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FFA State Convention offers students skills training, competition

in Agriculture/Community
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By Cowboy State Daily

You’d recognize those blue corduroy jackets with their gold medallions embroidered on the back anywhere. And the number of young people sporting the handsome garb is on the rise in Cheyenne this week as the Wyoming FFA Association State Convention comes to town.

At the three day convention junior high and high school students from across Wyoming enjoy opportunities to sharpen their skills in everything from judging livestock and horses to developing business, sales and marketing plans to competing in parliamentary procedure and public speaking.

Students and coaches say the convention builds camaraderie among FFA students and cements marketable skills that students can use in their careers, whether they stay in agriculture or pursue a different field altogether.

“They become very confident because they learn how to speak well in front of people,” Laramie County Community College Equine Studies Instructor and Equestrian Team Coach Lanae Koons McDonald explained. “The students learn how to defend what they see.”

Cowboy State Daily videographer Mike McCrimmon caught up with FFA students – including Evanston High School FFA President Bailey Barker – to learn more about the competition as well as the personal and professional development FFA provides.

Barker told Cowboy State Daily, “We have a cattle ranch back home. You learn even more [at state convention] than you do there. You just continue your learning and your progress and your growth.”

The convention runs through Friday at various sites around Cheyenne.

Mother uses personal experience to help parents of premature babies

in Community
Toby's Shower for Babies gives gifts to premies born in Rocky Mountain hospitals
Toby’s Shower for Babies founder Elizabeth Tolin assembles a basket April 4, which contains comfort items and information about caring for premature babies. Tolin’s organization delivers the baskets to six hospitals in Wyoming and Colorado every 3-4 weeks. (Photo by Ike Fredregill)
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Twenty weeks into Elizabeth Tolin’s third pregnancy, a routine doctor’s visit revealed something was very wrong.

“We were living in Hungary at the time,” recalled Elizabeth, a 34-year-old first lieutenant in the Wyoming Air National Guard. “It was January (2014), and we were in for a regular 20-week checkup. The doc starts freaking out and saying, ‘Something’s not right. He’s small, he’s balled up, and he’s not moving.’”

The events that followed inspired Elizabeth to found the non-profit Toby’s Shower for Babies, which delivers baskets full of comfort items and information about caring for premature infants to Newborn Infant Care Units in Wyoming and Colorado.

While in Hungary, Elizabeth and her husband, Josh, were concerned, but there was little they could do outside of making an appointment with a specialist in Austria.

“Two days later, we’re in a state-run hospital waiting for the ‘specialist,’ which was terrifying,” Elizabeth remembered. “After checking in, we were given a number and told to go wait by a door in this huge area with hundreds of people.”

The Tolins took a seat. Hours dragged on. The people waiting at other doors seemed joyful and in high spirits — but not the people at the Tolins’ door.

“No one in this circle was smiling,” she said. “No one at this door was happy. Everyone that came out of this door looked in shock, heartbroken, things were not right.”

When it came to the Tolins’ turn to enter the room, Elizabeth said they tried to keep an open mind.

“The doc starts doing the ultrasound, and he’s not speaking for like 15 minutes,” she recalled. “Finally, he puts down the wand and says, ‘I can’t tell you what’s wrong, but the baby is too small and won’t survive. There’s nothing we can do.’”

Stateside

Faced with devastating news, the Tolins decided to return to the U.S. and find a doctor who felt differently.Four days after the 20-week checkup, the couple were on a flight to Denver, Colorado, to visit a specialist at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children.

“The doctor in Denver still couldn’t figure out what was wrong, and there wasn’t a guarantee the treatment would work,” Elizabeth said. “But there was nothing else we could do. So, we just took it week to week.”

At the time, the Tolins were told 24 weeks in utero was the earliest a baby could be removed and have a chance to survive.

“The doctor sat us down and told us ‘If the baby comes right now, he won’t make it,’” Tolin said. “They didn’t have tubes small enough to fit him (with life support).That was kind of a kick in the face.”

The Tolins didn’t give up. They tried everything their health care providers suggested, and at 31 weeks, they returned to the hospital.

“There was a day that he just wasn’t moving — things seemed off,” Elizabeth remembered. “(The baby) wasn’t having heart accelerations. They did an ultrasound, and he wasn’t doing very good. They said it’s time to go. Now.”

A few hours later, Toby Tolin was born into the world via emergency c-section.

