CLAREMORE, Okla. – Growing up on the family farm just east of Alva, Okla., Lauren Heaton was raised around rodeo.
Now she is the sport’s primary ambassador, the first Miss Rodeo Oklahoma ever crowned as Miss Rodeo America. She carries the torch for the Western lifestyle to events all across North America, including the Will Rogers Stampede PRCA Rodeo, set for 7:45 p.m. Friday, May 22-Sunday, May 24, at Will Rogers Stampede Arena.
“This is an industry I grew up in and is what shaped me into who I am,” said Heaton, a 2013 Oklahoma State University graduate. “Now I get to see rodeo on a major scale.
“It’s been phenomenal. It’s been what every little girl dreams of.”
Her travel schedule is hectic but manageable. She lives in different states at a time, commuting through airports and highways. So far this year, she’s represented professional rodeo on the grandest scale imaginable at some of the biggest events.
Maybe that’s why her return to Oklahoma soil is such a critical step in Heaton’s 2015 agenda.
“I grew up going to these rodeos, so to go back as Miss Rodeo Oklahoma then back as Miss Rodeo America is so great,” she said. “I can’t explain enough that this title of Miss Rodeo America is so much more than me; this is something I share with everyone from Oklahoma.”
She’ll share that throughout the week leading up to Claremore’s rodeo. She’s been to major stops on the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association trail, like Denver, San Antonio and the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo near Walt Disney World in Florida, Heaton realizes that events like the Will Rogers Stampede are foundation for the sport.
“The small rodeos are great,” Heaton said. “Out of the 5,000 or so PRCA cowboys, the vast majority of them are the ones who can only travel to the smaller rodeos like Claremore. You can still get a phenomenally ran rodeo. Claremore just won the 2014 Small Outdoor Rodeo of the Year, so you can see all the big names mixed with the ones who just go around this circuit.
“Fans are getting a great rodeo for their money; they’re getting to see as good a rodeo as any large rodeo you can go to.”
She should know. She and her brothers , Lance and Landon, are the fifth generation of her family that’s been farming and ranching in northern Oklahoma. Her ancestors got their property in the land run, and they were raised by Trent and Melissa Heaton with a strong work ethic and a love for the land.
“I had two older brothers, so I’ve always been a tomboy,” Lauren Heaton said. “I got tied up with their pigging strings, so I’m really good at getting out of knots. We’re a close-knit family, and we don’t have much extended family, so we’re even closer.”
That background has played quite well into her role as Miss Rodeo America. As the sport’s ambassador, she has carries the flag for the entire Western lifestyle while sharing the latest news and trends about the industry. She must be knowledgeable and answer any questions that arise.
“It’s hard work but it encompasses all that I love, so it doesn’t feel like work,” she said. “We’re beating down the road because we love it. I like being the face for all the cowboys and cowgirls across the country. I’m doing what they’d love to be doing as well.
“It’s such a humbling honor. Every time I go to a rodeo, I look around and see all that I’m representing. I’m excited to be part of it.”
It shows in a vibrant smile and a caring nature that has been engrained in the young Oklahoma woman since birth. She knows a lot more goes into being a rodeo queen than a pretty face and trademark wave, and she’s always excited to meet the young girls whose eyes light up as she walks in the room.
“When I see those girls, I just try to think back to what it was like for me when I first met Miss Rodeo America,” Heaton said. “That was Michelle Green (now Mackey) in 1994, and she actually lives in my hometown now. I like to have the same light and the same energy they show me. Every time I go somewhere, it’s their first time seeing and meeting Miss Rodeo America. I like to match their energy.”
Now she holds all that energy in a job she loves. She is part of a group of women who have earned the title in the association’s 60 years.
“You only get one chance at this title,” Heaton said. “To win it and to be a part of that elite group of women is phenomenal. It’s an amazing feeling.”