Above & Beyond
Cowgirl Caitlyn Viets, 13, who has
CF, loves to ride horses and
compete in rodeos. Caitlyn plans to become a veterinarian so she can
care for horses and other large animals.
Charging down the rodeo arena on horseback, Caitlyn Viets locks her eyes on the prize: the staked-out goat she’s hurling toward. What’s not on the budding rodeo star’s mind? Her cystic fibrosis.
“Rodeo events are really exciting,” says Caitlyn, who lives with her family in Greenwood, Mo. “When I ride, I don’t think about CF. I’m too focused on my event.”
If all goes as planned, the freckled 13 year old — looking the part in a snap-button Western shirt and cowgirl boots and hat — will jump off her horse, straddle the goat, quickly tie three of its legs together, and then flash the audience the signature grin that’s earned her the nickname Smiles on the rodeo circuit.
Working Hard to Stay Healthy
Caitlyn’s concentration may seem rare for her age, but she’s had plenty of practice building resolve. The day after she was born, she was rushed into emergency surgery. When Caitlyn was two weeks old, doctors diagnosed her with cystic fibrosis.
Remarkably, since Caitlyn’s three weeks in the hospital at birth, she’s never been re-hospitalized. “She’s been very fortunate,” says her mother Dawn, a neonatal nurse practitioner.
Caitlyn takes more than 20 pills daily, including antibiotics, special vitamins, enzymes and reflux medication. Her regimen of breathing treatments includes inhalers, nebulizers and airway clearance therapies. In total, she spends about an hour each day on CF therapies.
Caitlyn’s energetic lifestyle also helps her stay healthy. “I’m a sporty girl. I’ve always loved being active,” she says.
She first got involved with rodeo about three years ago and now competes almost weekly in rodeos run by two associations: the Missouri Kansas Youth Rodeo Association and the junior high division of National High School Rodeo Association. In addition to goat-tying, Caitlyn also excels in breakaway roping, barrel racing and pole bending. She qualified for the National Junior High Finals Rodeo in barrel racing and pole bending held this June, where after three rounds, Caitlyn—and her little mare, Polly— placed 16th out of 148 barrel racers representing the United States, Canada and Australia.
Caitlyn rides her three horses every week, and she feeds and checks on them daily. “It’s a lot of work, but I’m a really big animal lover — I love everything about horses,” she says. Her favorite subjects at school are science and health, and when she grows up, Caitlyn plans to become a veterinarian so she can care for horses and other large animals.
Giving Back to the CF Cause
Caitlyn’s rodeo friends have helped raise funds for the CF Foundation by selling bracelets and supporting Caitlyn’s Crusaders, the Viets’ Great Strides team. The Viets began participating in the annual fundraising walk when Caitlyn was still being pushed in a stroller — and they haven’t missed a year since, even hosting an unofficial mini walk at a park in town when the timing hasn’t worked with their schedule.
Over the years, Caitlyn and her family have also participated in the Heart of America Chapter’s black-tie Breath of Life Ball and, with Dawn’s sister, organized a golf tournament called Swing Into Action that also raises money to benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. “I feel as though the CF Foundation uses its dollars wisely,” Dawn says. “You can see the obvious progress being made in the search for a cure.”
Over the years, Caitlyn has participated in clinical trials that have helped make possible advances in CF care, including one for the antibiotic azithromycin, which is currently being used by 15,000 people with CF in the United States. “It’s exciting to be a part of CF research,” Dawn says.
Looking Toward the Future
Perhaps more significantly than the day-to-day improvements that result from new medications, research advances keep Caitlyn focused on the big prize — the day a cure is found for CF.
When that day comes, Caitlyn looks forward to celebrating with a huge party she’s been planning since first grade with one of her best friends. Caitlyn says the celebration was her friend’s idea: “It’ll be great!”
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