Laramie Schlichtemeier galloped before she could walk—riding with her dad on his horse at her grandparents’ ranch in Alliance, Nebraska. By age three, she was handling old ranch horses by herself; at age four, swinging a lasso. At age five, the Ogallala native met Miss Rodeo Nebraska 1999 and set her young heart on one day winning the pageant herself. For her eighth birthday, she got a foal named Shades and began competing in junior rodeos.
In 2010, when she was 16, Schlichtemeier’s brother Garrett encouraged her to get in shape and go for her goal. A straight-A student and football player at Chadron State College, he bet his sister that he could gain more weight than she could lose.
“My brother always said if you do something, you should do it whole-heartedly,” she said. “He was a great person; he always went out of his way to help people. His motto was ‘Finish strong.’”
But the two never completed their challenge. Garrett, 19, was killed in a car crash during spring break.
Distraught, Schlichtemeier set aside her dream. “After he passed away I gained weight; I was in a bad place and gave up,” she recalled. “It was really hard to lose the person who was always there for me, and to watch my parents go through losing a child. That was the first time I saw my dad cry.”
Even in death, Garrett was a blessing to others. An organ donor, he saved six people’s lives, including a five-year-old boy who needed a kidney, and a single mom of three. The man who received Garrett’s lungs flew to Nebraska to visit the family. “It was almost like my brother was here again,” Schlichtemeier said. “The man was talking about how he was craving ketchup; Garrett put ketchup on everything! It was so cool to see the emotion on his face when he said he was so grateful for my brother’s gift.”
“It brought me closer to God.”
Schlichtemeier continued to find solace on her horse. “Shades is my saving grace,” she said. “The day I got back after the accident, he knew something was wrong; he knew I needed his extra love and attention. He would listen to me vent; the connection I feel with him is indescribable.”
Eventually, Schlichtemeier decided to get back into competition. She joined a boot camp at Chadron State, where she was pursuing a degree in business. “I stepped on the scale the first day and I cried,” she said. “I decided never again would I allow myself to be that unhealthy. At first it was about losing weight, but as I got more into it, it was about how I could maintain this healthy lifestyle.”
Even in death, Garrett was a blessing to others. An organ donor, he saved six people’s lives, including a five-year-old boy who needed a kidney.
Schlichtemeier began entering local pageants with Shades, losing four times before taking a chance on the Miss Rodeo Nebraska pageant. “When I first told everyone I wanted to run, they said I was too fat, I was not pretty enough—I heard very negative comments,” she said. “I chose to use that as motivation: ‘You think I can’t? Watch me!’ Even though Garrett wasn’t physically here, I could feel him motivating me—and I’d work out for 15 more minutes.” She lost 115 pounds.
In 2017, Schlichtemeier won the crown, sweeping five categories, including horsemanship, speech and personality. She took her “hot lap” of honors around the arena wearing chaps bearing the words “Finish strong.”
Schlichtemeier graduated from Chadron in December 2016 with a bachelor’s in business administration and a focus on agribusiness marketing. She’ll spend this year traveling the nation, participating in rodeos, visiting schools and promoting the sport and her home state. Her favorite part is encouraging kids to “rope their dreams” and always focus on the positive no matter what happens, she said. When her reign ends, she’ll compete for Miss Rodeo America.
But she won’t be there alone. “Garrett is there when I’m riding,” she said. “When I take my hot lap and wave to the crowd, he takes that lap with me.”