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Good to be Queen

Thanks to dedication, focus and hard work, Lakeside's Elisa Swenson is Miss Rodeo USA

From Horsetrader staff reports - February 20th, 2014 - Cover Story, Show & Event News
There's a busy year ahead for Elisa Swenson of Lakeside, crowned 2014 Miss Rodeo USA on Jan. 19.

There’s a busy year ahead for Elisa Swenson of Lakeside, crowned 2014 Miss Rodeo USA on Jan. 19.

Reminisce photo

LAKESIDE — At the end of seven arduous days of rodeo queen competition at the International Professional Rodeo Association Finals in Oklahoma City, Elisa Swenson stood in the arena, awaiting announcement of the 2014 queen. Whether her name or someone else’s was called didn’t matter. She felt like a winner.

“I’d never done anything like that — a whole week of competition,” says Swenson, whose pageant days began at 4:30 a.m. and ended when her head hit the hotel pillow about midnight. “By the end of the week, you are so proud of yourself that you did this and completed it — whether or not you get the crown. I felt like I was a winner.”

The judges thought so, too, and the former 2011 Miss Lakeside Rodeo and 2013 Miss Bulls Only Rodeo is the reigning 2014 IPRA Miss Rodeo USA.

In Oklahoma City, she had risen to the challenge and won, a familiar pattern for the 25-year-old San Diego County native who credits horses and her supportive father, Thomas Swenson, for overcoming some of life’s stumbling blocks.

Swenson was 10 when her mother died of breast cancer, and she recalls how she and her dad spent time together and traveled during the first year without her mom, visiting family in Montana.

Elisa and her father, Thomas Swenson, at a celebration of friends in Lakeside.

Elisa and her father, Thomas Swenson, at a celebration of friends in Lakeside.

Reminisce photo

“My uncle took us to my first rodeo, and my dad saw light in my eyes for the passion I had for riding,” says Elisa, whose English riding lessons at age four were curtailed when her mom feared for her safety.

When dad and daughter returned home, he enrolled her in horse camp — but the 11-year-old future queen was hesitant.

“I didn’t want to be away from him for a week, but he promised me that when he picked me up, I’d be begging for a horse,” she says. “I wish I had before-and-after pictures from that camp — it was like two different people. That week had brought my childhood back to me.”

Miss Rodeo USA pageants are demanding. They test contestants’ poise, intellect, knowledge, as well as horsemanship, and doubts can creep up to short-circuit confidence. Elisa has grown to embrace challenges, so the Miss Rodeo USA pageant was a good fit.

“When you go and compete, you have a group of very inspiring women who have all won titles who are encouraging you to better yourself,” she says. “Yes, they point out your flaws, but you understand that there’s nothing wrong with those flaws. Your mindset is that this is a process, to take something and make it better.”

Elisa's "Miss Rodeo USA 2014" belt buckle.

Elisa’s “Miss Rodeo USA 2014” belt buckle.

Reminisce photo

“It’s important to learn how to not pick yourself apart — don’t be a bully to yourself — and recognize that we all have room for improvement,” she adds. “We can’t get better if we don’t have anybody helping us or telling us when we have something we need to improve on.”

Elisa works closely with young rodeo queen hopefuls, and her experience on and offstage at the Miss Rodeo USA pageant will enrich her coaching. A big lesson, she says, is to shape the dialogue of your “inner voice” when doubts arise. This was the topic of one of her pageant speeches.

“Your platform in Miss Rodeo USA is something that you stand for and would like to implement in society, and mine is called ‘Brand Your Attitude,’ ” she says. “Essentially, I am encouraging others to find words or images that increase positivity in their lives. In a nutshell, be your own best friend. See how we talk to ourselves with our inner voice and how we can be on ourselves. I like to ask myself in a situation when I feel like giving up, ‘What would I tell my friend if they felt this way?’. I certianly wouldn’t tell them that they couldn’t do it, so I should be my own best friend. Tell myself that I can do everything that I set my mind to, and that I am capable of doing anything that I really want to.”

At the Miss Rodeo USA pageant, held in conjunction with the IFR Finals Rodeo, there was plenty to do.

“I woke up early — about 4:30 — and wanted to get breakfast before I started my day,” Elisa says. “I curled my hair and went to breakfast by 6 a.m.”

Her first interview usually started about 7 a.m., and then would go through the day, whether it be modeling, riding, speeches, visiting sponsors, or some sort of activity. She’d get to bed about midnight.

“For seven days, you’re going, going, going,” she says. “You’re kind of in a sprint. You’re just adrenaline-pumping, the whole week.”

She says she took lots of vitamins and Emergen-C packets and drank lots of water to boost her immune system. Ultimately, though, it came back to that mental challenge.

“A lot of it’s all in your head,” she says. “And you have to really push yourself. It’s almost like when you’re working out — you think you’re going to give up, and that’s when you push yourself because that’s when you’re going to see results. You have to overcome that part in your mind that’s telling you you can’t do it.”

“You can apply that experience when you start to feel that way in your everyday life, too,” she says.

Elisa, who’ll be moving to Oklahoma for a year next month, team ropes and has a pair of Quarter Horses, “Slim”, a 15-year-old gelding who is her roping horse, and “Jane”, an 8-year-old Palomino mare she has yet to ride in a rodeo.

“I haven’t figured out what I want to do with her,” she says of Jane, affectionately. “She has a real puppy dog personality. She reminds me of my dog, Quigley. When I stand next to the arena, she’ll come up and love on me. She just wants to folllow you around. And she knows when you need a smile, and she has a way of giving you one.”

In Oklahoma, she plans to do more break-away roping, an IPRA-recognized event since 2011 that is not as prevalent in San Diego County. She also is looking forward to attending different rodeos across the U.S. and Canada — especially the Festival Western de Saint-Tite in Quebec during September.

“It’s a huge rodeo, and I’ve never been to a rodeo in Canada, so it’s going to be a neat experience,” she says. “A lot of the Miss Rodeo USA experiences ahead will be experiences that I cannot anticipate, and I like that.”

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