Sunday, July 21, 2019, is a day that McKardy Kelly says she will never forget. Riding into Midway atop a blaring fire truck, McKardy waved and smiled at family, friends and community members who lined the streets in her honor. The parade paid tribute to McKardy, who was named the National High School Rodeo Queen the day before in Rock Springs, Wyoming. McKardy — the first Utahn to win the title since 2008 — says she owes her success to her friends, family and the special place where she grew up.
For McKardy, family, home and the town of Midway have all played a very important role in her journey to the National High School Rodeo Queen crown. “I love talking about where I live and the people I live by because it’s really unique,” she says. “I live down a lane with my whole family; my grandpa and grandma, my grandpa’s brother and my cousins. We’re a really close family.”
Living on a family farm taught McKardy the value of hard work and reinforced her family ties. For the speech portion of the competition, McKardy spoke on the importance of family and heritage, and shared some of the more “entertaining” aspects of life on the farm. “I talked about how my grandpa, Brent, got his hand into the tailgate of the truck and his finger fell off… And the time the horses were escaping the arena and he was trying to race them to the gate and he rolled his four-wheeler…
“So, you never know what you’re going to get on the farm — but you learn to work hard and you learn to have fun as well.”
When asked what she loves best about living in Midway, McKardy quickly replies, “I love my community. It’s amazing. I love my friends and family who always support me. I love that I have opportunities to live on a farm and get taught those principles, and to be able to spend time with my grandma and grandpa. I have the closest relationship with them and I don’t think a lot of teenagers have that opportunity”.
That close relationship is where McKardy first learned to love everything about rodeo. “I got it definitely through my family heritage,” she laughs.
A Girl, Her Horse and a lot of Hard Work
Representing the Utah High School and National High School Rodeo Associations has been a dream of McKardy’s since she was a little girl.
Growing up going to rodeos with her dad and grandpa — who are both rodeo announcers — McKardy says, “I just had a love for it and knew that I wanted to do it.” Queening also came naturally to McKardy, as both her mother and grandmother have been crowned Queen.
McKardy explains that, “Rodeo and Queening are two separate events. For rodeo, I compete in barrel racing and pole bending, but they are not associated with the Queen contest. For the Queen contest, I compete in modeling, speech, interviews, an impromptu question and horsemanship. When you are crowned a Rodeo Queen you represent that association.”
From her first competition at age 10, to being crowned the Utah Junior High School Rodeo Queen, to becoming the first freshman to receive the title of Utah High School Rodeo Queen since 1993, to now the first Utahn to receive the national title in 11 years, McKardy’s family and community have been behind her one hundred percent of the way.
To achieve her long-held dream, McKardy has had to put her hard work ethic to the test. She spent countless hours learning about current events, honing her public speaking skills, writing and memorizing speeches, studying rule books, as well as learning each and every part of her horse. Along with practicing poise and presence, and looking calm, cool and collected with a stomach full of nerves and butterflies, contestants have to know the sport of rodeo.
“There’s nothing more rewarding, nothing makes you feel more accomplished, than putting in all that hard work and then getting results on competition day,” she beams. “It’s the best day but you have to work for it.”
Luckily, that work is with a lot of amazing people and horses. For Nationals, she trained every day in the arena with her horse, Gee Whiz, an 11-year-old gelding with a “super spunky personality.” Together they won the horsemanship category. McKardy also won the speech, modeling and appearance categories – all of which helped her win the title of National High School Rodeo Queen.
“It was really neat to find out that I was the first Utah girl in 11 years to win!” she smiles. “I’m friends with all the past Queens from Utah because the ‘Rodeo Queen World’ is rather small. I have looked up to those women my whole life and it’s been amazing holding the same title as them. Having the title of National High School Rodeo Queen is such an honor.”
Fulfilling Her Queenly Duties
For the next year. McKardy will travel the country and the world, representing National High School Rodeo and speaking to youth. Her platform for Nationals was creating an environment where people who suffer from mental illness will have the same respect as people with physical health conditions. McKardy will continue educating others by sharing her experiences with people who suffer from a mental illness.
“I was able to meet a lot of people who suffer in ways I would never have known about until I got to know them. I think that kindness goes a long way because you can’t see what everyone is going through.”
Being kind is important to McKardy – and so is being a good ambassador for the associations she has represented over the years. “As a representative, you can’t really live like a normal teenager – in a good way though – because people are looking at you,” she explains. “You are not just trying to be the best you that you can be, but you are representing high school rodeo in the title, you are representing high school kids. You have to be on your best behavior at all times – you have to be that person you’d look up to.
“We’re all going to make mistakes and that’s okay. It’s a lot of pressure but it’s also really cool to have this title that helps remind you to be kind to everyone you meet, to be involved and be a good friend.”
Listening to McKardy, it’s hard to believe that she still has two years left of high school. She speaks with the wisdom and insight of someone with a few more years and more life experience under her belt. Moving forward, this role model is keeping her boots on ‘cuz she plans on doing a whole lot more walking, talking and riding.
McKardy hopes to qualify for nationals next year in barrels, pole bending and other rodeo events. After high school, McKardy plans on majoring in Agricultural Communication and hopes to use her skills in the field she loves so much – rodeo! “It’s the whole atmosphere and experience that I love,” she explains. “I never would have met my best friends in the whole world if I hadn’t entered the little county contests and I never would have met my best friends that I met being Utah High School Rodeo Queen… Now that I went to Nationals, I have friends all over the country, the world, and I never would have gotten those experiences doing anything else.”
McKardy is still settling into her title but when asked about future Queening contests she says, “It is a super great honor to be able to represent the National High School Rodeo. It’s the top queening contest; it’s the biggest thing you get to do in High School. When I’m older, maybe I’ll try out for Miss Rodeo Utah and Miss Rodeo America. Now I just get to go represent and have fun!”
Representing the National High School Rodeo Association is an honor McKardy is excited to share with the world, and representing Midway — the town she loves — her community, friends and family is an honor she is grateful for. “I’m so grateful to everyone that came out that Sunday to support me. I didn’t expect anything and I never saw it coming, but I never doubted for a second that I had the best community. It was a day that I will never forget!”