Casey Chasteen, 18, is a two-time Missouri state champion in goat tying. The Rock Bridge High School senior is up early on a Saturday. Most of her classmates are probably sleeping in, especially on this cold, windy spring morning, but for Casey every weekend is another rodeo.
Her smile is bright under a small straw hat. Her red hair bobs in the wind. She has big responsibilities. As state champion, Casey is the event director for goat tying. She makes sure the animals have been properly vetted, tied three times and organized by size.
As part of this process, participants each take a turn tying a goat at the end of a lead line. Casey helps the others as they practice. She likes to teach, likes the challenge of shaving seconds off a time, even though these are her competitors.
She's fast and fluid with a tie -- one end of the string tucked in a belt loop, the other end in her mouth. In a blur of motion, the goat is upended and three legs are bound together. When a tie goes wrong and the goat pulls free, Casey goes through the motions again, slower this time, correcting in her mind the missed step.
She gently rolls the animal onto each side, teaching it the futility of struggle. She rubs its soft ears and hairy chest, a kindness the other teens don't share. "It's just a goat, Casey," one girl says.
"I know," Casey replies as she gently unties the animal.
"You have to set an example for the younger kids," she explains later.
Before competition, she is focused. Her peers are chatting and flirting, waiting for their events, and Casey sits apart. "Sometimes I get to where I just have to think it all through. I do my own thing." She watches the other competitions. She checks out her draw. She goes through the steps in her mind. She might be set apart from the crowd, but "doing her own thing" is what has made her exceptional. It's what's made her a champion.