Empowering Women Panel Produces Laughs and Advice

By: Justin Felisko

PUEBLO, Colo. – Six influential women in the Western sports industry brought their wisdom, laughter and insight to a group of PBR fans on Tuesday night during the PBR Virtual Experience: Empowering Women Together Panel.

CBS Sports sideline reporter Kate Harrison hosted a roundtable discussion with Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo CEO/President Valeria Howard Cunningham, stock contractor Tiffany Davis, champion barrel racer Michelle Darling, Peyton Gay (founder of Peyton’s Project Runway) and Kaitlin Teel (owner of Shop Teel/Sparrow Lane).

Below is a sampling of some of the topics discussed from the hour-and-a-half-long session, which was free to the public. Click here for an updated schedule of future PBR Virtual Experiences that are available.

Balancing life, business and family

Darling: I don’t really know if there is a balance. I think you just make it work. As women, that is what we do. We make it work. We wake up in the morning; we usually get everything done first. We get the kids ready. The men do help, but honestly, I think the women just make it work.

Cunningham: I agree. You make it work because you have to make it work. You wake up; you can have your day planned out and be very organized. You know what you want to accomplish, and then something happens, and you have to go in a totally different direction. You have to deal with an issue. But once again, that is part of life. That is what we do. We make life happen.

Davis: I don’t have a balance. So you all make me feel better when you answer it like that. There is no balance around here. You are swinging at whatever pitch is thrown at you around here, and go with it.

Teel: I started (my business) small. It was just an online store, and then I grew my business. My mom and I are really into European antiques, and we went back and forth about whether we wanted to do it or not. And honestly (my husband) Cody (Teel) gave me a big push to do it. He has been really supportive. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be able to do it. He is very helpful in any aspect he can be. When it is during the week, he is always willing to help. That is really nice because he always tells me, ‘You take care of everything on the weekends,’ or ‘you take care of everything when I am gone on the road. So it is the least I can do to help you be successful at that.’ A lot of it is his help, but it is a juggling act.

Advice to young women/girls who want to get involved in the Western industry

Teel: I would say don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you know someone has the resources you need or has good advice, don’t be afraid to ask for help, whether it is another woman you want to be or a family member or friend, don’t be afraid to ask. Use the network in front of you.

I would say just do the best you can. Don’t be so hard on yourself. I think that is something a lot of women struggle with. We are hard on ourselves. And don’t be afraid to ask for help either.

Gay: Creating a game plan for yourself. Figuring out what you want to do, who can help you get to that point. Before I started this, I was just a wife and a mom, and I felt like I was destined to be so much more. Jesus gave me that idea (Peyton’s Project Runway), and this is what I am supposed to do. I definitely couldn’t do any of this without God.

Cunningham: Our young girls, we just need to prepare them for life, meaning every day is a challenge no matter what you do. So in the Western industry, it is no different, other than people are going to look at you a little strange and try to figure out why you are interested in that world. Especially the girls I work with. They are minority young girls trying to enter the Western industry. They run into the same issues that they run into every day in life, and it is just real. You can’t avoid those issues. I just always tell them you have to face what is in front of you, but just remember that whatever you want to accomplish, you can accomplish. That is the advice I give the young girls I deal with.

I will say the goal that we have had for Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo is to make sure we can actually get on television and for people all over the United States to have an opportunity to see the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo and see the value it has and change the mindset for our kids. I am very, very involved with and concerned about our youth as they grow up and the images that they see and what they are taught and not taught. We use our rodeo to educate everybody, and we just think our goal is to one day be on television so that kids can see that Black cowboys and Black cowgirls are real.

Davis: This is something you have to have a passion for because there are a lot of other things any of us could be doing that is a lot easier, and we could be making a lot more money. But I truly believe, like Valeria was talking, this is something you truly have to have a passion and love to do it. That is where it comes out in your passion, and how to keep going, and the want to keep going is you have a passion. I said a long time ago, I am not the smartest person in the flock, but I know I am smart enough to find something else if I didn’t have a passion for this because it is a lot of work for what you get in return. But the friendships and the lessons in life I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world—no amount of paychecks.

As far as being respected as a woman, I think if you put yourself out there and you give respect and act respectable, you will get it back in life.

Darling: Own it. Be confident, girl. When you walk in there, demand a little bit of respect. As a woman, if you walk into a room, still be a little soft, but just own it. Do your homework. When you walk in there, don’t be caught off guard or anything. When you walk in there, give it your all.

What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?

Davis: I would have told my 20-year-old self, ‘Keep rocking those short shorts while you can.’ (laughter) No, I’m kidding. Just to hang in there. Hold to your faith. There has been plenty of times where I thought, ‘I am not going to get through this.’ The things we went through in life, you can’t get through it without Jesus. Just make sure you have strong faith, live, and hang onto your faith life. No matter what goes on, you hang onto your faith and stay strong in that, and you will get through it.

Cunningham: I don’t know if I would have told myself anything different. At 20 years old, I was very focused and just always said, ‘Life is a challenge. Be ready for the challenge, know who you are and just move forward.’ I agree with Tiffany. None of that can be done without having faith and belief that God is walking alongside you. I don’t know if I would have told myself anything different. Life is a journey. You just have to be smart with how you approach it.

Gay: I would say develop healthy habits, surround yourself with people who have the same good intentions that you have for yourself, and know your self-worth.

Darling: There are so many things. If I was telling a 20-year-old girl now, or anyone in general, who made a mistake, and you learned from it, then there is more knowledge right there. You already have gotten smarter. I made so many mistakes, and most of them I learned from and didn’t repeat. I also would have eaten more carbs (laughter). I didn’t realize that my metabolism would change. I probably would have eaten a lot more sugar and candy. Eat more carbs when you are 20 because when you turn 25, it gets harder and harder to stay thin.

Teel: I would say, if there is something you want to do, just go for it. Don’t take yourself too seriously, and don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t be afraid to try more than anything.

Harrison: Especially in this world today, I would say stay true to yourself and who you are. Comparison is the thief of joy, and there is no need to compare because God made each of us who we are for a purpose and for a reason. Follow that purpose because it is so much better than you could think. If I had thought at 20 I would be where I am today just by believing in myself, working hard and following my heart – I never knew the doors that were open. I was just prepared to be there and was okay to be there because that is the journey He’s got me on. And to surround yourself with incredible women just like this.

We are meant to do life together.

Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko

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