Araya Edmiston, 11, and her family had to make a quick stop before taking their seats for Wednesday’s Round-Up. Trevor Brazile wanted to say hello.
The meet-and-greet was arranged by the Children’s Western Wish Foundation, which grants rodeo-inspired dreams to children “who are in some way challenged or afflicted.”
For Araya it was a complete surprise.
The sight of Brazile, who holds 23 National Finals Rodeo titles and the Round-Up record for highest-earning all-around cowboy, sparked Araya’s infectious smile and squeals of delight. She reached her arms out, and the cowboy happily obliged, lowering himself to the height of her wheelchair for a proper hug.
When she was 22 months old, Araya was in a near-fatal accident. A car traveling 55 mph collided with her mother’s vehicle at a four-way intersection in rural Umatilla County near Adams. Because the wreck happened on back roads, it took about seven hours for the baby to get emergency treatment.
“They said she’d never walk or talk again,” said Araya’s father, Jackie. “She was in a coma and they tried to convince me to pull the plug. I said no way.”
The accident left Araya with brain damage that confined her to a wheelchair, but it did nothing to dampen her spirit. Her family calls her “Araya Sunshine,” and says that she’s almost always in a celebratory mood. The Nixyaawii sixth grader can often be heard claiming it’s her birthday.
She’s a big fan of rodeo culture, but more than the horses or hats, “she loves the people,” her father said. Her sister Miracle, 8, said Araya says hello to everyone she sees.
And Trevor Brazile might be her new best friend.
The cowboy helps the Children’s Western Wish Foundation every chance he gets, he said. For the visit with Araya, he brought along his seven-year-old daughter, Style.
“It’s rewarding to see you can take someone’s mind off what they’re going through, even if it’s just for a little while,” he said. “It’s humbling to know you can make that kind of difference.”
On behalf of the foundation, Brazile gifted Araya with enough gear to complete a genuine cowgirl get-up: a special silver belt buckle, a sash embroidered with the title “Princess Araya” and a hat decorated with the signatures of all 17 Round-Up Directors, plus a sparkling tiara. She also received a cowboy-themed Bible inscribed with a hand-written note from Clyde and Elsie Frost, whose son died in a 1989 bull riding accident at Wyoming’s Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo.
The founder of the Children’s Western Wish Foundation, Glee Nett, lives in Cheyenne, Wyo., but travels the country granting wishes. She bought a new car three months ago and has already put more than 10,000 miles on it. But she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Things like this show the good in our western heritage and our rodeo family,” she said. “It’s a wonderful family to belong to.”
The Round-Up Association also donated tickets for the Edmistons to attend the Round-Up’s kick-off concert, though Araya’s sensitivity to loud noises prohibited them from staying for all of Gary Allan’s performance.
Araya will also participate in Thursday’s Children’s Rodeo, something that she looks forward to every year, her father said.
Another wish-granting foundation, Western Wishes, will treat Kallen Shuster to a visit with some of his favorite cowboys on Friday. The five-year-old boy from Ontario suffers from Follicular Bronchiolitis, an auto-immune disease that makes him dependent on an oxygen tank.
The story has been updated with the corrected spelling of a name and the organization that donated the rodeo concert tickets.