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Adam Romanik

Adam Romanik was born and raised in northeastern Pennsylvania. An avid horseman from childhood, Romanik found gay rodeo in 2009. In 2015, he organized the Keystone State Gay Rodeo Association and has served as President, hosting their first rodeo in 2017. At age 11, he had a tumor removed from his spinal cord and has been a paraplegic since—this does not stop him from competing in many horse speed events. Romanik holds several degrees in library science and information technology, working in library virtual services management and teaches library sciences courses at the college level.

Interview Location: Albuqurque, New Mexico

Date: October 21, 2017 | Interviewer: Rebecca Scofield

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Rebecca Scofield: This is Rebecca Scofield and I am here with Adam Romanik… Romanik, there we go, Adam Romanik. And it is October 21st and we’re in Albuquerque at the 2017 World Gay Rodeo Finals. So can you tell me when and where you were born?

Adam Romanik: Sure, so I was born in North Eastern Pennsylvania. Near, above Scranton area and lived in that area most of my life growing up as a kid.

RS: Wow, and when was that?

AR: I was, born in '79 and I lived in that area until 1998, is when I graduated high school and went off to college.

RS: Did you guys live on a farm, or out in a rural area?

AR: I did. So, I lived in a rural area [...] there was farms and country.

RS: Did you guys have horses?

AR: I did. So, I’ve owned horses since I was 4 years old. Basically, I was always a horse fanatic, since I was a little kid. When I was 4 years old my dad got me my first pony. So, I had that pony for a short while, and then I got another pony when I was 6 and I’ve pretty much had horses since then consistently, at least one horse. And I’ve had as many as 18.

RS: Wow, and what did your parents do for a living?

AR: My dad has been a self-employed truck driver, all his life. And my mom was a homemaker until I went to college. And her and I went back to school and she became a nurse then, and now she works as a nurse.

RS: Did you have siblings?

AR: I do, I’m the oldest of 4. I have a brother and two sisters, and yup.

RS: Are they horse people too?

AR: My youngest sister is a horse person, she has horses and my dad owns horses as well.

RS: Would you mainly just do trail rides or were you involved in, what do I want to say? Like shows?

AR: Okay so, growing up, I did trail rides and horse shows. I did a lot of barrel racing, all throughout as kid and throughout high school and in college, I took my horse with me to college and did a lot of both trail riding and barrel racing. Yup.

RS: What was school like for you growing up?

AR: You’re talking about like high school and elementary school? Well, when I was in high, elementary was you know just elementary school. When I was in high school I was very involved in extracurricular activities, things like student council, and I was very involved in that type of thing. And then later on band and things like that, so I was always very busy in high school.

RS: And then you went off to college in 1998, is that correct?

AR: Yup that’s correct?

RS: Where’d you go?

AR: I went to Clarine University in Clarine, Pennsylvania and I majored in library science, got my bachelor’s degree in library science.

RS: What was college like in the 90’s?

AR: Well, it was very, for me it was actully very freeing because I... I’ve been disabled since I was 11. They figure I was born with a tumor inside my spinal cord and they found that when I was 11 years old. And so, I had that removed when I was 11, and since that surgery I’ve been a paraplegic. You know, nothing ever really stopped me, like I rode horses and had 4 wheelers and all that kinds of stuff before I became disabled. And then you know, growing up I sort of, after that happened I sort of just got back into things. I rode again, and I couldn’t wait to drive when I turned 16 and you know all those kids of things. So... college for me was really more about finding myself and becoming very independent. I was suddenly 4 hours away from home and I could kinda go and do my own thing. I had a vehicle there and I had my horse there. So, it was an independence thing but also it was a vehicle for me to get somewhere. I really didn’t want to go to college, to be honest, when I first started because I was very much you know, I didn’t want to go to school, I just wanted to find a job and work. And then when I went to college, my goal was always to get done as soon as possible. I took summer classes, I took 18 credits one summer and I took 17 credits the second summer. I finished my bachelor’s degree in 3 years, it was one of those things where I really just wanted to get done and I wanted to be independent... and start life kinda thing.

