NAME: Kristin “Avery” Acker
OCCUPATION: Student at McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth)
INTEREST: Volunteering as a rodeo clown for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo
Sporting a cowboy hat, a red and blue rodeo clown smock and a brightly painted face, Kristin “Avery” Acker can be found pumping up the crowd and chasing after sheep in the Mutton Bustin’ arena at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
“I feel like a real Texan when I’m involved in the rodeo. It’s a part of my culture. It’s how I was raised,” said Acker, 24, a second-year student at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth who is volunteering as a rodeo clown for the third year in a row. “You see so many smiles doing mutton busting and I really enjoy that. Life can get people so pessimistic, so it’s great to have a breath of happiness and fresh air.”
The rodeo is very much in Acker’s blood. Growing up in Freer, Texas, a small town 60 miles northeast of Laredo, Acker spent her childhood on a ranch and in the rodeo. Her mother, a cattle rancher, was involved in rodeo throughout high school. Her cousins and older brother are experienced ropers. And her grandfather, James Raymond “Bud” Walker Jr., was a professional rodeo bronc rider who will be inducted into the Texas Rodeo Hall of Fame in April. He passed away in 2010, but his legacy lives on.
“When I’m at the rodeo and I see people who resemble my grandpa,” Acker said, “I feel close to him.”
Mutton busting is a competitive event in which children between the ages of 5 and 6 latch onto a sheep and ride bareback, as the animal bucks and barrels down a dirt course. Children’s scores are based on how long they are able to stay on the sheep.
“It amazes me every year how resilient kids are. They’re so scared to do this, but then they hop on this sheep and they have the best time ever. They might cry a little bit, but they still love it,” Acker said.
As a rodeo clown, Acker isn’t just responsible for entertaining the crowds and cheering on the kids. She is there to ensure their safety during the ride, as well.
After the sheep bursts from the gate, Acker chases the animal down the course to make sure it doesn’t run the child into the fence. Once the ride is over, she picks up the child to wave to the camera and the crowd, and then runs the child back to his or her parents near the opening gate before the next sheep is released.
“It’s a lot of running. It’s probably around six miles a day,” Acker said. “You have to chase the sheep down, get the kid, run back with them, and do that 20 times in 30 minutes.”
It’s a high-intensity cardio job that requires a lot of energy, but “the kids get me pumped,” she said.
Acker’s commitment to medicine and her love for rodeo clowning have one important thing in common: people.
“In medicine, you aren’t really practicing medicine, per se, if you aren’t improving people’s lives,” Acker said. “I believe the rodeo improves people’s lives, even if it’s just through a smile.”
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