canadian (Trish Kostelansky 1985) that had ever been crowned NHSRA Queen and it wasn’t likely to happen again. I was just supposed to have fun and do the best that I could.
The competition was fierce and intimidating. I did my very best. I was very proud of what I had done no matter the outcome, but I remember getting ready for crowning and looking in the mirror and thinking to myself, “I want to win this so bad.” There had been lots of “talk” between coaches, parents, and other spectators. They talked about how it was in between Texas and myself, or South Dakota or whoever else. I couldn’t even believe they were considering me as a possible winner!
When it came time for crowing I was so nervous, they had saved all the categories I won to announce at the very end, so I thought I hadn’t won any of the categories. But as they started to list what I had won; speech, appearance, personal interview, and modeling, I knew I had a good chance because I had won two of the main categories. Nothing can describe the feeling I felt when I heard them say the words, “Miss Alberta.” It was beyond a dream come true. I was so honored to hold the title of National High School Rodeo Queen 2011-2012
What were some of the highlights as reigning Rodeo Queen for the NHSRA?
Visiting Georgia, the Denver Stock Show, and spending 10 days in Vegas during the NFR. It was incredible. Being invited to the Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton during the CFR. I was the only Queen that was asked to go and we spent the afternoon singing to the kids and playing with them. I was then asked to go along with one of the men who was playing guitar to meet a little 2 year old girl who was waiting on a heart transplant. We had to gown up and when we walked in her room her tiny body was completely running off machines. She didn’t make any sound, just watched us as we sang “You are my Sunshine” and held her hand. Her Mom was crying in the corner and told us that they didn’t think she was going to make it much longer but her one wish was to see a real live princess – which she had now seen. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
What were some of the struggles?
It is a busy year. I was traveling every weekend, finishing my last year of high school, plus many other personal commitments. When you are only 17 and under that kind of pressure it can be a lot to handle at moments. It is just so overwhelming, but overwhelming in the best way possible. It is an honor to hold such a title, but it is an exhausting year.
There are also those people who wish to see you fail, but luckily those people were well outnumbered by those who supported me.
What all is involved in the Rodeo Queen Competition?
The pageant is made up of 8 categories all worth a certain amount of points:
Prepared Speech (50) – a two minute speech written by the contestant about whichever topic she has been assigned
Horsemanship (50) – a western pleasure/reining pattern plus a flag and wave lap
Personal Interview (50) – a ten minute interview conducted by the panels of judges with questions of all topics
Modeling (25) – modeling accompanies the prepared speech
Impromptu Question (25) – the same question is asked to all of the contestants and they must answer
Written Test (25) – a test containing 50 questions based on the current NHSRA rulebook
Why do you think the Rodeo Queen competition is such an important part of rodeo?
The Rodeo Queen competition requires just as much preparation as any other event and is just as important. What is a Rodeo Queen? She is the face of Rodeo, she is the Public Relations Specialist. Her job is to lead by example, while educating and being the spokesperson for the sport. People are drawn to friendly faces. Little children love seeing a real live princess wearing a crown. Her job is one that cannot be replaced.
Advice/Tips for Rodeo Queen contestants
You can never over prepare. Find a Queen that you look up to and ask her for help! It is our job to help each other, there is no how-to book when it comes to Rodeo Queen Pageants, that is why we have each other. Soak up every moment during your title. These types of things don’t last long, a year flies by, but you will make memories that last a lifetime.
HUGE thanks to Dakota for sharing her story with Country Best Blog. Dakota also has a lifestyle blog you should be sure to check out!
An inspirational interview on Sue Jensen’s miracle recovery from a Hemorrhagic Stroke and the difference 5 years can make.
Life before the stroke:
I was raised in northwest British Columbia in the Kispiox Valley, just over an hour North of Smithers, British Columbia. I grew up fishing, hunting, going into the mountains with my horses and with my entire family. I grew up helping my dad with his bucking horses, and competing in rodeos. I competed at the national high school finals in breakaway roping In Gillette, Wyoming.
I met my husband Wade Jensen at my parents lodge, Bear Claw Lodge. I took clients from all over the world on raft trips on the Kispiox River. We did horseback riding, kids camps, Heli-skiing, Mountain trips, hiking etc… I was capable to do all of them.
After dating Wade Jensen for about six months, I took a job with the Bar K 2 Ranch in southern Alberta. I worked side-by-side with Wade, we both knew it was going to be a break it or make it relationship. Either it was going to work or we were going to break up! We got married a year later! I started in the heifer barn working nights. I worked 13 hour days with 1400 first calf heifers. I would work for three months every spring: calving, checking cows, fixing fence and branding. To this day I still work a little bit here and there.
In the summer I headed into the mountains with Wade as a cook. He is a hunting guide and I loved the mountains! In the last couple of years before my stroke I was riding colts in the winter. Breaking them in order to use in the spring to calve and most I would sell. I tried a regular job, just wasn’t for me!