RS: And were you in the dorms? Or, I guess my main question is, where was your horse?

AR: Okay good question. I did stay in the dorm throughout the regular semesters fall and summer, fall and spring I lived in the dorm and then in the summer I had an off-campus apartment. My horse was kept in a boarding stable about 7 miles away.

RS: So pretty accessible?

AR: Right, pretty accessible. I could go out, and I had a trailer there on my own and I could go out and see her, and I did I usually would go out two or three times a week or more and ride and all that.


RS: And how did you first discover the rodeo?

AR: So, I came out back in the late 90’s early 2000’s, and horses were always the center of my life, okay. Being with my horses, trail riding, showing, etcetera. And... one of the biggest challenges that I found with dating and everything is really trying to find someone, that shares that same love. So I met many people, dated people, been in a relationship with people that really didn’t have that love, and it really was an issue, it really caused an issue. When you own horses, and a lot of horses, it takes hours, it takes money, it takes a lot of things, it’s true dedication. Especially competing in the rodeos, its days of traveling, it’s a lot of expense etcetera. With all of that, I started to explore, how can I find someone that has, shares that same love. When I was in college, as I mentioned earlier I had my horse with me and I shared it somewhere locally. And there happened to be a gay couple there that had met at a gay rodeo, many year before that. So that was kind my first introduction to the gay rodeo and everything that sort of thing. And at that time, I really didn’t get to know anything about the gay rodeo, just that it was out there. And then sort of as time went on I learned more about it and as I had that sort of personal yearning for finding what I was really looking for, that’s when I really started to do a lot of self-discovery and you know, what was really involved and everything.

So then, it became my goal to be involved, and at the time there was another Pennsylvania chapter, it was called Liberty Gay Rodeo Association based out of Philadelphia Pennsylvania. They held there first rodeo in 2008, and they held another in 2009. Unfortunately I didn’t make the 2008 rodeo, but I made it my goal to make sure that I was there in 2009, and that was the first rodeo I've ever competed in. I loved it so much and it happened to work out, that I had a business trip to Chicago right when the Chicago rodeo was happening that same year. My work actually paid for me to haul my horse out to Chicago, and I competed in the Chicago rodeo, and that experience for me was so freeing. It was, a huge event of pride, to go and be able to be who I was and do what I love with my horse and everything and it was really, I’d say kinda what brought me to where I am today. And then after that, I wanted to be more involved in gay rodeo but then I didn’t have the funds or whatever.

And then that’s when I sort of went back to school and got my master’s degree. And then in 2013 I competed in the rodeo in Detroit Michigan. And then, a few years ago, acutely at that Detroit rodeo, someone said to me, we really at that time, the Pennsylvania association had folded, someone said to me you know, we really need to get a Pennsylvania association going, we really need to get back into this. And I did feel that, and it was really just a matter of time before I could put all the pieces of my self together before I could really commit to doing that. And so that's kinda what lead up to where we are today. So in 2015 I started Keystone State Gay Rodeo Association, and... put that together, and we’re going strong. We are here now 2 years later and we have 100 members, and we've held our first rodeo, we held our first rodeo this past June, so.

RS: And how did it go?

AR: It went very well, for a first event. Anytime you hold a first event there’s going to be a lot of hiccups, and things that aren’t planned, and expenses that aren’t planned. And just tons and tons of pieces, and through all of it, I am very pleased with how it went, the rodeo went off, we did have some... things that came up, we were able to get through them, work through them. We have a lot of work ahead of us to do, but we are planning on having another rodeo in 2018. We had tons of positive feedback from competitors, we had 1,000 to fifteen hundred people in the stands watching the rodeo. We had tons of positive feedback from the community, that came to watch the rodeo, and being a different type of pride event, and those are all reasons to continue on.

RS: What events do you usually compete in?

AR: So I compete in the horse events, the speed events. Since 2009 I’ve done, I normally do barrel racing, pole bending, and flag race. And then this year, I started a new event, so I’m also doing calf roping on foot now. My goal in the next few years is to get maybe into the roping, do maybe breakaway roping.

