Cowgirl Sykes has ridden with changes in Rifle |

Cowgirl Sykes has ridden with changes in Rifle

Post Independent Photo/Kelley Cox

RIFLE ” Three letters in the alphabet make Hilda Sykes’ eyes sparkle: “P-B-R.”

“Bull riding! I love the PBR!” Sykes said with a smile, of the Professional Bull Riders association.

Sykes, 71, isn’t actually a card-carrying professional bull rider herself, but she passionately follows the bull riding circuit.

“Last year, I got an all-expense-paid trip to Las Vegas,” said Sykes. That’s where the PBR World Finals are held every year.

This Rifle native’s avid interest in bull riding can be traced back to her upbringing.

“I grew up around horses,” said Sykes, whose father was a horseshoer and a trainer. He also drove a team of horses for Union Carbide in his job building roads.

Sykes has always had a soft spot for cowboys. She met her late husband, Larry Sykes, when “he was a cowboy” and she was a sophomore at Rifle High School.

The couple’s sons, Harold and Dennis, grew up riding in Little Britches rodeos, and Harold continued the cowboy life, working as a professional rodeo clown for a number of years.

The boys have “grown and gone” said Sykes, and Larry passed on five years ago ” but it’s clearly impossible to take the cowgirl out of this lady.

‘No task too small’

Even still, amidst tracking the bull riding circuit, Sykes has a full plate.

At the Rifle Senior Center, Sykes volunteers cooking breakfasts, answering the phone, washing dishes and doing whatever needs to be done.

“She is always there, and there is no task too great or small for her to handle,” said Debera Stewart, who heads the Retired Seniors Volunteer Program in Garfield County, and has been working with Sykes for the past nine years.

Tuesday morning found Sykes at the center for a Regional Council on Aging meeting.

“Deb recruited Larry to serve on the council,” Sykes said. “And when he passed away, she grabbed me!”

Sykes also helped start the Western Slope Senior Wellness Conference, and co-publishes and writes for a senior wellness newsletter.

‘The whole point’

One key to Sykes’ own good health and energy is her affiliation with the Lady Strutters Senior Line Dance Exhibition Team.

Sykes and five other women have a repertoire of about 20 different line dances they perform for nursing homes and assisted living centers throughout Garfield County.

“We’re not perfect, but when we make mistakes, we can laugh about it,” she said with a smile.

She said she joined the dance team to get some exercise and have fun at the same time ” but there are residual benefits, too.

“We’re pretty entertaining,” she said of the dances the team performs to all kinds of music, including country and big band.

“One man at one of the nursing home even sings along with the music when we dance. People get a big kick out of us. And that’s the whole point.”

‘Going on with life’

Sykes said Rifle today is much different than the Rifle she remembers from her childhood.

“We had snow, for one!,” she recalled. “We used to block off the road in front of the Fourth Street School and sled down the steep hill during recess.”

Sykes also remembers cooler summers, with more rain and less heat.

After attending beauty school in Grand Junction, Sykes worked as a beautician, first for a beauty parlor in Silt, and later at her own salon, called The Style Shop.

“I had my shop in a trailer behind our house for 10 years,” she said.

Back then, it was all about “pin curls, rollers and perms,” she said. “None of this blow-dry stuff!”

She said probably the hardest change to deal with is watching “good farm ground be turned into cement and houses. But that’s progress. I think you have to resign yourself to change, whether you like it or not, and go on with your life regardless of it.”

One thing that hasn’t changed are many of Sykes’ friends.

“I still have friends here I went through all 12 years of school with,” she said. “We’ve got our 55th class reunion coming up in 2005. We’ve got to get started on it!”

Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518

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