The first Molokai girl to be named Miss Rodeo Hawaii said she was surprised when she got a call from pageant organizers, especially since she had chosen not to enter this year.
"When they called me (in June), I was surprised . . . but I felt it would be a good experience, you know, something that will be fun but something that would also help in building my character and expand my life experiences," said Cheyanne Kauionalani Duvauchelle Keliihoomalu.
Keliihoomalu, who will turn 24 at the end of this month, competed in the Miss Rodeo Hawaii pageant in 2012 and finished as runner-up. There was no Miss Rodeo Hawaii named last year, and this year's sole contestant turned out to be ineligible, pageant organizers said.
Molokai girl and sixth-generation paniolo Cheyanne Kauionalani Duvauchelle Keliihoomalu has been named Miss Rodeo Hawaii 2014. She will compete in the Miss Rodeo America Pageant at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas in December.
Miss Rodeo Hawaii Pageant photo
So organizers tapped Keliihoomalu to see if she was available to represent Hawaii and its unique paniolo culture in the national Miss Rodeo America Pageant this year. With the national competition scheduled to take place in Las Vegas in December, that leaves her only four months to prepare.
"We're just really lucky she (Keliihoomalu) was available," said Lu Faborito, the Hawaii state director for the national Miss Rodeo America Pageant. "This is in her roots as far as being paniolo going back six generations. This girl has grown up in this (lifestyle)."
Keliihoomalu, who graduated from University of Hawaii-Hilo this spring with a bachelor's degree in animal science and a minor in mathematics, comes from a long line of Molokai ranchers, perhaps the most iconic being her grandfather, Jimmy Duvauchelle. Duvauchelle, a fourth-generation Molokai paniolo, worked for Molokai Ranch for 42 years until it closed its operations in 2008.
"Cheyanne and her two younger sisters, they all started at an early age, as soon as they could walk we'd put them on a horse and go to the rodeos and run them around a barrel," Duvauchelle said in a phone interview Sunday. "As they grew up, they improved and started to go after more things like roping and riding and reining competitions, it all became their life standard. . . . They were a little different from most kids raised in Hawaii where there's baseball and other things, they were more involved in cattle (ranching)."
Duvauchelle remembers his granddaughter tagging along with him and other family members as they looked after Molokai Ranch's cattle, and taking part in nighttime rodeos at the ranch's arena in Maunaloa, which was renamed the Uncle Jimmy Duvauchelle Rodeo Arena last year.
"I'm a proud grandfather," the retired cowboy said. "When I was young, I never dreamed of all these things the kids go through now. . . . I hope that she will do well and . . . continue her work so that she can help not only herself but her community."
Hawaii Women's Rodeo Association President Bridget Napier, who is also Keliihoomalu's cousin, said the support of the Duvauchelle ohana may give Keliihoomalu an edge over other competitors.
"She has the background and the support any girl could wish for, and I wish her the best of luck," Napier said.
The Miss Rodeo America pageant will be held over the course of five days in December during the Wrangler National Final Rodeo in Las Vegas. The first Hawaii contestant to enter the national pageant was in 1975, though there has never been a queen crowned from the Aloha State in the pageant's 58-year history.
Keliihoomalu hopes to change that and said that winning would be an opportunity of a lifetime. Not only are there scholarship opportunities for pageant participants, but the winner will have a chance to tour the country and serve as the official spokesperson for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.
"Rodeo is something that's probably . . . not looked into as much as some other sports, but it's something that's still very awesome," Keliihoomalu said, adding that rodeo had helped her build confidence as a young woman.
She is currently living and training in Hilo. Her daily schedule usually includes working on her horsemanship, studying rodeo rulebooks and staying up to date on current events.
Cowgirls will be judged on personality, appearance, horsemanship and rodeo knowledge, public-speaking skills, personal interviewing, current event awareness, photogenic qualities, visual poise and overall professionalism, according to the pageant's website.
But one of the biggest challenges Keliihoomalu faces is finding confidence in herself, as she prepares to compete against women from all over the country.
"I am nervous because it's calling me out of my comfort zone a lot," Keliihoomalu said. "One thing Aunty Lu (Faborito) talked to me about is I have to sell myself, and because I'm so shy, just learning how to push myself out of that is a big challenge."
In terms of life after the competition, the young cowgirl is still undecided, though one thing is certain - she wants to lead a subsistence lifestyle, hopefully back home on Molokai.
"I really want to be self-sufficient and raise my own plants and animals to eat," Keliihoomalu said.
To cover pageant costs, including airfare, clothing and other expenses, Keliihoomalu and supporters need to raise $5,000. To donate, checks payable to Miss Rodeo Hawaii Pageant may be mailed to Miss Rodeo Hawaii Program, 87-839 Farrington Highway, Waianae 96792. For sponsorship opportunities, contact (808) 668-9006 or firstname.lastname@example.org. A fundraising event will be hosted on Molokai early next month, Faborito said.
* Eileen Chao can be reached at email@example.com.