Kids pedal for ribbons, soda and chance at state

*This story was featured in the Hastings Tribune on July 25, 2016. 

On a cool and windy day, kids and parents alike gathered at Windmill Park Sunday afternoon for the Adams County Fairfest pedal tractor pull.

This year’s competition featured 30-plus kids, ranging from ages 4 to 12 and gave them all a chance to win a purple ribbon and a free soda.

For 9-year-old Nicolas Reynolds, the event was a new, but worthwhile experience.

“My dad asked me if I wanted to do it, so I did it,” he said. “I really liked getting to ride the tractor.”

For the event, kids climb aboard a pedal tractor equipped with various weights on the back of the tractor. The rider pedals down the track to see who can travel the furthest distance. The weights and tractors vary by age group and tends to get heavier the further the tractor goes.

“We have like six tractors and they’re all lengthened. The older you get, the longer the tractor is,” said event coordinator Cindy Ash. “(Bruce) changes the skid plate that makes it harder to pull.”

The kids are separated by age and sex and are then paired with the corresponding size of tractor.

While every participant received a reward, only three kids from each class earned the right to represent Adams County at the Nebraska State Fair.

“They qualify for the state pull at all the county fairs,” Ash said.


Cindy and her husband, Bruce, have plenty of experience with kids’ tractor pulls, considering they attend about 20 county fairs a year. Despite the long weekends spent at fairs, seeing the kids’ reactions during the event is reward enough.

“I just like seeing the kids’ faces,” Ash said. “They like to win and they even like to lose. It’s just a good kids’ event for any age and really any person can do it.”


Poultry show tests 4-H’ers knowledge

*This story was featured in the Hastings Tribune on July 23, 2016. 

On a warm Friday morning, 4-H’ers gathered beneath a tent at the Adams County Fairgrounds to showcase their most prized poultry.

The show, which didn’t allow for the entering of live birds last year because of the threat of avian flu, was back to normal this time around.

This year’s broilers class — one of four different classes of competition — featured kids of all ages showing off the birds they’ve worked with for six straight weeks.

“Everyone gets chicks from the same production facility on the same day, so they start out of the gate running at the same place,” said Lynn Devries, extension educator for Adams County. “The broilers is a six-week project from the start of day one baby chicks until today, where they’re market ready.”

The morning kicked off with the broiler’s competition, followed by the showmanship, bantam class and clover kids competitions.

Every 4-H’er receives a ribbon for their submissions, which can act as an incentive for the extensive preparation needed to enter these birds into the show.

“A lot of preparation is needed for any show,” said 16-year old Dariana Burr of Juniata. “We have to get the cages ready, bathe the birds, polish their beaks, trim their nails, clean their legs. Birds are so dirty, so that takes a lot of time.”

After getting the birds ready for competition, 4-H’ers bring their birds to the fairgrounds and anxiously wait to hear from the judges.

Birds are judged according to the American Standard of Perfection standards, and depending on the class, can be judged on any number of things including meat capacity, plumage, comb quality and health of the bird’s feet.

One aspect of competition in particular requires a special amount of courage, knowledge of the bird and speaking skill. The showmanship portion involves a participant explaining the anatomy of the bird, identifying the types of feathers and posing the bird in front of a judge, along with the crowd, which can be quite the daunting task.

But for Burr, she tends to think of the opportunity as a chance to perfect some real life skills.

“The speaking experience, getting out in front of people, it’s really hard, but it helps you later on with college, high school and job interviews,” she said. “It’s just a great way to learn.”

While the 4-H’ers are often eager to receive recognition for their work in the form of purple, blue or red ribbons, to some, the competition can also be used to teach a lesson or two.

“I think it (the competition) just gives them a lot of confidence and some independent skills, as well. Many of our 4-H’ers are building responsibility and showing they can grow and take care of an animal,” Devries said. “It’s a project with a little guidance from their family. It’s something they can do on their own.”

In Burr’s case, being a part of a family full of 4-H’ers has not only kept her involved with 4-H, but has even prompted her to ponder a career working with animals.

“My mom was a veterinarian, so it makes you really get familiar with it,” she said. “I think I could see myself being a vet in the future.”

Rodeo teen keeps her eye on the prize

*This story was featured in the Hastings Tribune on June 17, 2016. 

Libby Winchell remembers all too well the first time she thought she was blind.

Libby, then just a sixth-grader in middle school, recalls waking up and not being able to see clearly.

Still, she woke up, completed her normal morning routine and went to school. It was only when her social studies teacher called upon her when she revealed to others about her vision problems.

“My social studies teacher asked me to read something and I couldn’t read it. I couldn’t read anything,” said Libby, 17, who is competing in this week’s Nebraska State Finals Rodeo at the Adams County Fairgrounds in Hastings. “She didn’t think I was for real.”

She wasn’t kidding.

Later that afternoon, she revealed her vision issues to her parents and was subsequently taken to the emergency room and began a battery of tests, which included an MRI, CAT scan and lumbar puncture.

With no luck on the prognosis, her mother, Shawna Winchell, 49, took her to the Children’s Hospital in Denver.

That drive from Scottsbluff to the Children’s Hospital in Denver became one of the biggest low points in Libby’s medical saga.

“After she had the lumbar puncture in our hometown and they punctured her six times … you’re supposed to clot and she didn’t clot,” Shawna said. “Her and I were driving to Denver and she was throwing up. That was our low point.”

Upon arriving at the hospital, Libby was diagnosed with optic neuritis, which is an inflammation of the optic nerve or the bundle of nerve fibers that transmits visual information from your eye to your brain. The condition had eliminated her ability to see and caused debilitating migraines.

“When I entered the hospital, my vision was 2400, which is legally blind,” Libby said.

