"I did this because I loved it."
This state is the only one to be named after a president and it is also the home of the ONLY Miss Rodeo America crowned from there. If you guessed I'm talking about Washington, then you are correct! You also must know I'm talking about Miss Rodeo America 2016, Katherine Merck! On this week's edition of Titleholder Tuesday, we are catching up with Katherine about her time as Miss Rodeo America and life afterwards.
The moment your name was called as Miss Rodeo America 2016, what was going through your head?
It is hard to describe that moment and there is absolutely no way to prepare for it! I think the picture of
the moment I realized that I had won – when they called the first runner-up and it wasn’t me – says
everything. Overwhelming joy, surprise and amazement in the first moment, followed by a rush of
emotions that all of my hard work had paid off and my dream of representing the Professional Rodeo
Cowboys Association had come true. I gave my year as Miss Rodeo Washington everything that I had and worked all year to be the best version of myself that I could, so my goal was to continue that throughout the Miss Rodeo America Pageant. After the week of competition, I knew that I had done my best and been 100% true to myself and who I am, so I was completely calm going into coronation. That calm definitely did not last when I realized that my life had just changed forever!
How did it feel to bring the title back to Washington for the first time?
Washington is a state with a rich heritage in rodeo, so it was an honor to bring the title home to the
Evergreen State and its rodeos! We are home to historic roundups, tour finales, world champion cowboys, hall of fame bucking stock, and the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association. Our Columbia River Circuit family was my support system going in to the Miss Rodeo America competition – they let me learn and work behind the scenes at rodeos, borrow horses and put me through timer training to ensure that I knew the PRCA rulebook inside and out. After I won, they continued to book me for our circuit rodeos and it was truly a dream come true to be the first Miss Rodeo Washington to bring home the Miss Rodeo America title to my rodeo family!
Two years later, what is life like after the crown? How did being Miss Rodeo America prepare you for that?
I truly thought that after my year my life would slow down – but two years later, it definitely has not and I love it that way! This past year has been monumental for me in that I graduated from Gonzaga University School of Law during the 2017 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (I flew home for one day for the ceremony!), took the bar exam in February, and was sworn in as an attorney to the Montana State Bar Association this past month. I continue to be involved in the rodeo community by working for stock
contractors and rodeo committees and truly enjoy giving back to the rodeo queen industry by serving on the Miss Rodeo America National Advisory Council as well as serving as a pageant judge and clinician. My six American Quarter Horse Association horses keep me busy in my spare time – I am incredibly proud of how my filly that I started this past fall while finishing school is coming along and I’m competing in reining shows again after focusing on rodeos for the past few years.
Miss Rodeo America not only prepared me for the busy life that I am juggling today, but shaped me into
who I am today and my world view. I learned to be adaptable and treat each day as a new opportunity to
make a positive impact. During my year, I found the determination to smile and truly be positive even
without much sleep and chose to make every day a great day. While my year solidified my desire to help
farmers and ranchers through agricultural estate planning, land use, and water rights, it also made me
realize that I am energized, rather than exhausted, by the travel and the people that I meet along the way.
On top of all of that, the Miss Rodeo America Scholarship Foundation allowed me to graduate with my
juris doctorate completely debt free, which has given me the freedom to pursue my passions and work
toward making a difference in the western industry.
Do you feel it is important for titleholders to give back to the pageants where they held titles at?
I absolutely love the line, “when you get where you’re going, don’t forget turn right back around. Help the next one in line…always stay humble and kind” from Tim McGraw’s song “Humble and Kind.” It truly
encapsulates what I believe is the duty of every titleholder – to give back to the organization that created so many opportunities for you. Rodeo queen programs are run by volunteers who are dedicated to allowing young women to grow into the best versions of themselves, and the best way to say thank you is to give back to that program. There are so many ways to give back – from helping out during the pageant to reaching out to the current titleholder. As a former titleholder you have a unique perspective, and a little advice or even just telling the titleholder that you are there for her if she has any questions goes a long way. I’ve had the honor of both judging and emceeing at my local pageant, and I am thrilled to continue to be involved in Miss Rodeo America.
