Over the weekend, Havre native Kayla LaSalle was awarded the Rocky’s Road Perseverance, Character, and Hope Award and Belt Buckle at the Big Sky Pro Rodeo Roundup. The award is named for the late central Montana cowboy Rocky Heckman, who courageously fought brain cancer for years while always advocating for rodeo. To Rocky’s family, Kayla was an obvious choice.
Kayla has cerebral palsy, and has spent the majority of her 27 years in a wheelchair. The condition is the result of a premature birth. “She was in the neonatal ICU here in Great Falls for three and a half months,” Kayla’s mother Susie LaSalle tells KRTV Great Falls. “She was born at 24 weeks and weight one pound, 13 ounces. She went through five or six major surgeries before she even left the hospital.”
But from a young age Kayla showed a spark for life, a willingness to tackle challenges, and a desire to never set limits. Combine that drive with a love of rodeo, and Kayla has set a new goal for herself: getting her pro card. It’s not as far fetched as it sounds. She’s seen wheelchair bound individuals rope and ride before, and she’s seen people pick up rodeo later in life and find success.
“Yeah, I could see myself going to the NFR. It is doable, it takes a lot of work,” Kayla says. “But it is doable, and something that I could see myself doing. It might take 20 or 30 years, but I will get there.”
It starts with finding the right horse. Last fall, the LaSalle family found Rudy, and they trained him to lay down so that Kayla can climb on from her wheelchair. “It just kinda gives me a freedom, like to go where I want and do what I want,” she says. “And I guess he’s more like my legs than anything. So it’s pretty cool to be able to get on and go and be just like everybody else.”
Champion Living sends her workouts to strengthen her arms and her core, and she has virtual sessions to work on her roping technique. On Rudy, she’s moved from a slow walk to a trot and has been able to take her hand off the saddle horn.
“There were some times where I’ve said to myself I don’t know if I’m going to make it through this, but I’ve managed to power through it,” she said. “And I’ve managed to show myself that no matter what I put my mind to, I can do it.”
Watch the buckle presentation here:
“I believe God kind of intervened and all of a sudden, at every turn I kept having Kayla kind of be put in my life. Somehow I kept seeing things about her,” says Rocky’s wife Lorell Heckman. “And it just kind of grew from there and I just love to see her light shine and see her using her adversity as a positive thing for life, to give to others.”