RS: ...As a paraplegic, what are the challenges of doing such a physically demanding sport?

AR: Sure, so there are a lot of challenges obviously... strength and, getting on the horse and getting the horse loaded and all that kinds of stuff, those are all challenges. Just taking care of the horses you know, huge challenge. So pretty much, the way I see it, if its something you want to do bad enough, you’ll find a way. So I figured out many, many ways of getting the saddle on my horse, I’m very upper body wise strong so getting the saddle on my horse is not a problem. I do actually get on from the wheelchair, I have all my horses trained that they will, they pretty much just stand still and I grab ahold of the saddle horn and pull myself up on, so there are a lot of physical challenges. As well as staying on and riding, all those events are speed events, so you’re going fast, you’re turning you know all those sorts of things and I do it all without the use of my legs. Some of the challenges, so basically how I, how I ride, I have a regular barrel saddle, and it is modified. I have a gel cushion on the saddle, I have a seat belt that’s Velcro that goes around my hips, and I use rubber bands to keep my feet in the stirrup and that’s it, that’s all that holds me on, and my upper body strength.

RS: And what are the sort of social assumptions, do people just take it for granted that you don’t compete?

AR: [...] They don’t see me as a person, they see the wheelchair, its usually like turning off a light switch kind of thing. I think I’ve done a really good job at showing them that just because you’re disabled doesn’t mean you can’t... be educated, you can’t lead an organization. It doesn’t mean you can’t... do what you put your mind to you know? For me it’s also very freeing to be able to go compete, to be able to go and ride, to do what I love to do. There have been many, many times where I have been at a rodeo, or some type of horse event, team pining barrel racing whatever, and people honestly have no idea. I have been in an arena competing and... I come out, I jump off my horse and, I’m wheeling around and whatever and people are like, seriously was that just you out there in the area, and people just have no idea. They wouldn’t know it from how I ride and all that. So... for me it has been very, very freeing.

RS: What have been the challenges of being an association dedicated to rodeo but on the eastern side of theUnited States.

AR: Good question, it has been, actually extremely challenging. One of the biggest challenges is the fact that we’re so far away from everyone. We have one association that’s close to us, but they're not a real active association. Beyond that, we have sort of been on our own pretty much. We have really had to spend, I can’t even... begin to think about the thousands of hours that we have spent, out there blowing our own horn, telling people who we are, and who IGRA is, and what we are doing, and why we do it and all of that... all those PR type of events. Its been very, very challenging, to be an association that’s far away. It's been challenging on one hand and on the other hand its been really, really welcomed because people don't know about it. So when they hear about it, they’re all excited. Just the fact that we've held one rodeo and we had a thousand spectators in the stands, and that’s huge. The other thing is that, in Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania is a very horse supported area, so there are a lot of horse events that are there that have helped as well. People are familiar with rodeo. Where we held our rodeo at, there's 3 or 4 other rodeo events there every year. It’s just that ours is a unique rodeo, that’s the only real difference.

RS: And what about coming west, for other rodeos, how difficult is that?

AR: It’s, I wouldn't say it's difficult, it’s just a long process. Anytime we go to a rodeo, you got to add in... 2 to 3 extra days at least. In the case of this weekend it’s 4 to 5 extra days. We could have flown to this, I didn’t bring my horse this weekend, but anytime that we do go to a rodeo, it's taking horses, it's pulling your horse all those thousands of miles. So, it’s definitely, extra days, a lot of gas expense, etcetera. So those are all challenges.

RS: Do many of your association members make it out to things like this?

AR: Actually, that’s one of the things, that’s one of the reasons I started our organization, was to really gather people, that have the same common interest. Because, it takes money to do it all, that’s just bottom line, okay. If I’m going by myself, I’m footing that bill myself. So one of the things I’ve done, and I think I’ve done pretty successfully, is really do the networking to get our members involved. For example, last Labor Day weekend, there was about 10 to 12 KSGRA members that went to the Kansas City Rodeo. 6 of us all went together, and 2 others went together. We took 2 horses together, so it could really help cut down on those expenses. This weekend here at rodeo finals, there are about 8 to 10 KSGRA members competing at 4 KSGRA. For me those are real highlights, because it just shows the progress that we’ve made, to say 2 years ago we started this thing and now to have 10 members here competing, that's awesome. And most of those members flew here, so it wasn’t really an expense. I did drive here with another one of my board members. Driving is a lot cheaper, but it does take a lot of time. But those are all huge success.

