Casey Sybesma, a freshman agricultural business major, is only the second student to represent Northwestern College in the rodeo arena. Prior to Sybesma’s arrival on campus, Erin Van Horn, a recent NW graduate, was the school representative. Although Sybesma will be competing independently, she is excited to be representing her school in a sport she has loved from a young age.
Sybesma started competing at rodeos when she was 12 years old. She admits she had a rocky start, but she kept working on building her skills at home and attended barrel racing series during the summer.
Sybesma earned her first rodeo buckle at the age of 12 and went on to be an active participant in high school rodeo, winning both state and national titles. This past year she was the Iowa State Champion in barrel racing and pole bending. Of all her many successes, Sybesma recalls winning her first buckle as one of the most significant moments of her rodeo career.
“I had no idea that I was going to win anything. I thought that at the very most I would receive a participation ribbon,” Sybesma said. “After receiving that buckle, I got this feeling in my heart that this was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”
But as any committed athlete knows, life on the field — or in Sybesma’s case, life in the arena — is not always easy. During her junior year of high school, Sybesma was bucked off a horse and knocked unconscious.
While she was in the hospital, her doctor discovered a large tumor close to her brainstem. The doctor informed Sybesma that if she had not been bucked off her horse, they may have never discovered the tumor in time. Left untouched, it would have paralyzed Sybesma for the rest of her life. Within two weeks of surgery, Sybesma went on to compete at the national high school rodeo tournament, placing 24th out of 180 participants.
“It was nothing short of a miracle,” Sybesma explained. “I truly felt God’s presence during that difficult time.”
When Sybesma turned her sights toward college rodeo, she contacted then NW senior, Erin Van Horn.
“Very much like Casey, I have participated in rodeo for as long as I can remember,” Van Horn said. “When I came to NW, I wasn’t ready to give up competing, so I jumped through the hoops of talking to the Dean of Students and President Greg Christy and received approval to compete independently. NW was always very supportive of me, even though I think it took people a while to realize that college rodeo is a sport.”
Earl Woudstra, NW’s athletic director, said the athletic department is pleased to have Sybesma continue Van Horn’s leadership in the arena.
“We are glad Casey has chosen to be a student at NW and are thankful that she desires to represent NW when she competes,” Woudstra said. “Her commitment to her sport and pursuit of excellence as a rodeo rider is consistent with what we would hope to promote through our traditional athletic opportunities. We wish her the very best as she prepares and competes this season.”
Sybesma said everyone has been very helpful in getting her started, and she wants to make her school proud.
“It is really hard to be doing this independently, but over time I have learned to trust God and his plans for my life,” Sybesma said. “I may not have a team, but I know that I have the support of my God, my family, and the student body at NW.”