Rodeo fans are just starting to mill around the concourse late Saturday morning, but Jodi Bettineski is already thinking about the Pendleton Round-Up’s end.
In the Round-Up offices, Jodi, her husband Chris, and two other volunteers are furiously stuffing duffel bags with the kind of swag that’s typical of a Round-Up champion — cologne, belt buckles, hats, boots, a Pendleton Woolen Mills blanket, a bottle of Pendleton Whisky and more.
Simultaneously, Jodi and Chris are making last minute edits to a script announcer Wayne Brooks will read listing the sponsors and presenters when the winners of each rodeo event come to claim their prizes. If the wrong name is read or a name is mispronounced, there could be some upset people on the final day of the Round-Up.
Besides the unobtrusive presence of Brisa, a seeing-eye dog curled up near the corner of General Manager Casey Beard’s office, the scene wouldn’t look all that much different than any of the other 22 years Jodi volunteered for the Round-Up publicity office.
But a lot has changed for the Bettineski family in the past two years.
A degenerative eye disease forced Jodi to resign from her job as a physical education teacher at Pendleton High School and move her family to Kennewick to be closer to her daughter’s gymnastics academy.
She also got Brisa four months ago and spent this week taking the dog to her first rodeo.
Jodi took Brisa to the southern grandstand box seats where she and Chris would be seated, removed one of the folding chairs and put a blanket down in its place.
Jodi sat near the dog during the military flyover and cannon shot at the grand entry to make sure Brisa stayed calm. But otherwise, Brisa slept through most of the rodeo despite the primo seats. Jodi’s sight has deteroriated to a point that she’s now legally blind. While she can still see through peripherals, much of her straight-ahead vision is gone.
Chris calls Jodi a good “faker,” because she looks people in the eye when she talks and moves freely throughout confined spaces without needing assistance.
But when she needed to ask for help from others for previously basic things like operating the credit card machine at the checkout line at the grocery store, she felt dumb.
Getting Brisa helped to ease the transition, giving Jodi more mobility from destination to destination and acting as an implicit signal to others about her condition.
“It gave her a new lease on life,” Chris said.
After leaving the Pendleton School District, Jodi trained to become a masseuse and now runs a massage practice out of a chiropractor’s office.
Although she misses connecting with kids, Jodi can draw from her degree in athletic training and many of her clients are enthralled with Brisa.
Jodi’s job and new home mean she doesn’t make it Pendleton as often as she used to, but that hasn’t stopped her from returning to the Round-Up.
She and Chris spent most of Saturday’s rodeo carefully curating the prize packages and trophies as each competition got under way, making sure each individual prize was placed with the right presenter for the winner’s ceremony.
As each winner grinned for the photo op with the Round-Up and Happy Canyon courts, Jodi was usually outside the photographer’s shot, sometimes arranging a horse for the next photo.
During one of the few chances Jodi got a chance to cheer, she cheered for a late tie in the calf roping competition to be broken. If there’s a tie for the top spot, only one competitor can be given the prizes in person while the other is sent their prizes in the mail.
Jodi started in the media trailer as a 13-year-old, and within a few years, she was writing the scripts for the prize ceremonies.
Over the time she’s volunteered with the Round-Up, the position has evolved from typewritten scripts and rodeo results sent through fax to the internet age that allows her to share results through social media.
Jodi used to occupy the media trailer from the Sunday before Round-Up until the tear down day the following Sunday, but her disease means she now readjusts her schedule.
She now does some of her script work from home and arrives to the Round-Up Grounds on Tuesday, sometimes feeling a sense of trepidation.
“I kind of feel like a foreigner ... but when I come back and get immersed, I feel like I’m home again,” she said.
Chris said Jodi has been a volunteer at the Round-Up for so long that she’s become a fixture.
“It’s in her blood,” he said.
Jodi doesn’t know how much her eyesight will deteriorate in the future, but she anticipates she will always try to help at the Round-Up in some capacity and has a husband to help her do it.
“That’s what (Chris) is for,” she said.
Contact Antonio Sierra at email@example.com or 541-966-0836.