To combat her optic neuritis, doctors prescribed her a regimen of steroids, which were intended to help with her vision problems. Instead, they unintentionally caused an already existent ulcer in her abdomen to perforate.

The perforation of her ulcer, Libby’s words “blew up her stomach,” and caused her situation to go from bad to worse.

“I woke up and went to the bathroom and it hit me,” Libby said. “My dad saw it and my stomach was black, so it was all air. They stopped one surgery and put me in another surgery. I was on the X-ray table and (the doctors) said ‘we need to get you in surgery now.’ ”

After a successful surgery, the ulcer was treated, but one issue still remained: Libby’s vision.

Once again, she was prescribed steroids and this time, the steroids, slowly but surely, helped repair her vision.

Despite her vision being repaired, the impact of her illnesses was certainly still being felt.

“She was a sick girl. She could care less about doing anything and that was a change that was very tough — knowing that wasn’t her,” Shawna said. “She was sick and sicker than we could ever imagine, so that was scary.”

Her illnesses certainly had an effect on both herself and her loved ones, but it also impacted something near-and-dear to her heart — rodeo.

Libby had missed a year of rodeo and felt a longing to get back to the sport she refers to as “her life.”

Still, her return — much like the previous year of her life — didn’t come without its fair share of challenges and hardships.

“Once I got out of the hospital, I competed and had a pretty good fall, but went back to the Children’s Hospital for a check up and they said that my optic nerve had swelled more and had gotten bigger,” Winchell said. “They said a fall could make it worse.”

After receiving news that a fall, which occurs as regularly as a bump or bruise in the sport of rodeo, could cause a step back in her progress, she made a decision.

She would forever compete while wearing a helmet.

Ever since, she, much like the horse she competes on, has hit the ground running.

“I came back my seventh-grade year in the spring and we went to junior high nationals. At that time, barrels were flat on the ground because my depth perception wasn’t very good,” Libby said. “I was relying on muscle memory coming back, just a lot of muscle memory.”

After finding herself back on a horse and back in the arena on a regular basis, Libby once again added another element to her riding attire. This time, it was a bell.

In the beginning, when her vision still wasn’t clear, she attached the bell to her saddle in order to alert riders that she was in the same area they were in. Now, she simply rides with it as a constant reminder – of both her past and what she’s overcome to reach this point.

“I have the bell, and it’s just for me,” Libby said. “And I just kind of kept it on there.”

Now, Libby appears light years away from her days of lying in a hospital bed and not being able to make out the faces in front of her.

Since returning full time she’s made junior high nationals (eighth grade), won a Nebraska state title and competed in nationals (freshman year) and picked up a third-place medal in state and finished reserve national champion in the goat-tying event (sophomore year).

This time around, she has her eyes set on a national championship crown.

“My dream right now is to win a state title and make it to nationals in all three of my events,” Libby said. “A national title in goat-tying would be great. I know what it feels like to be on top and I want to go back.”

Regardless of the outcome of her season, Libby as a vision for her future. She plans to compete in rodeo in college and wants to keep rodeo in her life for a long time.

Competitors, livestock feeling the heat at state rodeo

*This story was featured in the Hastings Tribune on June 18, 2016. 

With temperatures nearing the triple-digit mark across the state, it’s no surprise that the weather is a topic of discussion this week at the Nebraska High School Finals Rodeo at the Adams County Fairgrounds.

The scorching heat poses unique challenges for not only the competitors, but also the sometimes-overlooked livestock used for the competition during this weekend’s events.

“You have to be aware that they (the livestock) can overheat just like a human athlete can,” said Pat Wahlmeier, a veterinarian on-site at the rodeo. “So plenty of water is vital.”

The combination of warm weather and potential over-exertion during the competition can put the animals at risk for cramping, heat exhaustion and even hypothermia.

The latter, which is considered the most serious, usually takes place when an animal’s body temperature reaches a certain level.

A horse’s body temperature tends to run around 99 to 100 degrees, while a calf’s body temperature ranges between 101 and 102 degrees under normal conditions. Just a four- to five-degree change can prove deadly for the livestock.

To prevent heat exhaustion and other heat-related complications, Wahlmeier described a number of techniques used to keep the animals cool and in good health.

“Water is the biggest thing,” he said. “A wet towel over the head even seems to make the animals feel better. There are electrolytes that would have your salt content in it. It comes in a package with vitamins and electrolytes and you put it in water. It’s kind of like a Gatorade.”

Livestock that get lethargic because of the high temperatures and long days can be a challenge for the youth competing.

“It will make a lot of kids miss. The horse will keep going because you’re making them go, but the steers won’t go and they’ll walk out of the box,” said Chase Miller, 16, of Anselmo-Merna High School. “If your horse is fast enough they’ll run right on by and you won’t be able to slow down fast enough.”

Aside from the animals, competitors and fans also have to be prepared to deal with elements and stay safe. Staying cool can be difficult for competitors, considering the gear required to compete — jeans, long sleeves and boots — can make it easier to become overheated.

“We really encourage everyone to stay hydrated and stay out of the sun if they can, as well as to wear sunscreen,” said Corrine Huthoefer, an on-site EMT. “But if we do have someone who hasn’t been following those rules we bring them in and cool them down, give them an ice pack and give them water.”

Competitors and fans, too, can prepare ahead of time to combat the high temperatures. Bottles of water, plenty of rest and shade before and after competitions help in combat heat-related illnesses. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are always a concern for people when spending long days in the sun.

“Heat exhaustion will progress into heat stroke, which is a true medical emergency,” said Mary Meyer, another on-site EMT. “You’ve got to take those breaks in the shade and know when you’ve had enough.”