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COWBOY LOGIC: Queen for a year

TOWNER, N.D. - Every once in a while, good things happen to good people, and when they do, you can't help but feel good yourself. That was the case when I heard that Miss Rodeo North Dakota, Ashley Andrews of Bowman, N.D., was crowned Miss Rodeo ...

TOWNER, N.D. - Every once in a while, good things happen to good people, and when they do, you can't help but feel good yourself.

That was the case when I heard that Miss Rodeo North Dakota, Ashley Andrews of Bowman, N.D., was crowned Miss Rodeo America at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas last week. I think every North Dakotan's chest swelled up with pride.

It's not often that prairie folks end up at the top of the list in the pageant business. It seems like there's always someone from a more populated state with a little more clout who takes the titles. Even in rodeo, it's only happened twice now.

I can't help but feel a little connected to the new first lady of professional rodeo. I was one of the judges several years ago when she was crowned Miss High School Rodeo North Dakota.

I'm not quite sure how a fella like me got asked to be a judge in a rodeo queen pageant, but I was there, and one thing I knew for sure was that the rancher's daughter from Bowman, N.D., we crowned that day was going to go far in life. I just didn't know how far.

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So now that I helped judge the pageant that crowned the young gal who went on to be Miss Rodeo America, I think I'll retire from the queen-judging business while I'm at the top of my game.

Genuine determination

I ended up getting to know Miss Rodeo pretty well since then. North Dakota is a pretty small state, peoplewise, and even though her family's ranch is 300 miles from ours, they feel like neighbors.

Her folks are ranchers. The real kind. Not the kind who are just enjoying a rural address while they make their money in town or the kind looking for a tax-deductible way to spend some family fortune. No, they depend on their calf check like the rest of us.

I always liked the idea that rodeo was a professional sport with its roots in the business of ranching. Granted, not many of the athletes who make it to the National Finals Rodeo can stay home enough to still be real ranchers, but some start out as ranchers and some retire from the sport as ranchers.

I like the idea that our Miss Rodeo America knows what it's like to have chores that need doing on the ranch. Not every queen has a pair of insulated overalls in her wardrobe. It's a nice touch.

I'm sure her upbringing helped her win the personality contest in the pageant. Her education and her intelligence helped her win the speech contest and the written test. But it was her determination that helped her win a contest that wasn't even a part of the pageant.

Earlier this year, our Miss Rodeo America faced a contest more daunting than anything in a scholarship pageant. The doctors told her she had Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system.

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Now, I can't put myself in her shoes, but I can only imagine that when you're getting ready to compete for a national title as a big-haired rodeo queen, getting diagnosed with cancer and learning about the months of cancer treatments ahead, that would be pretty hard news to accept.

But she took it in stride, she blossomed in her faith, and now her cancer is in remission and she's Miss Rodeo America. It couldn't have happened to a nicer person. Congratulations, Ashley.

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