When Miss Rodeo USA Elisa Swenson makes her rounds in Statesboro this week in preparation for the upcoming Statesboro Kiwanis Rodeo, she will spread words of inspiration.
Swenson's platform as she travels the country, representing and promoting rodeos and other events, is "Brand your attitude."
"You have to have the right attitude to keep going," she said during an interview Monday at the Statesboro Herald. "You have to think positively."
The 26-year-old blonde hails from Lakeside, Calif., where she grew up interested in horses because "my dad always watched Westerns." She began taking riding lessons as a young girl, but once her mother saw a horse bucking and playing after being turned out, it frightened her and lessons stopped, Swenson said.
Her mother died of breast cancer when Swenson was 10, and her father took on both parental roles. He helps a great deal with her current reign as rodeo queen.
"I may not have a (pageant) ‘queen mom,' but I really appreciate my dad," she said. "He is so supportive. Not everybody has a dad like that."
Years afterward, when she and her father visited an uncle's home in Montana, a trip to a rodeo sparked the interest again and Swenson's father sent her to horse camp.
A leased horse, followed by a friend encouraging her to enter a local rodeo pageant, led to Swenson's reign as Miss Rodeo USA today.
"And here I am," she said with a smile.
Decked out in Western attire, with a vest, American flag handbag and a red, white and blue tiara glittering on top of her cowboy hat, Swenson showed passion for her life as she spoke about responsibilities as a rodeo queen.
Promoting rodeos and similar events, visiting classrooms and businesses across the country, she sticks to her platform as she meets and greets people, offering inspirational words and encouragement to "try - get out there and try. You'll be doing more than people just sitting there. Also, believe in yourself. You're more capable of doing things than you think."
At first, Swenson started riding English style and jumping, but the Western flair lured her in.
"I like the personality of the Western world," she said. "I'm more at home, more comfortable."
Team roping — where one rider, a heeler, ropes the hind legs of a steer and the other, a header, ropes the head — is Swenson's event of choice. It started when she began roping "dummy" calves (plastic steer heads used in roping practice) and someone asked her to teach rodeo visitors to toss a loop. A professional team roper saw her skills and told her she needed to learn to rope from horseback. Soon, she was competing.
Swenson has two horses of her own — a bay American Quarter Horse gelding named Slim (nicknamed Boyfriend) and a palomino American Quarter Horse mare, Jane, affectionately known as "Girlfriend."
She has an associate degree and plans to continue schooling to achieve a degree in nursing. Swenson will visit area schools and businesses, including sponsors Anderson's General Store and Franklin Chevrolet, as she makes her rounds this week before the rodeo.
The Statesboro Kiwanis Rodeo will be Friday and Saturday at the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fairgrounds on Georgia Highway 67.
The tantalizing aroma of grilled meats will lure visitors as area grillers compete in a barbecue contest held on the grounds. The "Bulls, Broncs and BBQ" event will have competitors cooking chicken, steak and ribs as they compete against each other, rodeo co-chairman Don Poe said.
The competitors will not sell their grilled entries, but the Statesboro Kiwanis Club will offer "competition-worthy barbecue sandwiches," he said. Vendors will offer several varieties of foods and drinks.
The rodeo will feature one show each night. Gates open at 5 p.m. Friday and 1 p.m. Saturday, allowing visitors to come early and enjoy activities before the rodeo begins at 7:30 each night.
People can spend prerodeo time browsing food booths and vendors offering jewelry, cowboy hats, accessories and more, and letting the kids play on inflatable attractions. The younger crowd will enjoy pony rides while adventurous adults can try their luck on a mechanical bull.
Danny Hedrick, the owner of Hedrick Rodeo Company of Madisonville, Tenn., said this year will bring new broncs, new bulls, new contestants and a new clown. Local competitors will join professional cowgirls and cowboys from all over the world, he said.
Besides bronc and bull riding, steer wrestling, calf roping, the rodeo itself will feature children's activities. Poe said the out-of-the-arena attractions include funnel cakes, a "gyro extreme" ride, bungee jumps and lots to entertain everyone.
Rodeo tickets at the gate are $15 for adults and $10 for youth. Advance tickets may be obtained at Anderson's General Store, for $13 for adults and $8 for youth.
Additional information may be found at www.statesbororodeo.com.
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.