It was February 2012. I had been riding colts my last day before having a stroke. That evening I lay down, I could feel a migraine coming on. That is the last thing I remember…
Wade could not wake me up in the morning, so he took me to Cardston hospital. At that point they put me in an ambulance to Lethbridge. As soon as the doctors there saw me, they knew I’d had a stroke.
They were going to medevac me out of Lethbridge, but there were wind warnings and so they had to put me in an ambulance to Calgary. Wade called my parents at Bear Claw Lodge, to tell them what happened on the drive from Cardston to Lethbridge. Knowing that there was a huge chance I wasn’t going to make it, my mom made it to Calgary at 2 AM. My dad flew the next day. Wade and his sister Jody tried to keep up to the ambulance, but couldn’t. They were told they were taking me to Foothills Hospital but when they got there they couldn’t find me. It took several trips to different hospitals and back to Foothills again to find me! When the nurse found the bed I was supposed to be in was empty, I can’t imagine what Wade went through. They did find me in surgery, that is why the bed was empty…
It was a Hemorrhagic Stroke and I had a Subarachnoid Hemorrhage. These types of strokes are less common as they are in the 15% range of all strokes. But, they are responsible for approximately 40% of all stroke deaths.
They found out I have TWO blood disorders, and both are clotting disorders. Factor V Leiden thrombophilia is an inherited disorder of blood clotting. Factor II deficiency is a very rare blood clotting disorder. It results in excessive or prolonged bleeding after an injury or surgery. Factor II, also known as prothrombin.
There was so much pressure in my brain from the stroke, they had to remove part of my skull. They took my skull and put it in the freezer for three months! I got a clot in my right leg. They changed my blood thinner from a pill, to getting a needle every morning! I still give myself an injection every day! They put my skull back on at the three-month mark & when that surgery was done, four days later, I had an embolism in both of my lungs! Up until that point I was invincible! I realized that I could die, I hadn’t thought that till then.
Being in a coma and the aftermath:
In my mind, I woke up 3 weeks later (I was told I woke up after two weeks). I couldn’t talk, I thought I must’ve been bucked off of one of my colts. I figured I would be better in a day or two!
I had nightmares about being tied up, (they tied my left arm down because I was ripping all of the tubes off). I remember being put in a train, my arms were tied and had a hat on my head. Not a cowboy hat or a baseball cap (which would make more sense) but a fancy hat, like I was going to the Kentucky derby!
I would have horrible headaches every couple of days at the beginning but it alleviated to just once a week. By the time I came out of the hospital four months later my headaches had stopped!
Most every nurse I had was absolutely amazing to me. I had the easy part, I slept through most of it! The hard part was for my husband and our families! The doctors had given me 3 to 5% chance of surviving, even at that, I would be in a persistent vegetative state. They didn’t expect for me to survive! I apparently moved my hand, (my mom was talking to me), and I grasped her hand. My mom told the nurses and they told her that it was probably just a reflex. So Wade held my hand and told me to squeeze his hand, and I did! I guess the nurses and doctors went a little crazy.
When I came to, they wanted to know about my hair. They shaved half of my head and waited for me to decide in case I’d be upset if I was completely bald. There was still blood all over in my hair, and I told the nurse to just cut it off! My little sister Kaleigh cleaned up the nurses bad haircut!
I definitely thought I would be walking and talking in a couple of days, boy, was I wrong! It took me three months to walk on my own. I was in a wheelchair for 2 and a half months, used a walker for a month, and when I was released from the hospital after four months I was using a cane!
I couldn’t talk! That was hard for me, I am a talker! There has been some advancement in speech therapy in the last 20 years, that’s a good thing for me! They have learned that they can rewire your brain, it is called neuroplasticity! Before neuroplasticity, they thought that stroke victims would not re-learn their speech. I said words that made no sense! I introduced my brother as “SCREWDRIVER” and was introducing my brother-in-law as “VACUUM.” There were times when a bad word came out at the most inappropriate times! But being stubborn, I just kept talking!
My right arm just hung there, my shoulder kept going out of place. After about 2 ½ months one finger started to move! That was first thing in the morning after Occupational Therapy, by that night I had full movement of my right arm and hand!
I still do not know my letters or numbers! I talk to a computer to do my grocery list. I know my words in my head, and I can read in my head, (very slowly), I just can’t read books very well anymore!
It took me 2 years to get my driver’s license back. I have a ‘field cut’ in my eyes, (an area of the brain that processes light stimulus received from the eyes is damaged). I had an appointment with my rehab doctor in Calgary one year ago, and I was the last who was allowed to get their driver’s license back. Apparently not a lot of people do get their driver’s license back from having a field cut.
My right hand is still recovering. As Gordy, my 2 year-old, is colouring I am learning to colour again. Sometimes Gordy is better! If you ever watched a little child try to eat with a fork or spoon, well, that’s how I look too.
I have slight feeling on the right side of my body. I had constant pain in my shoulder and there was a sharp pain on my upper torso on the right side if people touched it. That eventually has subsided quite a bunch due to finding Somatics!
