NORTH PLATTE, Neb. — As Laramie Schlichtemeier takes the reins as 2017 Miss Rodeo Nebraska, she’ll spend a year wearing chaps that say “Finish strong.”
The slogan belongs to her brother Garrett, who said those words about everything from school to his love of sports.
Schlichtemeier will be crowned Saturday at the Figure Four Traditions Event Center at Haythorn Land & Cattle Co. near Arthur, Nebraska. A social hour begins at 5 p.m., with dinner at 6, and auctions and a dance until 11. The $35 tickets can be reserved by emailing email@example.com.
The event, 20 miles from Schlichtemeier’s hometown of Ogallala, Nebraska, marks her own journey. As Garrett pushed to gain muscle weight for football at Chadron State College, he bet his sister — who was on her own fitness trek — that he could gain more weight than she could lose. Then in 2010 at age 19, Garrett was killed in a car accident while on spring break in Alabama.
“He was the best person I knew,” Schlichtemeier said, noting his kindness and selflessness in addition to athleticism. “He wasn’t your typical jock — he was literally nice to everyone.”
After Garrett died, “I really didn’t care anymore,” Schlichtemeier said. Her weight fluctuated, she said, and she stopped taking her health seriously.
Schlichtemeier grew up on horses before she could walk, riding with her dad at her grandparents’ ranch in Alliance. When the family attended rodeos, her favorite part was the cowgirls and rodeo queens, and she dreamed of the crown from the time she was little.
Garrett always encouraged his little sister to follow her dreams.
As she competed in rodeo pageants, Schlichtemeier met Emily Taylor in 2012. Taylor became another constant support. When Taylor lost the Miss Rodeo Nebraska pageant, Schlichtemeier told her to try again. After Taylor became Miss Rodeo Nebraska 2016, it was her turn to encourage her friend.
“She was kind of my rock, so to speak,” Schlichtemeier said.
So Schlichtemeier set out to win the title. The first reaction that she received, she says now, was that she weighed too much. As Schlichtemeier faced her own doubts, Taylor told her to push on.
Schlichtemeier spent five hours a day training in horsemanship, the pageant event with the largest point potential. In the meantime, she lost 100 pounds.
“I knew that I had to get healthy,” she said. “I was not in a good place.”
Now, as Schlichtemeier plans her year ahead — she’s already landed a number of sponsorships and has booked trips to Denver, Texas, Florida and others in her six months as Lady in Waiting — weight isn’t what matters, she said.
As she visits schools in her year as the state’s rodeo ambassador, she hopes to use her story to show that any dream is achievable.
“I don’t want everybody to think that in order to be this, you have to lose a bunch of weight,” Schlichtemeier said. “You don’t have to be skinny.” Instead, she said, her message is about positivity.
When Schlichtemeier was pinned at the Buffalo Bill Rodeo during Nebraskaland Days, she rode her gray horse, Shades, around the arena. Shades had been a constant support after Garrett’s death.
“He is my special angel,” Schlichtemeier said. “Sent here from God, basically.”
She hopes to follow Saturday’s ceremony with a year of spreading the message that dreams can be achieved.
“I took that negativity and turned that into motivation,” she said.