LAUGHLIN — Rodeo professionals Carly Twisselman and Cody Kiser are bringing something extra to their competition at the Avi Stampede PRCA Rodeo this weekend.
They are bringing a message to kids.
The public faces of the “Be Smart, Don’t Start” tobacco use awareness campaign, Twisselman and Kiser are sponsored by The Oral Cancer Foundation.
“We’re the first charity to ever be the exclusive sponsors of any rodeo competitors,” said Brian Hill, founder and executive director of The Oral Cancer Foundation. “We go to the rodeos with Carly and Cody to get the word out to kids.
“As in most things, if we can catch kids early and can show them good role models like Carly and Cody, who are fierce competitors and great people, they can see that tobacco doesn’t have to be a part of being a great cowboy or cowgirl.”
The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and tobacco have a history; until 2009 the PRCA accepted tobacco sponsorship money to fund the sport.
“Now, the PRCA disassociated itself with spit tobacco companies back in 2009 and they’re no longer financial sponsors of rodeo,” said Hill. “It was really a great thing for PRCA to do. That being said, the people who attend and the competitors themselves still tend to be heavy users of tobacco, spit tobacco and cigarettes.”
Spit tobacco, which can refer to smokeless tobacco, dip, snuff, chew, and chewing tobacco, according to the OCF, can cause gum disease, tooth decay, and white patches and oral lesion that can lead to oral cancer.
“I grew up rodeoing in a huge ranching family in California,” Twisselman said. “I have family members who have had problems with tobacco and I thought being a spokesperson for OCF would be a great way to get the youth out there that look up to rodeo athletes and show them that you don’t have to be smoking or doing drugs to be successful.”
“We’re non-confrontational,” Hill said. “I don’t believe that you convert people to your way of thinking by being anti-everything and getting in their face about it. Our message is directed at kids and usually kids that are too young to have even thought about picking up tobacco. If we can keep them from even starting, we’ve won the battle.”
“When the opportunity came up to do this, I wanted to get into it right away,” Kiser said. “I got involved because I want to make a difference, not only in rodeo but also in young people’s lives.
“It’s a lot more to it than trying to get people information about oral cancer. It’s trying to change the sport of rodeo. One day, we might be able to have an oral cancer night at a rodeo and everyone will wear maroon. Trying to move rodeo in a positive direction — it would be tremendous to be a part of that.”
“We’re both put in front of thousands of people all the time,” said Twisselman. “What better way to use that exposure than to do good and to show our future generations that this sport isn’t about drugs and alcohol or smoking.”
“After doing this for a while now, I look at other people that are trying to do good in the community,” said Kiser. “It’s changed my outlook on wanting to do more for the community and for other people. It’s opened my eyes to getting involved more.”
Kiser competes in the men’s bareback bronc riding competition at the Avi Stampede PRCA Rodeo today; Twisselman competes in the women’s barrel racing on Sunday.
*This news story was resourced by the Oral Cancer Foundation, and vetted for appropriateness and accuracy.