MOSES LAKE -- Ann-Erica Whitemarsh had a dream. It didn't come true.
Now she's forged a new one and is hoping to make the dreams of others come true along the way.
Whitemarsh -- a 2002 Pasco High graduate and a cowgirl at heart -- was raised in the city and never got an opportunity to be a part of the rodeo life she yearned for. With a passion to help kids with disabilities, she found a way years later, and is making their dreams come true in the process.
"Growing up, I always wanted to compete in a rodeo, but I grew up in the city so I didn't have the opportunity that some of my country friends had," Whitemarsh said. "So many kids dream of being a cowboy or cowgirl when they are little. I have those special needs kids in my heart, and I want to be able to allow them the opportunity they may not get somewhere else."
Whitemarsh created Rascal Rodeo, an effort to produce rodeos for kids with disabilities. The events allow special needs children to participate in myriad events, from calf roping to barrel racing, atop a live horse guided by a trainer or astride a stick horse held by the child.
On May 29, Whitemarsh's idea became reality when she organized the Exceptional Rodeo in conjunction with the Washington State High School Rodeo Association State Finals in Moses Lake.
Whitemarsh said nearly 50 athletes from the state competition took time out to volunteer, helping kids with autism, down syndrome and other disabilities participate in the same events they were competing in.
"They were all taught different rodeo events and got to be cowboys and cowgirls for the day," Whitemarsh said.
Seven kids attended, "competing" in several events. In barrell racing and pole bending, participants raced through a course as quickly as possible. In calf roping, they attempted to lasso a stationary iron bull. There was even a bucking machine to simulate bull riding and bareback.
The high school volunteers stood by the side of contestants, lending a helping hand or simply cheering them on.
"Sometimes kids with special needs think they can't do things," said 16-year-old Tayler Jo Bradley of Goldendale, a volunteer at the event who competed at the high school State Finals in the breakaway roping and goat tying. "This shows them that they can do whatever they want.
"I really like helping kids no matter if they have disabilities or not, and I thought it would be a good way to introduce rodeo to younger kids and help them learn."
Whitemarsh appreciated the help, which was overwhelmingly supportive.
"All the high school kids loved it," Whitemarsh said of the volunteers. "They were so excited. The special needs kids loved it, too. A couple were not too sure about some of the events, but they were excited to be partners with hot cowboys or cowgirls for the day."
Whitemarsh's idea stemmed from a similar event she used as her senior project in 2001. She put on a rodeo for kids with disabilities then, and now wants to do it for a living.
"There's a lot of different events offered for special needs kids," she said. "Rodeo is one of my passions and special needs kids is another passion. I'm trying to figure out how I can do it and make a living in it."
Whitemarsh created a Facebook page for Rascal Rodeo, and is working on a website at www.RascalRodeo.com. She's hoping enough interest will make her dream actually come true this time around.
"I feel it's what I'm supposed to do with my life," she said. "I'm trying to find people that will support it financially. I'll do (a rodeo) anywhere possible."
* Patrick Ibarra: 509-582-1509; firstname.lastname@example.org