Disability isn’t a distraction for Zielke, a rancher, ag teacher and FFA adivsor
for Tri-State Livestock News
“The biggest thing is, you can’t give up and you’ve got to find a purpose in life. I think that’s a very important part of life, your ability to find your place. I’m blessed that I know what I’m passionate about and I get to be involved with all of those things so I’m very fortunate,” said Riston Zielke, Hebron High School ag teacher and FFA advisor, rodeo announcer and rancher.
Riston Zielke’s story is one of passion, drive and perseverance. Regardless of being diagnosed with a mild form of muscular dystrophy at birth, Zielke has pursued all of his goals and already has three different, successful careers to show for it.
“I admire him. I’m sure he has his bad days like everyone, but he never lets it show. He’s optimistic and you never see that ‘poor me’ thing from him,” said Gary Tescher, father of one of Riston’s best friends, a ten-year acquaintance. “He’s the real deal. He’s one of those kind of guys that I enjoy being around because he listens a lot more than he talks, but when he does say something, you want to hear it.”
Now, Zielke has hundreds of people listening to him as he announces rodeos throughout the state of North Dakota that range from bull ridings to ranch rodeos. For the past five years he has helped announce the Home on the Range Champions Ride at Sentinel Butte, North Dakota with PRCA Announcer, Brent Jordan.
“It draws in the top thirty saddle bronc riders in the nation. All but two or three out of the top fifteen were there this year and I think there were at least five or six past world champions including the reigning world champion,” Zielke said.
The world-class performance calls for great announcers as well. Tescher and the rest of the Home on the Range Rodeo committee found just that in the duo of Zielke and Jordan.
“It kind of amazes me how he and Brent Jordan do it. They’re never both talking at the same time, but one of them always is. They really work good together that way,” Tescher said, who suggested hiring Zielke to announce the bronc match five years ago. “He’s done a really good job. I’m proud of the job he does and I’m proud of myself for recommending him.”
As soon as Zielke finished college at North Dakota State University, where he earned degrees in ag education and animal science, he knew announcing was one of his passions. So, he decided to pursue it as more than a hobby.
“I was always involved in public speaking starting early on in FFA and I was in speech and I kind of took off with those things. As I was nearing the end of my college career, I knew it was a direction I wanted to take, so I decided to take out a small business loan and buy sound equipment and go to rodeo announcing school,” Zielke said.
After spending every weekend of the summer announcing rodeos or working at weddings as a disc jockey, Zielke jumped right in to his main career, ag education. Like his announcing career, ag education was something Zielke realized he was passionate about early on in life.
“I was a senior in high school and I had a friend who told me I should be an ag teacher but I told her that I wanted to make money. It was at that point that she said ‘you know, you’d be better off choosing a career that you’ll enjoy.’ For some reason, at that point, it stuck with me,” Zielke said.
He has now been the ag teacher and FFA advisor at Hebron High School for eight years. He said that all of his students have been great and he has been fortunate to be able to work with such an exceptional bunch of young people.
While Zielke spends the majority of time either at school or traveling to an FFA event, he has managed to find the time needed to start pursuing his third career, ranching. His passion to teach young people and help them succeed also shines through in his decision to start his own ranch from scratch. Along with the help of his business partner, who also has a separate full time job, he has proven that a young person can build his or her own operation with enough hard work.
“I’m a young person who started up from nothing, other than a half ton pick-up I had when I left college,” Zielke said.
In today’s agriculture world, it is difficult for young people to get started in ranching without a family operation to begin with. Zielke wanted to prove to other individuals who have a similar goal that it is possible.
“I hope that I’ve shown, years down the road, that you can start up without having a family operation to help out with. It’s not easy, but hopefully I’ve shown that it is possible,” Zielke said. “Obviously, I’m working with young people all the time so it’s important to set that example and show them the things that they can do.”
Zielke’s abundant careers and inspiring attitude are something people of any age can admire and appreciate. With a physical disability that could potentially hold him back, he instead keeps achieving every one of his goals.
“You just learn to deal with it. You don’t know any different, so that’s just the way you take it. I think everybody’s got something that makes them different and unique and you can either mope and whine about it and be a bum or you can take what you have and go do something,” Zielke said.