“He weighed 2 pounds and was 11 and three-quarters (inches) long,” Elizabeth said. “They never did figure out what was wrong, but he had a really crappy placenta … and had managed to tie a true knot in his (umbilical) cord.”

Inspiration

During the next six weeks, the Tolins doted on their newborn and managed their affairs from the NICU, where Toby was nursed into health.In the hours and days between tests and treatments, Elizabeth was left with little to do but read to her baby and observe the other NICU patients. 

“We were in perfect shape — I was on emergency leave from work, and Josh was tele-working, and we had friends in Denver we could stay with,” she said. “But so many other families in the NICU weren’t in good shape.”

Elizabeth felt a kinship with these parents, watching helplessly as their babies’ lives hung in the balance. She wanted to do something to let them know they weren’t alone.

“I started talking with one of my good friends, a nurse there at the time,” Elizabeth said. “What if we did a basket with blankets and stuffed animals for every one of these babies?”

The blankets could be used to block the harsh hospital lighting for the babies, and Elizabeth planned to include books in the baskets for parents to read to the newborns.

“I told Josh, and he was like, ‘No, we’re not even out of the NICU yet,’” Elizabeth said, adding with a chuckle, “It ticked me off, so I was like, ‘Whatever, I do what I want.’”

Using Facebook to communicate with friends and family who followed Toby’s story from Hungary to birth, Elizabeth started recruiting volunteers. 

“Within six weeks, we were back in the NICU with baskets for every baby,” Elizabeth said.

Normalcy

Nowadays, Elizabeth said Toby’s Shower is a charitable non-profit organization, and with the help of volunteers throughout the Rocky Mountain region, it has delivered more than 3,600 baskets to six hospitals in Wyoming and Colorado along the Interstate 25 corridor.

Volunteers tie fleece blankets by hand for each basket and stock them with children’s books, stuffed animals and packets of information about premature infant care.

“We get anywhere from 10-50 volunteers each event, which happens about every 3-4 weeks,” Elizabeth said. 

Toby’s Shower is funded through donations, and the organization’s primary fundraising event is the Champagne Ball, an annual charity soiree hosted in May at the Ellie Caulkin’s Opera House in Denver.

There are dozens of ways to help families in the NICU, but Elizabeth said she chose baskets because they shift the parent’s focus away from their current situation.

“I think when you are thrust into that environment, chaos, blender, dark place — I think the baskets provide a glimmer of hope. Some of those babies don’t go home,” she explained. “It helps create normalcy, because there’s nothing normal about the NICU.”

Go to www.showerforbabies.org to learn more about Toby’s Shower, how to donate or volunteer for the Tolins’ next basket run.

Portraits of Wyoming: A conversation with KRAE’s Larry Proietti

in Community
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We are excited to present this weekend feature with 1480 KRAEKYOY FM owner and host Larry Proietti and Wyoming SportsTalk Today co-host Nick Proietti.

Cowboy State Daily’s Robert Geha and Mike McCrimmon sat down with the father-son duo to talk radio, local journalism and running a small business in Cheyenne.

We continue the conversation with real talk about Larry overcoming cancer, battling self-consciousness and advise for continuing to fight through the adversity the world throws at you.

Wyoming’s people are what makes our state special.

Help us spotlight the incredible people and stories that make this place tick.

If you have ideas for people we should highlight in our Portraits of Wyoming series, email us at news@cowboystatedaily.com or leave your nominations in the comments.

Upscale restaurant The Metropolitan to open in downtown Cheyenne

in Community
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By Cowboy State Daily

A new upscale restaurant and events center will be opening in downtown Cheyenne later this year.

The Metropolitan Downtown, which will feature “New American Cuisine,” is a restaurant being built by Cheyenne businessman and former gubernatorial candidate Sam Galeotos. In addition to the 200-seat bar and restaurant, the Metropolitan will contain an events center called Gallery at the Mid that will seat up to 260 people.

Katy Rinne, marketing strategist for the facility, said she and Galeotos both saw a need for more entertainment options in Cheyenne.

“Sam has grown up in Cheyenne, I myself grew up in Cheyenne and we recognized the need for more entertainment and hospitality businesses, especially in downtown Cheyenne,” she said.

The operators of the restaurant, which is set to open in June, plan to rely on a high quality of food and enjoyable atmosphere to keep the business popular.

“We want a place that is comfortable for everyone to come into that you enjoy, you want to go back to that space, you want to have that dish again, you enjoyed visiting with your server,” Rinne said.

