By Alex Ewald, Staff Writer
Enid News & Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Lauren Elise Ortega Wade, an Enid resident and 2014 Miss Rodeo Oklahoma Teen, came prepared to her interview Saturday afternoon with the News & Eagle.
She sat up straight. She patiently waited before speaking. And she had only thoughtful, well-rehearsed answers to give.
And when asked how long she’d been riding her horses, she had a short and sweet answer ready to go, owing to her experience speaking on a stage: “I’ve been riding longer than I’ve been walking.”
The 16-year-old only happened to be wearing her pageant sash, her official Miss Rodeo Oklahoma Teen cowboy hat sitting atop her dark-brown hair — she’d been around the snow-covered neighborhood handing out invitations for her coronation celebration this Saturday.
Elise’s favorite rodeo event? That would be saddle-bronc riding, or “the event that started it all,” from its origins on the ranches, where cowboys would see who could ride an unridden horse the longest.
But today, both miles and worlds away from the Midwest’s red dirt and dust, Elise will rub elbows with notable Washington figures like Rep. Frank Lucas, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and President Obama himself at a White House reception welcoming French President Francois Hollande.
She, Miss Rodeo Oklahoma Lauren Heaton and Miss Rodeo Oklahoma Princess Emily Smith have meetings with such U.S. officials scheduled all week at the nation’s capital before returning this weekend for Elise’s coronation at Convention Hall.
After that, it’s on to Florida for more rodeos.
As an official “rodeo queen” in Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Bible Academy sophomore’s duties are to promote the sport to both the rodeo community and the general public, who may not understand what exactly rodeo is — a link to the past, to the Wild West days, to Oklahoma’s own history as an uncharted and unsettled territory.
“Anything that I’ve ever done is amazing, whether it was falling off the back of a bucking chute before going on ‘Wake Up, Salt Lake’ in Ogden, Utah, or getting to meet the president of the United States,” Elise said. “The opportunities are insane and amazing. They’re endless.”
So Elise doesn’t have free time to do much else.
Every day last summer, before competing for the Miss Rodeo Oklahoma Teen title, she would wake up before sunrise and ride two to four horses, which sleep out in a massive white barn behind the Wades’ home.
Elise was awarded the title after the four-day scholarship pageant last July in Oklahoma City, winning in all the categories of public speaking, personality, appearance, horsemanship and written test. She represented the Chisholm Trail Stampede PRCA Rodeo and the Will Rogers Stampede PRCA Rodeo.
It was her third title, after winning Miss Rodeo Oklahoma Princess in 2007 at 8 years old. She also was Miss Rodeo Oklahoma Sweetheart from 2001-2006.
More than $40,000 in scholarships are available for Miss Rodeo Oklahoma contestants, Elise’s father, Doug Wade, said.
“What they’re after is developing a new fan,” Wade said. “She’s very accessible. Miss Rodeo America, you can get to her. That’s what they do.”
Elise accomplishes her duties through regular rodeo appearances, TV spots, ad modeling and product endorsements. Oh, and the occasional trip to meet the president.
“I’m still on adrenaline and kind of in shock about what’s going on,” Elise said.
Around the dinner table
The sport of professional rodeo is, at its heart, a family sport. It’s one of camaraderie and good sportsmanship.
“I’ve been doing rodeo all my life,” Elise said, “but what’s kept me coming back is it’s the one place you can get a history lesson, honor God and celebrate our freedom, all in one arena, and I think that’s the most special thing about it.”
Just take a look around the arena. Boys waiting their turn to ride the bull all sit in rows along the scaffolding. Competitors hang out in the metal stands together in between events. Coordinators look after the young ones like part of their family.
“I can’t think of a better group of people around my kids,” Doug Wade said.
He and his daughter like to joke that while the dinner table is the focal point of the nuclear family, “our dinner table is a pizza box in the front of a truck.”
“It’s about the same thing. We get in the same pickup and eat pizza out of the same box,” he said.
“It’s close quarters,” Elise added.
Elise name-drops many former Miss Rodeo Americas, such as 2013’s Shenae Shiner, but only from a place of admiration.
“As big of role models as they were to me when I was 3, they still are, and I still look up to them,” she said.
And now that’s their cowboy boots she’s filling, as a role model to young girls.
For now, once she graduates from high school, Elise said she plans to attend Oklahoma State for broadcasting communications. During college, she will compete in the Miss Rodeo Oklahoma Scholarship pageant. From there, should she win, it’s onward to vying for Miss Rodeo America.
“Whatever she wants to pursue, I think she’s gonna be prepared for it,” her father said.
After school and Miss Rodeo America, law school looks like the next step to becoming a news network legal consultant.
It’s a far cry — or neigh, rather — from rodeo riding. But that’s probably too far ahead to figure out just yet.
“I feel like if I stop and think about it for a minute, it’s gonna fly by before my eyes,” Elise said, a wide smile briefly breaking out over her face.