It was Aug. 24, 2011, the first day of her sophomore year in high school when Christy McCullough, now 16, had her accident.
The Missouri High School Rodeo State Finals will be held Wednesday through Saturday at the Central Missouri Events Center, home of the Boone County Fair.
While out on a typical horseback ride with her sister, Brooke, Christy’s horse stumbled and fell, sending her and the horse end over end.
As a result of the fall, Christy sustained a traumatic brain injury. Her horse ran back to the barn with a bloody nose while she lay in the grass, her brain bleeding.
Brooke thought her sister was going to die. Nancy Miller, the girls’ mother, got the call from Brooke in the field. She burst out the door, jumped over two fences and made it to the girls.
She’s not sure at what point she realized she wasn't wearing shoes. Christy doesn’t remember this, or the screaming, or the helicopter flight that took her from her family’s farm outside Clinton.
She didn’t wake up for two days. Her mother says her daughter's recovery was only possible because she had one clear goal: To win the Miss Teen Rodeo Missouri competition.
She had been training for the event before the accident. In a cruel twist, the young horsewoman now had to relearn how to ride a horse. Her short-term memory had been damaged to the point that she had to relearn how to study, too.
“There was a fleeting moment when I thought about not letting her get back on a horse, but I knew we needed to let her in order for her to heal,” Nancy Miller said.
Now Christy is required to wear a helmet. Doctors have told her another fall could have serious implications. In a world where cowboy hats and glitz are the norm, the helmet seemed a monumental step for her.
“She knew that if she was going to ride, she was going to have to wear it,” her mother said. “She bucked up and she did it. It broke my heart that she had to do that.”
Christy’s dream became a reality in September when she won the 2013 Miss Teen Rodeo Missouri crown.
She hopes to one day be the first Missourian to win Miss Rodeo America, the national competition for state rodeo queens.
Supervising editors are Jeanne Abbott and Brian Kratzer.