“New American Cuisine” is made up of traditional American fare along with dishes from the different cultures that have made America their home, said Metropolitan Chef Juan Coronado, a former chef for several downtown Denver restaurants.

“So we have your steaks, pastas, seafood and then we also have some flavors like Latin, Asian, Mediterranean,” he said. “It just captures all the cuisines.”

The restaurant’s menu will change with the seasons and will include fresh meats and produce from local sources, Coronado said.

Mixed Martial Arts finds home, big-name sponsorship in Wyoming

in Community/Recreation
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Pain shot across Brazilian Jiu Jitsu instructor Devin Henry’s face as he disengaged a grapple Monday with one of Cheyenne Brazilian Jiu Jitsu’s students. 

“Hang on a sec,” Henry calmly told the student. “I think I broke my finger.” 

The 42-year-old’s purple belt cut a sharp contrast against his black gi, a lightweight, two-piece garment worn by several martial arts participants, as he cradled the injury and paced the training mats.

Within minutes, he returned to his student, and the duo continued to drill a series of subdual techniques.

“It doesn’t hurt now,” Henry said. “But I’m going to be in pain tomorrow, for sure.”

The Jiu Jitsu academy’s primary coach and owner Matt Cano nodded, acknowledging his junior instructor’s tenacity.

“It’s a rough sport, and you do get hurt from time to time,” Cano said. “But we bounce right back and keep at it.”

About 30 students and instructors sparred in pairs during the night’s training session, guided by Cano’s quiet directions.

Most of the time, he was on the ground with them, explaining and demonstrating Jiu Jitsu techniques simultaneously. But occasionally, he walked among the combatants, offering praise and critiquing the students’ moves.

“Jiu Jitsu is about human intelligence over brute strength,” Cano explained. “It’s human chess. It’s all about strategy.”

Japan to Brazil to America

After learning the Japanese martial art of Jiu-Jitsu from traveling instructor Mitsuyo Maeda, Carlos Gracie started a legacy by opening his family’s first Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Academy in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1925, according to the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu association Gracie Barra.

In the decades to follow, the Gracie family refined and adapted the fighting style until 1993, when Rorion Gracie put together the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) as a way to test his family’s techniques against other popular martial arts like Karate, Judo and Tai Kwan Do.

The sport exploded across the globe, and by 2006, even the U.S. Army used moves inspired by Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in its Modern Army Combatives, hand-to-hand combat training.

Although backyard wrestling and bareknuckle boxing enjoyed a modicum of popularity among young fighters in Wyoming around the turn of the millennium, combat-centric training centers remained sparse around the state, Cano said.

“Growing up, I was really into watching the UFC and all that,” he recalled. “But, there weren’t any real high-quality trainers for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. You got some good wrestlers around here and good boxers, but for the longest time, we didn’t have high quality trainers that strictly focused on (mixed martial arts).”

‘Homeless’

After a stint in the U.S. Army, Cano trained in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu throughout the Rocky Mountain region, fought in both amateur and professional MMA bouts, then decided to focus on bringing Wyoming to the forefront of the growing global martial arts trend.

“It was around 2015, and I had one more pro fight, but I always had one foot in, one foot out with teaching,” Cano said. “I wanted to spread my love for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and it did — it spread like wildfire.”

Cano’s academy began with three buddies in a two-car garage. He quit his full-time job as a diesel mechanic and dedicated himself solely to the art.

“I had no income the first couple of years,” Cano explained. “I was homeless — just living in the academy.”

Nowadays, Cano’s academy is located in downtown Cheyenne with nearly 5,000 square feet of training space.

“We’ve got about 135 students here at the academy now,” he said. “That’s between our kids’ classes, advanced Jiu-Jitsu, beginning Jiu-Jitsu and kickboxing classes.”

Name recognition

The academy owes its success to several factors, including the nearby U.S. Air Force base, the instructors’ determination and Cano’s passion for teaching.

But the 32-year-old coach said one of the tipping points for Cheyenne Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was an off-the-cuff friendship with Kurt Osiender.

“We’re the first major academy in Wyoming to be sponsored by a big name,” he explained.

Osiender is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt who trained under Ralph Gracie before starting his own academy in California. Referred to as a professor in the sport, Osiender met Cano during a series of seminars. 

“I kept asking him questions about different techniques, and after awhile, we just hit it off,” Cano said. “He comes and puts on seminars here at the academy throughout the year. He loves Wyoming. He loves guns and whiskey and Frontier Days. He says it’s his kind of state.”

