Miss Rodeo South Dakota first runner-up at Miss Rodeo America pageant | TSLN.com

Miss Rodeo South Dakota first runner-up at Miss Rodeo America pageant

She missed the ultimate rodeo queen title by a hair, but she's still got the hearts of South Dakotans.

Mikayla Sich, the 2016 Miss Rodeo South Dakota, was first runner-up to the newly crowned Miss Rodeo America at the pageant held in Las Vegas during the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo earlier this month.

Sich, whose last name is pronounced "seech" and rhymes with "teach," grew up in Duluth, Minn., and worked at Custer State Park for two summers. It was there she fell in love with the state. She enrolled at South Dakota State University in 2013, and competed in the Miss Rodeo South Dakota pageant in July of 2015. There, she was crowned as the 2016 queen and spent the next six months as lady-in-waiting.

During her year as the state rodeo queen, she traveled several thousand miles, riding in grand entries, signing autographs, waving at crowds and inspiring awe in little girls across the nation. But her favorite rodeos were the South Dakota shows: Belle Fourche, Deadwood, Crystal Springs, and others.

“To be a rodeo queen, you have to know who you are and what you stand for before you can promote something. My confidence grew because (before being Miss Rodeo South Dakota) I wasn’t very confident in myself.” Mikayla Sich, Miss Rodeo America runner-up

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She, along with 31 other state rodeo queens, spent from November 27 through December 4 in Las Vegas competing for the title of Miss Rodeo America. It was a wonderful week, she said, "It was the most fun, exhausting week I've had. It was so much fun. We got to do a lot of things, and the people we got to meet were great." Even though the 32 girls were all competing for the same title, there was a real sense of camaraderie among them. "Our group was really close-knit this year. Even the chaperones would say, 'You girls are the best group ever. You're so supportive and nice.'"

State queens are judged in three categories: horsemanship, appearance, and personality. Queens demonstrated their abilities through a horsemanship contest and interview, personal interview, speeches, on-stage questions, and a fashion show. Queens were not allowed to have their cell phones or phones in their hotel rooms, and had no contact with family or friends during the week. Chaperones escorted them to all their events, including events that weren't judged.

In addition to the judged events, the state queens went to a Cirque de Soleil show where they went behind the scenes and met the cast. They attended the PRCA Awards Banquet and the Hall of Fame Gala, went to one round of the Wrangler NFR, and also watched a live broadcast of the WNFR from the Gold Buckle Zone at the MGM Casino. In between judged events and "fun" events, they rehearsed dance patterns for the fashion show, sometimes upwards of four to five hours per day.

For the speech contest, which Mikalya won, each queen was given five topics and ten minutes to prepare their thoughts on a topic. In her speech, Mikayla talked about an incident that happened at the Belle Fourche rodeo grand entry this year. As she carried in the flag, she saw a veteran, unable to stand but being held up by a family member so he could salute the flag. "I had tears in my eyes and goosebumps," she said.

She wanted to win, but it wasn't everything to her, she said. "My biggest thing was that I wanted to represent all the rodeo committees and stock contractors who supported me. I wanted to make sure they were proud."

And queening changed her life. Mikayla was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease during her sophomore year of college. She lost a lot of her hair and weight, and self-confidence, as well, "to where I couldn't look people in the eye," she said. "It was bad."

Queening helped her gain back her confidence, as well as "help me be a better version of the person I was before.

"To be a rodeo queen, you have to know who you are and what you stand for before you can promote something," Mikayla said. "My confidence grew because (before being Miss Rodeo South Dakota) I wasn't very confident in myself."

Being a queen is challenging.

"You're asked to smile all the time, even when you don't want to. You have bad days, and you can't have bad days doing this. There are 150 girls who would kill to be in your position. You just can't have a bad day."

Being a queen also helped her horsemanship skills. A former competitor on the equestrian team in college, she rode a lot of other people's horses.

"My goal was to get on 100 horses throughout the year, and I got on 97. I rode anything from polo to steer wrestling to stock contractors' (horses) to three year olds. I got on everything," she said.

She was disappointed she didn't win the national pageant, but it's OK. "I was sad about being the first runner-up, but I was me the whole time, and I made South Dakota proud, and all the people who supported me proud, and I was true to myself. I wasn't upset with the results and losing to Lisa (Lageschaar, the 2017 Miss Rodeo America). She is an awesome person and losing to someone I really respect and who will do a good job made it easier, too."

And she isn't a sore loser, being the runner-up. She was also runner-up to the Miss Corn Palace Rodeo queen in Mitchell, S.D. a few years ago. "Looking back on it, I wasn't supposed to win (the Mitchell title), big picture-wise. At the moment, I was crushed, but it wasn't God's plan for me to win it. He had things figured out."

As first runner-up, Sich won a $10,000 scholarship. She received another $1,000 for winning the speech category, as well as a buckle, plaque, and a pair of Justin Boots.

She finishes her schooling at SDSU this month, graduating with a degree in broadcast journalism with minors in animal science and ag business. She hopes to stay in the Brookings area, job search "and find out exactly where I want to be."

Mikayla gives credit to her grandparents, Larry and Margie McNichols, (her grandma Margie sewed many of her queen clothes), and her parents, Kevin and Molly Sich.

She has advice for future rodeo queens that is applicable to anyone: know what's important.

"In the pageant world, people will pysch themselves out about the color an outfit will be. Understand what is important, what your goal is, and what choices and decisions are going to help you get closer to that goal." Winning isn't everything, either. "Even if you don't win, there are still good things to take away." F