The color of loyalty: Gorsuch, Kraupie families grow closer over Rett diagnosis
The initials are emblazoned on Taydon Gorsuch’s socks and rodeo shirts.
And if anybody asks about them or the purple color he wears, he has an answer ready for them.
The letters are the monogram of his best friend, a little blond-haired girl named Whitley Ray Kraupie, with a rare genetic disorder called Rett Syndrome, and the color purple is the awareness color for Rett.
But the story goes way back to when Taydon himself was a little boy.
The son of two-time world champion steer wrestler Dean Gorsuch, he and his daddy and Del Ray Kraupie criss-crossed the continent as the men pro rodeoed. When Dean was busy with horses or bulldogging, Del was Taydon’s babysitter and his best friend.
Del Ray and Dean had known each other for years, growing up a few miles from each other, and Dean had practiced his bulldogging at Del’s place.
But it was a horse in 2010 that made their friendship stronger. When Dean bought Pump Jack, the gelding on whom he won his second world title in 2010, he partnered with Del’s dad, Darrell Kraupie.
“We practiced together all the time,” Del said. “Dean asked if I could go with him, and that’s how it started.” Del hazed for Dean from 2010 to 2013, the last year he made the National Finals Rodeo. They always took one of Dean’s sons with them, often Taydon, because he was older.
Del Ray married Stacy Doll in 2016, and the couple settled in Del’s hometown of Bridgeport, Neb., just a few miles from his friend, Dean and his wife Bekah and their three boys: Taydon, Trell and Teagan, in Gering.
When Del and Stacy had their little girl, Whitley Ray, in 2019, Taydon declared that she was his best friend.
By one year of age, she was crawling and talking like any normal baby.
And then it stopped. She quit crawling and there was no more “mama” and “da-da”.
The Kraupies didn’t know what was wrong. They sought out answers, spending more than two years going to countless doctors, pediatricians, physical therapists, Children’s Hospitals in two states, with no answers.
Stacy said they had over 120 appointments over a two-year-period, testing Whitley for everything from cerebral palsy to a tethered spinal cord. When no answer was in sight, friends, trying to be helpful, suggested that Whitley’s body needed to be detoxed, or that childhood vaccinations had caused the problems. They even went so far as to do a sleep deprivation study on the little girl.
Stacy and Del began to doubt themselves. “We got to the point where we thought, maybe we’re crazy,” she said. “Maybe we’ve imagined this.” They blamed themselves.
But they were surrounded by family and friends who supported them. “They never let us quit. Don’t quit looking, and don’t get down,” they were told. “We just had unreal support,” Stacy said.
It was at a genetics appointment for insurance purposes that a diagnosis was finally made.
On October 1 of last year the geneticist called Stacy at her office, an insurance company in downtown Bridgeport. Stacy put the geneticist on hold as she walked over to Del’s office, next door.
Together they listened to the diagnosis, Rett Syndrome, and sat in silence. “You could hear her on the phone, asking, are you still there?” Stacy remembered.
Rett Syndrome is a rare genetic disorder affecting mostly girls. It causes severe muscle movement disability. Most babies with Rett Syndrome develop normally for the first six to twelve months, then begin to lose skills they previously had, such as the ability to crawl, walk, use their hands, and communicate. Scoliosis and lung and heart problems are also part of the syndrome.
Rett Syndrome can cause seizures; people with Rett sometimes have trouble relating to others. With good medical care, those with the disease can live into their forties and fifties.
For the first weeks, they didn’t do well with it, Stacy said. They were in the denial stage. But once again, the army of friends and family around them lifted them up.
And along came the Gorsuches.
Dean and his wife Bekah and their boys loved Whitley like their own when she was born. One of the hardest things Del and Stacy did, after telling their own families about the diagnosis, was telling the Gorsuches.
The boys, who are now ages seventeen, fourteen and nine, had lots of questions. So Bekah told them to write down their questions and invited the Kraupies over for supper. With the blessing of Del and Stacy, she asked if it was OK if the boys could ask their questions. They asked, and after his brothers left the supper table, Taydon stayed. He had researched online and had the hard questions. “Is she going to die?” he asked.
Whitley’s diagnosis affected Taydon more than his brothers, his mom Bekah said, in part because he’s older, but also because he and Del are close.
Del was there when Taydon learned to ride a bike, while at the Calgary Stampede. Del was the one who taught Taydon that brushing his teeth with Mountain Dew wasn’t a good idea, and he even had an identification card for the boy, in case they took a plane to get from rodeo to rodeo.
“To see how much Del was hurting was a huge eye-opener for the boys,” Bekah said.
Through Taydon’s online research, he discovered that the color of awareness for Rett Syndrome is purple. So he asked his mom for purple rodeo shirts and socks. His socks, which he wears during football practices and games, have a big “WRK” embroidered on them. Under his Gering High School football jersey, he wears a purple undershirt.
His western purple shirts, monogramed with Whitley’s initials and a heart, get the most exposure.
When Taydon was interviewed before competing at the National High School Finals last summer, he urged the reporter to ask him about the purple shirt and the monogram.
The shirt and monogram have opened up doors for conversation.
One time, a man asked Taydon about his shirt and the letters on it. After Taydon explained its purpose, the man disclosed that he was a pediatrician who specialized in Rett Syndrome and gave Stacy his personal cell number.
Another time, a physical therapist asked Taydon about his shirt. It turned out she lived in Nebraska and worked with Rett Syndrome girls.
Yet another person on Whitley’s team has a strong connection with the girl. The physical therapist who helped her before the diagnosis told Del and Stacy she had had twin girls, and one of the girls was born with a genetic disorder. Doctors had told her the girl wouldn’t live past three months, but she lived for three years. “So when I tell you I know the pain and fear you’re going through, it’s not because I’ve seen it, it’s because I lived it,” she told the Kraupies.
The rodeo part of the Kraupie and Gorsuch story came full circle this summer, when Taydon competed at the National High School Finals Rodeo. Dean had hazed for his son all year, and at Nationals he rode Del’s horse, the same one that Del had ridden to haze for Dean in his pro career. Taydon finished seventeenth in the world.
Taydon’s friendship with the Kraupies
Taydon jumped his first steers with Del hazing for him, and he can often be found at Del and Stacy’s place, practicing. He was moral support for the couple, as well. Last winter, as they adjusted to their daughter’s news, he would hang around. “He added levity to our days,” Stacy said. “He’s always been a part of our life, but he’d be over here a lot. We needed each other.”
And Whitley loves Taydon. “He is one of her favorite people.”
There are always blessings in any situation, and the Kraupies recognize theirs. Whitley doesn’t experience seizures, can eat, and has a sunshiny personality, Stacy said.
“She eats well, she loves and acknowledges us, and things bring her joy. She’s so happy and joyous. She’s the happiest kid.
“I wouldn’t trade her for the world.”