MORGAN — The new Miss Rodeo Utah may only be 21 but she’s already learned life lessons normally only achieved by those many times her age.
“Life is very short and we have to make it the best we can be,” said Bailey Jo Woolsey, who is set to be officially crowned as Miss Rodeo Utah in a ceremony Jan. 29.
At 21, the Morgan resident is at an age when most haven’t a care in the world.
But Woolsey isn’t like most people.
Woolsey has achieved the title of Miss Rodeo Utah having overcome the challenges of both a broken back and a broken elbow.
Both of these obstacles required her and her family to give her extreme and precise care.
And Woolsey said even after just a short time, she now can see how her challenges were actually blessings.
“I’ve been able to kind of share my experiences with people,” she said. “I’ve been able to meet with kids that have been injured and help them look past a rainy day.”
After Woolsey broke her back June 21, 2013, she was invited to participate with Western Wishes, an organization that reaches out to and supports rodeo families with members who have undergone threatening health challenges.
“My life hasn’t been nearly as hard as some people’s,” Woolsey said of what she’s taken away from her involvement in Western Wishes. “My challenges haven’t been nearly as hard as some people’s.”
This past fall, Woolsey took a trip to Texas to be on the Chris Cox show. While there, she met girls who had difficult challenges, including an inoperable brain tumor, severe diabetes, a seizure disorder and a head injury.
“I think that was something that really humbled my life,” Woolsey said.
“That really opened my eyes. Even though my challenges were hard for me, things could be so much worse. I think I grew more as a person while I was in Texas for those three days than I had for years.”
And Woolsey said the long and difficult road for her to recover from a broken back already has paid off for her as she realizes she has become not only a better person but a better competitor.
This vision played out in full circle when she gave the girl with the head injury — who wants to be a rodeo queen — a tiara and banner she herself had won as a loaner until the girl could win her own.
“When I broke my back, Shenae (Shiner Vest, Miss Rodeo America 2013) brought me a Miss Rodeo America banner and told me it was on loan until I could get my own,” Woolsey said.
That banner, which is a sash pageant winners wear to announce their titles, now hangs in Woolsey’s bedroom as a daily reminder of her goal next December to bring home the title of Miss Rodeo America to Utah.
“It’s the very first thing I see in the morning,” Woolsey said. “It is what pushes me to work toward my goal harder and harder every day until I compete in December. Hopefully I will be able to replace hers with a new one.”
Woolsey said for nearly six months, she mostly could only lay in bed and do precisely what the doctors had told her to do.
She was dependent upon her family, especially her mother, to do nearly everything for her. She said she couldn’t dress herself and any family activities had to include in the schedule an opportunity for Woolsey to lay down and take her shots.
“My winning Miss Rodeo Utah this year was a victory not only for me but also for them,” she said of her family. “We had been through so much together. I have a really big support system and I am very lucky for that.”
But during her long and lonely days when she was healing in her bed, Woolsey said she studied as closely as she could every possible rodeo fact and current event item of interest.
She said that knowledge really paid off as she confidently demonstrated her vast knowledge during the Miss Rodeo Utah pageant last summer.
But that’s not all. Woolsey also realized the importance of taking care of herself with precision.
She said at one point, the doctor said there was a threat of scoliosis.
“I made a conscious effort to stand straight up and down everywhere I went,” she said. “It actually has given me better posture now. I am a better rodeo queen.”
But this outcome is a far different scenario than Woolsey was first told about hours after the car accident that left her with a broken back.
“They wanted to put in a Harrington rod and fuse three vertebrae together,” she said. “That would have made me so I couldn’t ride a horse any more.”
She said that news put her hopes and dreams she’d pursued her entire life before that point on hold. She’d worked toward becoming Miss Rodeo Utah since she was very young.
“I cried when he told me I wouldn’t ever be able to ride a horse again,” she said.
Perhaps it was her persistence that encouraged her neurosurgeon to try something different — finding a way to allow her body to heal itself.
Woolsey said she watched as her neurosurgeon took on a very personable persona not typical of people in such positions.
“He leaned down to me and said ’I don’t usually make promises but I am going to try my hardest to fulfill your dreams little girl,’ ” she said.
And fulfilling her dreams meant that Woolsey would have to follow his instructions with exact precision.
And that she did, down to keeping within the exact angle of allowance for her back to remain as it healed.
Such precision, she said, required much sacrifice and much humility as she had to rely so deeply on others for support.
But the result, she said, has been a miracle.
“I am 100 percent healthy today,” Woolsey said. “My back doesn’t give me hardly any problems.”
Woolsey said her only drawback is she has to make sure she stretches very well every morning.
“It didn’t give me any problems during the Miss Rodeo Utah pageant,” she said. “We had dance practice every night and I was very surprised. The physician’s assistant said it was because I had taken such good care of it.”
Looking back, Woolsey realized she may have been prepared for the challenge by another such health drawback.
A cheerleader in 9th grade, Woolsey was injured in an accident during a stunt.
The resulting break to her elbow was not only painful for several years but that injury also threatened her ability to compete as a rodeo queen as it limited her strength in her arm.
“I had a piece of someone’s knee put in my elbow,” Woolsey said of the measure she was willing to take to overcome that injury during her senior year of high school. “It was an experimental surgery. I was the first one to have it.”
But when Woolsey attended the Ogden Pioneer Days rodeo in a back brace in 2013, there came a moment of humor for her to look back on her elbow experience.
“I saw my doctor,” she said, recalling the elbow doctor’s reaction to seeing her.
“He said ’Now, you didn’t hurt the elbow, right?’ I said ’No the elbow held up like a champ.’ ”
Woolsey is inviting the community to attend when she is officially crowned as Miss Rodeo Utah 2015.
The event will be a fund-raiser to help her pay for her year of traveling throughout the country as well as for her competition wardrobe and other expenses as she competes for more than a week next November and December for the title of Miss Rodeo America.
The event, with the theme of boots, jeans and cowgirl dreams, will be a pulled-pork sandwich dinner provided by Snap Daddy BBQ.
Set for Jan. 29, the fund-raiser will begin at 5:30 p.m. at the HUB 801 Events Center, 3525 Riverdale Road in Ogden.
Woolsey’s coronation will be held at 6:30 p.m. A silent auction will close at 7:30 p.m. and a live auction will begin at 7:45 p.m.
Former Miss Rodeo Utah queens will be honored at the event, which promises a special guest for the coronation in the advertising materials.
Cost to attend is $10 per person and $8 for children 8 and under.
Woolsey also has a fund-raising website, www.gofundme.com/mrubaileywoolsey.
You may reach reporter JaNae Francis at 801-625-4228. Follow her on Twitter at JaNaeFrancisSE. Like her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/SEJaNaeFrancis.