SIKESTON - "I have rodeo blood in me."
That's something that soon-to-be Kelly High School junior Mallory Cowger has proven twice now.
Cowger, daughter of Jim and Jeanne Cowger, is preparing to compete for the second time in the largest rodeo in the world, the upcoming National High School Rodeo held in Farmington, N.M. Over 1,500 high schoolers from around the country and Australia and Canada will compete at the event.
While Cowger competed in the National High School Rodeo Queen competition in 2007, this year she will compete in both the queen competition and barrel racing. Last year she missed going to nationals for barrel racing at the state competition by one point, pushing her to work even harder to make it this year.
"I'm very, very proud of myself," she said of qualifying for barrel racing.
Cowger said with being so busy with the queen competition, the barrel race will give her somewhat of a break in the hectic two weeks that she's in New Mexico.
"It's a time for me to breathe and to sit back and enjoy it," she said.
The queen competition is first, beginning Friday and lasting four days. It is judged in seven different areas: interview, speech, modeling, appearance, personality, two horsemanship competitions and a 50-question test.
Cowger said she made the top 15 in every category last year, except for the interview. To prepare for next week she had a speech coach help her with her interview skills. From questions about herself to current events, Cowger has to be ready for anything. She said she thinks that's where she's really grown the most since last year's competition.
Along with improving her interview skills, Cowger spruced up her speech as well.
"I changed my speech all around and I like it a lot better. It's more fun," she said. While she chose to speak about Missouri last year, this year her theme is "The Rodeo Queen Survival Kit." She said her own "kit" includes everything from toupee tape to lip liner. But Cowger said the most important thing to have is always a smile.
"It doesn't matter if it's raining or if it's sunny -- a queen should always be ready," she said.
Cowger has received overwhelming support from the community in general -- something that is very important to her.
"That's what makes the trip," she said. "And with diesel the price that it is, you have to have your community behind you."
Besides receiving help from 15 sponsors and other silent partners, Cowger recently held a fundraiser at Pizza Inn and had an "amazing" showing of more than 170 people. The fundraiser was her first time working as a waitress.
"It got really hectic," she said. "But it was fun, and I met a lot of new people."
The rodeo circuit, however, isn't something new to Cowger. Her older siblings, Kyleigh and Andrew, both competed at nationals as well.
"I had big shoes to fill," she said. "They have accomplished so much."
Cowger also added that the support of her family is what keeps her going, especially that of her mother. She said her mom is always reminding her to practice and study.
"If it wasn't for my mom, I wouldn't be going to Farmington at all," she said.