With most rodeo queens being in school during their reigns, how did you balance school and being a rodeo queen?
First, I spent a year as a full time law student and local titleholder, then one semester as a full time law student and state titleholder, and a total of three semesters away from Gonzaga: the first to carry out my duties as Miss Rodeo Washington and compete for Miss Rodeo America, and the other two during my year as MRA. Balancing school and being a rodeo queen is no easy feat, but it is possible if you work hard and plan ahead. I didn’t miss an opportunity for an appearance while I was in school, but I took my books on the road with me and even studied Constitutional Law behind the chutes after morning slack. I am so grateful to Gonzaga University School of Law for allowing me the leave of absence to follow my dream.I truly will never be able to thank the Miss Rodeo America Scholarship Foundation enough for their contribution to my future, which allowed me to graduate completely debt free. While balancing rodeo and school and taking time off of school had its challenges, it was more than worth it both for the experience and the opportunities that they both created for me.
What do you feel is the most important phase of competition? And what is the best way to prepare for it?
In my opinion, personality is the most important category within a rodeo queen pageant and interviews are the most important phase. Girls are definitely are surprised when I tell them to study for the personality component of pageants, but I really do believe that it is important! My best advice to young women is to learn who you are – your strengths, your weaknesses, and your values – and strive to be the best version of yourself every single day! As Oscar Wilde said, “be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” There is no “cookie-cutter” rodeo queen – I wasn’t the same as Chenae, Paige or Lauren as Miss Rodeo America; I brought my own talents and gifts to the title. Don’t try to craft yourself into the rodeo queen or Miss Rodeo America that you idolize or made a lasting impression on your life…develop your own personality and tell your story! My pageant preparation truly changed me for the better and continues to shape my life long after I handed down my crown.
Knowledge is another incredibly important part of interviews – besides learning about yourself, you need to learn about the sport that you hope to represent. You represent the sport of rodeo, your hometown, agriculture, your sponsors, and an entire way of life. Rodeo continues to evolve with our modern Western lifestyle while maintaining our traditions and close-knit community. Serving as an ambassador for this amazing sport is an opportunity to promote our values and give back to our community. Many people don’t realize that a rodeo queen pageant consists not only of the traditional pageant events of public speaking, extensive interviews, current event questions, and of course a fashion show. What sets us apart from traditional titleholders is that our pageants also include horsemanship and a written examination on equine science and rodeo knowledge. A rodeo queen is truly the “face of rodeo” and needs to be able to explain our sport to first time rodeo attendees and schoolchildren as well as newspaper and television reporters. Study the ProRodeo Sports News, the PRCA website, the PRCA Media Guide, and equine science. The best way to study rodeo is to truly be a fan of rodeo – pay attention to the action at the rodeos that you attend, ask knowledgeable people to explain different aspects of the sport and equipment to you, and follow the results and standings.
Before competing for a rodeo queen title, ask yourself why you want to win and if you are prepared to devote the time and work it takes to win the crown, and if you are willing to be fully dedicated to the title as well. It is easy to get caught up in the idea of winning and, if you win, of attaining the next title, but your first goal should be to become the best version of yourself. Dedicate yourself not only to becoming the titleholder, but also to becoming the best titleholder that you can be. Remember that you wear the crown to serve others through hard work and kindness. I truly believe in my motto of “kindness matters” and as my friend and founder of the Good Girl Movement Alexis Bloomer would say, work hard and be kind!
What was your most memorable moment as Miss Rodeo America 2016?
As my friend and legendary steer roper Arnold Felts stated when asked about his roping career, “I did this because I loved it.” I loved every moment as Miss Rodeo America, from walking the red carpet at the Academy of Country Music Awards to washing horses and sorting stock, but one of my greatest joys was the people who have become my friends and rodeo family. The most amazing part of the job was the opportunity to positively impact the people around me - the way that our rodeo community has impacted me.