What kept you going throughout the recovery process?
Stubbornness! They told me I had a stroke after 2 ½ weeks, but I don’t remember them telling me that! In my mind I just had a bad concussion! My entire time I was just going to get better! The entire time I knew I was getting better! I never thought that it might not get better…
Because of my stroke I met some amazing new people in my life. I met a man who alleviated a lot of the pain in my shoulder that I had never met before. Servaas Mes, The Human Health Project, met me a year after my stroke. I would come see him every time I would visit in Smithers, BC. He taught me about Somatics and it has changed my life. Servaas set me up with a craniosacral appointment in Lethbridge and because of that I have found an amazing friend in Dr. Pardip Athwal at Back in Balance. Craniosacral sessions are a huge reason why I got my driver’s license back! My very first appointment I couldn’t see from the middle of my eye to the outside, it was just black. So many sessions with Dr. Pardip helped make my body better!
I have learned to look outside of the box! In six months after having my stroke, I was done with physiotherapy. By January my speech was done and when I left the hospital in Calgary my occupational therapy was done. Those alternative options helped me get better!
What role has faith played in your recovery?
FAITH….My father-in-law, brother-in-law, and dear friend who married Wade and I, put their hands on me and gave me a blessing before I was taken to Calgary. The doctors were pretty sure that I wouldn’t survive the ambulance ride. I survived the ambulance ride and surpassed any doctors expectations of me. You hear all the time, “It was a miracle,” well the doctors said I was a miracle. When you can’t explain something, it is a miracle. I know what my miracle was! Heavenly father, Jesus Christ, and I know the Holy Ghost was with me throughout! I’ve never been a religious person, I would say I was more spiritual. When you know you should have died and all of the doctors said I shouldn’t have still been here, you have to think who is watching over you…
My faith is stronger than I could ever have known. I now go to church with my family. I don’t know why God saved me, but I figure I owe him big time!
What role has family played in your recovery?
I had family, (Allen’s and Jensen’s), with me the entire time that I was in Calgary. Having that support and helping me, allowed me to focus on getting better! My sisters & my sister-in-law immediately put a page on Facebook telling everyone that I had had a stroke and that they were setting up an auction to raise money for me. That auction allowed my husband to stay in Calgary instead of staying home to work! That auction allowed me to look at alternative medicine options. The auction allowed family members to fly in and out in order to help me.
When I first had my stroke, there were some friends that grew up in the Kispiox Valley who had a house in Calgary and were gone on vacation for a month, my family got to stay in their house. The rodeo world was amazing to me! A family that I rodeo’d with years ago, the McLeod’s, had a house in Calgary and Wade and my family got to stay there for free. It’s a small community, the rodeo world, and so many came to my aid! Both the rodeo world and my little community in the Northwest BC, were unbelievably amazing!
I will never be able to repay them back what they have done for me and my family! The support I received, not just from my immediate family, but the entire community around me, was huge! You’ll never know how much that support meant!
What advice would you give someone who has had a similar physical setback?
The only advice I could give to someone is to fight! There is no time to feel sorry for yourself, you need to fight as hard as you can to push through. The faster you recover the better it will be for you in the long run. You can always feel sorry for yourself later, right now, you have to get better!
What sort of perspectives have you gained from this trial?
You are loved! It’s amazing. I received an amazing amount of support and love throughout my whole ordeal. My strength was because of all of the people who loved me and supported me. I learned that life is short, enjoy every moment! My strength was my family, that helped push me to get better.
I went back to work at the ranch with Wade. I figured I could rope again, I was wrong! But I am stubborn, I kept roping that same calf 10 times, but that darn rope just wouldn’t go over that calf’s head! I just knew I could rope, but apparently I need to relearn how to rope! My family has let me try it on my own and will only help if I ask for help! Asking for help is hard! Before the stroke I was very capable and stubborn. I have learned now that it’s OK to ask for help.
In February it will have been five years since my stroke occurred. Two years ago I became a mom to an amazing little cowboy, Gordy! It is an adventure! I was scared when Gordy came home from the hospital, my right hand-made it harder to dress him, clean him, Etc… but I am loving it! He is a really good boy! I am so lucky. He has been on hunts, climbed mountain tops and has rafted rivers! He loves his horse Butterhead and he loves cows and tractors! My life has completely changed and I love it! Gordy now goes to church & loves nursery! He loves getting on his quad or in the wintertime, the snow machine and takes his hound dogs for a run. He started feeding his hound dogs by himself about a year ago. He would carry a bucket full of food, throw it all over the kennel, and then bring the bucket back to me! Now it’s a lot better!
I started my own business last summer, Rodan + Fields and it has been empowering for me. I don’t know my letters or numbers because of the stroke, but it seems to be working! This business is all online, I talk to my computer, (sometimes my computer says bad words) but I have been loving it.
In a nutshell, I have a very full, lucky and blessed life!