As I was talking to someone last night... it’s interesting how... the plan is sort of finally falling in place if you really think about it. Back in 2011 when I started my master’s degree and my motivation was to come to these things. And here we are, 6 years later, basically, and it’s starting to fall into place. This year I’ve done more rodeos than I’ve ever done. So I was at Littlerock in April, we held our rodeo in June, we went to... Kansas City Labor Day weekend, here we are at finals rodeo, and we’ll be at convention in Littlerock in a few weeks. Next year our goal is to do 6, 5 rodeos. So we’re planning on going to Texas in the spring, of course we’ll be at our own rodeo, that’s in June, we'll be at, our goal is to do Denver in July, also Minneapolis at the end of July, and then Kansas City Labor Day weekend. And then of course, next year I hear finals is gonna be in Arizona so we’ll be there.

RS: Is it difficult to balance the sort of leadership responsibilities with also competing and training and all that?

AR: It is, it really is. There’s, as I say, there’s never a dull moment in my life. My partner and I, we don’t have TV, there’s just really isn't time for it you know? It is a real work balance, there’s always something to do. One of the things that I’ve actually… I consider myself a pretty good multitasker so I can start one project and be working on something else. One of the things that I really actually utilize my rodeo time for, is these trips. So I always have a laptop with me, I have a hotspot on my phone, and as we’re spending hours and hours in the car driving to rodeos, its one of the things that I’ve learned is that, it takes people, it takes a community to do it. As I take people with me I let them drive and I work, or I do KSGRA stuff, or I work on class stuff or whatever I mean, it all takes time, you got to balance it somehow.


RS: Would you, being from... not the west, but obviously being involved in rodeo, would you consider yourself a cowboy?

AR: Absolutely, absolutely it’s every part of my being is being involved with the horses and riding and... living that cowboy lifestyle, its all, my life just revolves around the whole thing, pretty much.

RS: When you were growing up, what was your image of a cowboy?

AR: I think, kind of my image has changed a little bit. Growing up my image of a cowboy was the guy out working the ranch, rounding up the cattle, and all that. And my image now has changed a lot, there’s so many different images that come to mind when you think of cowboy you know? The hardworking person that, enjoys to go out and ride and, I think too one of the things that a lot of people don’t see sometimes, is the... giving of yourself and trying to better life for the community and that kind of thing. That’s always, I think, been sort of the cowboy way of looking out for your fellow brothers and that’s something that we do here in the rodeo, it’s all about charity for the community.

RS: Obviously you are been spearheading the growth of the association, what do you see for the future by chairing?

AR: Well I’m hopeful that... some changes will come in IGRA, I’m hopeful that we’ll see, sometime in the next few years of getting more national sponsors involved, getting more national companies involved. Growing, bringing back, some more rodeos to the circuit. Bringing back, hopefully more people to the circuit. And also, getting more younger people involved, its one of those things, as long as I’ve been involved in this organization... the age ranges, there’s really, a real gap in the folks my age and younger.

RS: How do you think you can... wrangel those folks in?

AR: I think some of it is, just being realistic about what it takes. Some of it is... getting people interested in, and some of it is, it's not working, a lot of it's not working. I'll give you an example of that, one of the things that we do regulary, our assosiation, is we do a monthly trail ride. People don't have to own their own horse, they can come ride our horses ride, 10 of our horses ride, 10 of our 13. So, people can come, they can ride, and we have... gotten, I'd say, probably between 15 and 25 percent of new members that way. People coming, teaching them about the horses, about the rodeos, who doesn't doesn't like to look at a cowboy in tight wranglers? Those are the kinds of things, the community building, its the getting the mission out there, what this is all about, all those kinds of things I think are what make people drawn to it.