Another twist for Oliver: Young roper overcomes health issues to earn spot on national team
June 20, 2018
As Britt Oliver backed his horse into the box during the South Dakota High School Rodeo Finals in Belle Fourche last weekend, he had one thing on his mind: take one steer at time and stop the clock.
It was just the third time he and his partner, Sam Larson of Prairie City, would rope together during the 2018 season and they were looking for a spot at the National High School Finals Rodeo.
With high ambitions, you would think these kids have the world at their fingertips, but some didn't think Britt Oliver would ever make it to this point in life.
The 17-year-old from Lemmon, South Dakota, has overcome a few hardships. At only 17-months-old Britt was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, giving him pain in his joints until he was nearly 5 years old. At age 8 doctors discovered he had Evans Syndrome, a disease that attacks and destroys the body's red blood cells, white blood cells and/or platelets. When he was 11, a case of pneumonia earned him a bed at Mayo Clinic – Rochester. While he was receiving treatment in Rochester, doctors discovered Britt had Common Variable Immunodeficiency (CVID), an autoimmune disease that affected his lungs.
"But since then, I have been a pretty healthy dude," said Britt.
Through it all, Britt continues to push forward. When he was young, the arthritis gave him some problems in his wrists and ankles. His right wrist would bother him so much that he learned how to rope with his non-dominant hand. With three older siblings, also involved in the sport of rodeo, it wasn't long until Britt was being taught how to rope with his right hand just like the rest of the family.
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"You just deal with what you've got," said Britt.
Despite having to learn to rope with both hands, Britt says he is just like any other athlete his age. His dad, Monte Oliver, doubles as assistant coach of the Lemmon Boys Basketball team and advisor of the High School Rodeo team, both of which Britt is a member of. Monte says his son's determination is what inspires others.
"He just pushes forward," said Monte.
Some call that "cowboying up." Fitting, for the recipient of the 2018 'Cowboy Award' voted on by the basketball team members of the Lemmon Cowboys. Monte says the award is dedicated to the player who serves as a leader and is always there to encourage teammates.
"I just want Britt to love life and inspire others," said his mother Colleen.
There was a time when Britt's family didn't know what the future would look like. Britt and his mom, Colleen spent a lot of time away as he received treatments and underwent research for his case of CVID in Rochester, Minnesota and Austin, Texas. The autoimmune disease targets his lungs, causing tumors to accumulate in his lungs, back and abdomen.
Each week, it takes the donation of 17,000 people to keep Britt alive. His body needs red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets in significant quantity. Colleen gives him infusions once a week, each treatment lasting up to five hours. She describes his condition as "his immune system slowly killing itself." The weekly infusions are what keep Britt alive, there is no treatment or cure for his conditions.
The weekly infusions only run Britt down for a day, but they take time away from being able to practice basketball and team roping.
Britt and his roping partner, Sam Larson, practiced together only twice before they hit the arena at the High School Finals Rodeo in Belle Fourche last weekend. The pair had met when they competed in the Little Britches Rodeo Association and kept in touch on the basketball court. It was earlier this year they decided to rope together, and the pair seemed to make it work in their favor.
Although he faced a few setbacks in life, and there will always be hurdles because of them, Britt doesn't let that define him. He and his mom live by Philippians 4:13 "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
"Our life has changed a lot in five years," said Colleen, "We trust what God has in store."
"I am a pretty faithful guy," said Britt, "I don't like to think too long that rodeo or ranching could be taken away from me. I want to trust God's plan."
In fact, Britt has big plans for his future. He hopes to continue his basketball career to the collegiate level while he plans to major in the medical field or athletic training.
While basketball seems to be his true passion, Britt says rodeo will always have a special place in his life. Britt calls rodeo "the most humbling sport."
"One day you could be at the top of the world, and the next you're right back at the bottom," said Britt, "You do the best you can and live with the results."
The results seemed to be in his favor at the High School Rodeo Finals this year. Britt and his roping partner Sam finished second in the overall at Belle Fourche with a score of 65. They will compete at the National High School Finals Rodeo July 19 in Rock Springs, Wyoming.