On Dec. 10, Morgan residents waited with baited breath as our own McKenna Hales was announced as one of the five finalists in the Miss Rodeo America competition. Hales, who has been representing Morgan and the rest of the state as Miss Rodeo Utah for the past year, was thrilled to be one of the names called.
“To hear ‘Utah’ called out to be in the top five out of 31 other woman who were just as eligible for the title as I was, was extremely gratifying as well as humbling. It was reassuring to know that I really was good enough to be there to represent rodeo and all of Utah,” said Hales proudly. “It was hard to believe,” she continued, “I had been working towards that competition for several years, and had failed more times than I had succeeded.”
The excitement when Hales was announced as third runner up was just as audible as if she had won the whole thing. “It was pretty awesome,” she exclaimed. “While the title would have been the optimal goal, I am not complaining about where I ended up! Any other day or with different judges it could have been someone else. To be in the top five is an extremely great accomplishment.”
The last time a Miss Rodeo Utah contestant was in the top five was in 2013 when Chenae Shiner won the competition outright. This year. Keri Sheffield, Miss Rodeo Florida, was crowned Miss Rodeo America 2018. Reportedly, Sheffield was the first from her state to win the title.
Hales related that the Miss Rodeo America competition is “one of the most tiring, stressful and exciting weeks ever.” The competition ran from Dec. 3-10. According to Hales, each day was filled with activities from about 4:30 in the morning until about 11 each night. “We were judged each day on our appearance, personality, horsemanship, knowledge and overall ability to handle the stress and lack of sleep. They did this through several interviews, a written test, several impromptu speaking opportunities, a fashion show, as well as riding horses that were unfamiliar to us.”
As grueling as the schedule was, it would be difficult for anyone, but Hales had an additional wedge thrown into her game. After arriving in Vegas a day early, she came down with a nasty flu bug. She put on a smile with her positive “fake it ‘til you make it” attitude and pushed on, but never really fully recovered until she arrived home.
Hales said that while it may seem cliché, she loved having the opportunity to make lifelong friends from around the nation. “During that week you are sequestered from your entire family and have to rely on other competitors to help you keep your spirits up. Thankfully I had a great group of competitors who were always willing to lend a kind word or a helping hand. Rodeo is the only sport I know of where individuals will gladly help their competition, even if they know it might mean they win over you,” said a grateful Hales.
While all of this showmanship is hard work, and the girls really buckle down and get serious, there are also things along the way that lighten the mood. Hales related one such experience. “We had to do a quick wardrobe change for one of the events and one of the girls was taking much longer than she normally does to get ready. Some of the girls and a chaperone went up to check on her to find that she was stuck in her overly starched jeans. One of the girls had to hold onto her arms while the other tried to pull her jeans off. From what I understand it was a long and rather hysterical process.”
The wardrobe is a huge part of the process in this week-long competition. Hales said it varies from girl to girl how much they take, but she had enough clothes, hats and boots for at least two outfit changes every day.
“There is so much preparation that goes into competing for a contest of this caliber, and there was no way that I could have done it on my own. I have so many friends and family who were such a huge support to me,” credits Hales. “There are so many people working behind the scenes to even make this a possibility. My biggest supporters would have to be my family. They have sacrificed so much of their time, talents and resources in order to help me succeed,” remarked Hales who also sent out a big thank you to her sponsors.
Hales’ mother Becky is a native Morganite and is the daughter of Paul Russell and Joan Duncan Tomlinson. Ron and Becky Hales were able to build their first home here and have lived in Morgan ever since. They have three other children: Tanner, Reganne and Porter.
Hales has spent the last year using the mantra, “Shine your Light,” as her Miss Rodeo Utah platform. In March of this year she shared a touching story which reflects that mantra. “I have grown up in agriculture. When I was about 5 or 6 we would take trips over to my grandpa’s and ride horses in the round pen. Ever since I got on a horse I was hooked. I had no fear. We didn’t have the funds for a horse at the time, but I asked everyone I knew for a horse. I asked the tooth fairy, I asked Santa Claus, I asked everyone.”
Hales affectionately related that a few years later, her grandfather gave her his “four legged daughter named Hope.” This horse was orphaned at birth and according to Hales, he literally raised her in his garage. “He gave me my start.”
When Hales won the title of Miss Rodeo Utah, she didn’t want the experience to only be about her and her title. She wanted to make it about something bigger than herself. So along with promoting agriculture and rodeo, Hales decided to promote cancer prevention and awareness.
“My grandfather was diagnosed this past year with terminal esophageal cancer and I can’t save his life, but there are things that I can do. I can give hope to other people,” she said tenderly. “If your life hasn’t been affected by cancer, it is only a matter of time before it is.”
So she has spent the last year trying to raise awareness. “I want to educate people about the effects of cancer and what you can do to prevent it. Utah has one of the lowest screening rates in the country.” According to Hales, Utah ranks 47th in the nation for cancer screenings and studies show that a person has a 30 percent greater chance of survival if the cancer is caught and treated early enough.
Mom, Becky Hales, stated with concern, “We were shocked at this information. There are things that we can do as a society to help those screening rates. We can help raise money for research and that’s great, but there are other ways we can affect the survivability rates. If she even helps one or two people, then it was worth something.”
“If I could save even one person, that person matters to a whole bunch of people,” concluded Hales.
Being the ambitious young lady that she is, Hales has a lot of goals she would love to accomplish in the next 10 years. “I plan on finishing my education at BYU and becoming a registered nurse specializing in pediatrics. After I finish my education I would love to start training a barrel horse or two and travel the rodeo circuit with hopes of making it to Vegas again, only this time, performing in the Thomas and Mack at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo,” mused Hales.
While working on these goals, Hales says she would also like to give back and help up-and-coming rodeo queens or those interested in rodeo in the community by holding a clinic and “mentoring those who seek my help.” She concluded noting that while this experience has been a wonderful opportunity, “I am excited to see what the future holds!”