Summit County’s traveling cowgirl |

Summit County’s traveling cowgirl

MULLEN, Neb. – Kelley Campbell takes dedication to heights not often seen from high school athletes.

Campbell, who will be a senior at Summit High School this fall, is a competitor on the Nebraska High School Rodeo circuit. That’s right, Nebraska – a six-hour drive from her Breckenridge home.

So, when rodeo season (April to September) coincides with school, Campbell travels to her grandparents’ ranch in Mullen each weekend to squeeze in some training and competition.

She returns to school on Monday, and on Friday, she does it all over again. To her friends in Summit County, she maintains the mystique of a traveling cowgirl.

“Everyone thinks it’s pretty cool,” Campbell said. “They can’t believe it. Most people have seen it on TV, so they have an idea.”

It’s different in Nebraska. Her grandparents, longtime rodeo competitors and fans, put Campbell on a horse when she was 2. Campbell began competing at age 4. Once school is out, as it currently is, she spends the entire summer in Nebraska training for and competing in the five rodeo disciplines.

“The people out here look at things differently than people out there,” Campbell said in a phone interview from Nebraska. “So it’s nice to get both perspectives.”

The Nebraska High School Rodeo season is about to come to a climax. Campbell, who competes in barrel racing, pole bending, goat tying, breakaway calf roping and team roping, had weekend rodeos throughout the spring in preparation for the Nebraska state finals, which begin June 26. The top four in each event at the state finals earn a trip to nationals, July 20 in Farmington, N.M.

Campbell has several top-10 finishes under her belt from her three previous trips to the state finals. She hopes her fourth attempt next week yields a nationals berth. She is currently ranked third in pole bending and fifth in the all-around, which combines scores from all five events.

“I’m sitting in the top three right now, so hopefully I’ll make it,” Campbell said. “I just need to be consistent and not get too excited about anything.”

Pole bending, where a rider and horse weave through poles like a slalom skier, is Campbell’s best and favorite event. It rewards what she loves about the sport of rodeo – the intimate relationship between rider and horse.

“It takes a lot of concentration, and you have to know your horse really well and know what you can do to help him,” Campbell explained.

If that relationship is at its best, Campbell will move on to the national finals and, she hopes, to college competition in 2004.

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