probably way too trusting of them.) I’m not scared of going fast -- I’m not even scared of falling down.
I wear a helmet, because I couldn't think of a good reason not to.
Growing up in 4-H, we were required to wear a helmet and I dreaded it. My first helmet would fall over my eyes, was hard and uncomfortable and it was downright ugly. Yep, I was a helmet hater (see below for evidence.)
Fortunately, a few years later my mom found a helmet that fit me right and was so comfortable I frequently forgot I had it on. It made the situation better, but I still wouldn’t even consider putting it on unless it was required.
My sophomore in High School is when I switched to wearing a helmet by my own choice. I sat in the back of my classroom listening to my teacher talk about devastating head injuries and long-term effects that they caused. Only, these concussions were from football and other mainstream sports. I started thinking about my own experiences of my most trustworthy horses falling down with me during a run and how terribly those could have ended. I thought, ‘if man vs. man can cause such traumatic brain injuries, what would a 1,200lb horse vs. me cause?’ Then, I started thinking, ‘hey, I should probably be wearing a helmet.’
But I really, I mean, really didn’t want to.
I had an internal battle with myself that day, and it went something like this:
“No, no. You can’t wear a helmet. They are sweaty and gross. Everyone thinks they look dumb. I’ll look like a beginner, and that would be embarrassing… and helmet hair is just terrible. Wait… Am I seriously worried about those things vs. a head injury? I care more about what people think of me than my own safety? That’s not cool at all.”
But even with that realization, imagining myself at a race with my helmet on just wasn’t allowing me to take that step. So, I made myself a deal. I thought, “If I can think of just one good reason why I shouldn’t wear a helmet, then I won’t wear one. Good. This should be easy, I thought.
1. They get in the way…crud, my new helmet doesn’t move.
1. They make my hair messy…okay, that doesn’t count.
1. …I got nothing.”
The next race, my helmet was strapped on.
I remember my dad coming around the corner of my trailer when I was putting on my helmet and taking a double take. He said, “Why are you wearing your helmet, are you scared?” and I replied, “No, I’m not scared. I want to.” And that was that. I turned some heads at first, but people began getting used to seeing me in my helmet.
When I started competing professionally in rodeos it was tougher to wear my helmet, I won’t lie. I’m pretty stubborn though, so I sucked it up and before long I was just as comfortable in my helmet at a rodeo as I was anywhere.
I'll never forget meeting a contestant at the end of the season last year and while I was introducing myself, he interrupted me and exclaimed,
“You’re helmet girl, aren’t you!?”
I honestly didn’t know what to say back to him, and while I was trying to figure out if I was in fact, "helmet girl," he called over his friend and said, “This is helmet girl!” and nodded his head towards me. His friend looked at me and said, “This is helmet girl?!” I finally gave an unsure smile and nodded my head, yes. They then cheerfully said, “We’ve been watching you all year! You’re a bad mamba-jamba! Wow! Can’t believe we finally met you… How do you say your last name?”
Not long after that, I had a good friend of mine ask me why I wore a helmet when we were warming up for a rodeo. I told her, and she said, “Oh, okay. It doesn’t matter to me, but when people ask where I’m staying at and I tell them at your place, they always say, 'Is that helmet girl?' and then they ask me if I'd ask you why you wear a helmet."
At first I wasn’t sure how to take it. But I realized no one had ever treated me with anything but respect, and these people weren’t calling me “Helmet Girl” in a negative light. The fact that I was worthy enough of a nickname in the rodeo world meant quite the opposite. I was part of the family.
I am thrilled to release the first article to the HelmetTough campaign. I am overwhelmed by how quickly this has evolved and so excited to see others jumping on board and supporting the cause already.
To start off with, I want to share with you who I am and why I represent HelmetTough.
My name is Nicole Aichele aka “Helmet Girl” and most of what you’ll be reading from HelmetTough will be coming from me. I am 21 years old and compete on the professional rodeo circuit. Last year I was top 40 in the world standings and have goals to be higher this year... God willing, of course.
And, as you have probably already guessed by now, I wear a helmet.
Many wonder why I wear a helmet, but won’t ask for fear of offending me or bringing up bad memories if it was from a previous injury. While I appreciate the concern for my feelings, someone asking me why I wear a helmet has never insulted me. I suppose, everyone continues to wonder because I usually don’t preach it without being asked, either.
To get it all out in the open right now, I’ll tell you why I wear a helmet. It’s not because I’ve suffered a head injury, thankfully. I am not afraid of my horses (I’m