There are so many truly amazing moments to choose from, but another one of the most memorable was meeting George Strait. I have been a fan my entire life and the PRCA Commissioner at the time, Karl Stressman, roped and played golf with George. Karl knew what a fan I was and made my dream of meeting him come true at the 2016 WNFR – an act of kindness that I will never forget!
Of course, nothing can compare to riding into the Thomas and Mack in Las Vegas for the National Finals Rodeo, but Cheyenne Frontier Days will always hold a special place in my heart because it is the first major rodeo that I attended…and it’s held on my birthday every year! This year they actually sang me “Happy Birthday” at their queen’s luncheon, I rode Guy Allen’s 1999 World Champion Steer Roping saddle in the parade, and I cracked a flower out of Rider Kiesner’s mouth with a bullwhip in front of thousands of people – the first time that I ever held a bullwhip! Cheyenne is full of rodeo history and it was truly amazing to ride in the same arena as so many of my heroes before me.
What advice would you give to girls who are in the same position as your were and their state has never won the national title before?
Honestly, you have the opportunity to be the first from your state – and that’s a truly amazing opportunity! It can be discouraging at times because it feels like the odds are against you, but once you get to the Miss Rodeo America stage in Las Vegas, the outcome is dependent on you, not on which state you represent. Five out of the past ten national titleholders have been the first from their states – besides me being the first from Washington in 2016, Kelli (Jackson) Russell from Mississippi in 2010, Mackenzie (Carr) Ivie from Oregon in 2012, Lauren Heaton from Oklahoma in 2015, and Keri Sheffield from Florida this year! Absolutely do not be discouraged because your state has never won, but instead use it as motivation to work even harder to bring that title home to your state!
How did you get your start in rodeo and rodeo queen pageants?
I got involved in rodeo royalty when I was twenty-three years old and halfway through my first year of law school. The prior year, I had my jaw wired shut after medically necessary surgery and as part of the healing process, I wasn’t allowed to ride or spend time with my horses. I searched for ways to fill the void and continue to be involved in the equine industry. My best friend and reining trainer, “Uncle Eddie” Biegler is a retired saddle bronc rider who brought me a copy of “8 Seconds” about Lane Frost and recommended that I read about Bill Linderman. When Linderman suffered a string of injuries that prevented him from competing, he began judging rodeos and took on leadership roles in the Rodeo Cowboys Association (before it became the PRCA!). His dedication to our sport despite his injuries combined with Lane’s enthusiasm and kindness as an ambassador of rodeo inspired me to represent the sport that I love and the community that has given me so much. I thought it would be wonderful to represent my hometown, so I tried out for Miss Spokane Interstate Rodeo 2014. I had a fantastic summer of traveling to rodeos all over the Northwest, and in October 2014 I competed for Miss Rodeo Washington 2015.
My college admissions essay was entitled “A Cowboy is Born, Not Made” because I didn’t grow up in a rodeo family, but found my way into the sport and western way of life. I started riding at age eleven and although I spent hours practicing running barrels, my non-rodeo parents wanted me to learn a discipline that would make me an all-around horsewoman. I started reining and combined my dance background with my love of riding in freestyle reining. I’ve competed in the American Quarter Horse Association, National Reining Horse Association and our local affiliates over the years.
Fair play, sportsmanship, and hard work are essential to succeed in our sport and humility, graciousness, and willingness to help fellow competitors are valued as highly in our community as success in the arena. I wanted to represent the sport and community that welcomed me with open arms and help to instill these values in the next generation while sharing our western way of life with others.
If you're worried you don't stand a chance because your state's never won before, Katherine said it best "you have the opportunity to be first", which is so incredibly true! Being a rodeo queen has so many different benefits and opportunities for each and every girl. Don't ever once doubt yourself based on the amount of wins from your state.
I hope these interviews are just as fun for everyone else as they are for me! I absolutely love getting to chat with former titleholders and see what life was like while they held their title and even afterwards! Thank you so much Katherine for taking time out of your very busy schedule to do this interview with us! I look forward to continue following your "life after the crown" through social media!
Until next time,
Miss Ozark Rodeo Association Pageant
Photos courtesy of: Katherine Merck