Do you know my friend, Maddi Kempf? If you ever need a kick in the pants to go chase your dreams, this story is for you.
Forever the horse girl, Maddi has been barrel racing for years and is climbing her way up the circuit. Clawing, really.
This former high school Rodeo Queen, and current aspiring CFR (Canadian Finals Rodeo) and NFR (National Finals Rodeo) barrel badass is one of the brightest souls you will ever meet. When her and I first connected, working together at a local restaurant, we clicked immediately. She has a knack for brightening up a room and drawing you in with her energy.
Soon her beams of sunshine turned to a man, who we all quickly knew was the love of her life. Chad swept Maddi off her feet faster than she could run those barrels she knew like the back of her hand.
They were a perfect match. Completely smitten. I only met him once, and I couldn't help but smile at how proud she was to introduce him as hers. He was her biggest fan, calling her before every race he couldn't be at, telling her to go kill it. He pushed her to do better, to be better. He wanted CFR and NFR for her, maybe even more than she wanted it for herself.
In May of last year, Chad was in a car accident that took his life, and Maddi's light along with it. Ring shopping quickly turned into funeral planning as Maddi became a widow at the age of 26. Though she handled the crumbling of her world with an amazing grace, her pain engulfed her completely as she began the grieving process, and it was obvious to anyone in her presence that that bright light was missing. It hurt to move, it hurt to think, and it hurt to act on anything that would move her out of a space where he existed. Those rodeo dreams gave way to the grief and yearning for her Chad back. What was the point, after all, if the plans they had weren't going to happen anyways? She could barely look at her horses, she says, "they had become our horses, it felt wrong to be around them without him."
Despite being gone, Chad had other ideas. Something inside Maddi kept pushing her to go see the horses and she swears it was him. After a month, she gave in. She says if she closed her eyes she could see him smiling as she rode; "He loved watching me ride."
In the coming months, her two main barrel horses, Chase and Grinch, became more than just her partners in the rodeo ring; they became her protectors and her babysitters. Maddi made herself enter rodeos for them and for Chad. She cried before every single run. She was numb, and the horses knew it. "I couldn't be a strong jockey," she says, "they knew I needed them - Grinch especially. She totally stepped up and ran her heart out for me and I just sat there." Maddi forced herself to get up and go, every time. The literal definition of getting back on the horse. The system of showing up, of just being there, started to pay off. She wasn't kicking ass on the leaderboards, but she was there. Eventually, she was putting her half of the work into the team, and starting to crawl up those rankings.
And it wasn't just the horses making sure their mom was ok. Scarlett, her usually independant hanging cow tree dog (and yes, this is a real breed), became her shadow. "She followed me everywhere," no doubt keeping a close eye. The sentiment of her animals was not lost on Maddi, even then. They may not have known what was wrong, but they knew to surround her with love and warmth. It was their care that finally brought back Maddi's light.
'Life is short' is a saying which took on much more meaning to Maddi, as she made decisions to focus on her dreams, more than ever. Everything moved to the backburner as Maddi threw herself into becoming a better rider. A journey which has led her to the state of Texas where she is currently being mentored by Ryann Pedone, a top barrel horse trainer. "She is an amazing trainer," Maddi says of Ryann, "so talented, and so good at what she does. She has a gift for helping each individual horse develop their talent, she's been a great person to learn from."
With a big 'Go Kill It, Babe' tattoo staring up at her as she grips the reigns, she now dedicates every run to Chad. "He would want me to be out here."
You can follow Maddi's journey on instagram and through her video blog on youtube, where she posts weekly videos, and holds nothing back.