In a sport where training lineage can hold as much weight as the color of a combatant’s belt, having a Gracie-trained instructor sponsor your gym is a huge honor, Cano said.

“Kurt certified my brown belt in 2016,” he remembered reverently. “That was a really big deal for me. Some people use stripes on the belt to indicate degrees, but Kurt’s old school and doesn’t do stripes.”

As much the student as the teacher, Cano said despite the growth of his own academy, he’s got a long way to go.

“I’m in no hurry to get my black belt,” he said. “Kurt will give it to me when he feels I’m ready. As long as I learn something every day, that’s all that matters.”

As the academy grows, Cano said he hopes to see Wyoming earn a place on the MMA map, but until then, he plans to keep rolling with his students and sharing his love for the sport.

“Spiritually and mentally, you’re in the zone with that training partner,” Cano said. “We share blood, sweat and tears on these mats. We’re all brothers and sisters here.”

To learn more about Cheyenne Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, visit https://CheyenneBJJ.wixsite.com/cbjj

Pine Bluffs distillery a destination for adventurous whiskey fans

in Agriculture/Community/Tourism/Travel
Pine Bluffs Distilling local community gathering place
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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Out on the high plains near Pine Bluffs, one can spot what looks like a barn off in the distance north of the Union Pacific rail line.

But instead of livestock and equipment, if you step inside this barn, you’ll find whiskey, vodka and a building full of people who love to experiment with spirits.

“Why not (experiment)?” asked Pine Bluffs Distilling co-owner Chad Brown. “We’ve got all these different barrels. Why can’t we release 10 products a year?”

Brown and his co-owners in the distillery, aunt Kathy Brown and cousin Gene Purdy, launched Pine Bluffs Distilling in 2017 with the idea of using different corn and grains from around the area to produce different spirits.

“We can grow any small cereal seed,” Brown said. “The traditional distilleries, they make one product. Why can’t we do what breweries do and make 20 different whiskeys?”

Welcome to Pine Bluffs Distilling in Pine Bluffs Wyoming
(Photo credit: Mary Angell)

Brown is a California native who lived in Nevada before his cousin Gene, a grain farmer near Pine Bluffs, convinced him to move to Wyoming in 2014. Brown, an avid home beer brewer, and his cousin shared an interest in how to add value to locally raised grains and how using those grains differently might result in different flavored spirits.

While Brown worked with Purdy on his farm, the family drew up plans for two businesses, Wyoming Malting and Pine Bluffs Distilling.

“We kind of came up with the plan for Wyoming Malting Co. and after doing some number crunching … we needed more revenue,” Brown said. “We were either going to go brewery or distillery. There’s a lot of breweries in the country. In 2014, there weren’t nearly as many distilleries.”

Wyoming Malting creates the malt from grains used in the brewing of beer and in distilling spirits. The malting operation, headed up by Mike Davidson and Glenn Sisson, processes about 660,000 pounds of barley, rye, oats and other grain every year.

Much of the malt is sent to area breweries, such as the Open Barrel Brewing Co. in Torrington, the Accomplice Beer Co. in Cheyenne and Square State Brewing in Rock Springs.

About 220,000 pounds of grain and corn is used by Pine Bluffs Distilling, where distillers Jon Unruh and Aaron Mayer create the company’s best-known spirits, Rock Ranch Vodka, Lodgepole Creek Bourbon and Muddy Creek Bourbon, a blend of bourbon and rye.

Lodgepole Creek and Muddy Creek both recently won bronze medals in a competition by the American Distilling Institute. Earlier this year, Rock Ranch Vodka received a bronze medal from the American Craft Spirits Association. 

But the distillers aren’t stopping with these spirits. They’ve already created a white whiskey, a corn whiskey and a limited release rye, just to name a few.

Still more spirits are in barrels aging, including an oat whiskey and several single malt whiskeys. In addition, the distillers are preparing seasonal spirits such as a peppermint whiskey for winter and a hibiscus-honey whiskey for spring.

“We’re going to show the same grain malted or treated differently, how different the final product can be,” Brown said. “And then our distillers, once again to change things up, they came and said ‘Hey, we’d like to do seasonal whiskeys.’”

The distillery itself and attached tasting room opened in November of 2017. Since then, more than 500 gallons of Pine Bluffs Distilling’s spirits has been released, but thousands more gallons are in barrels to be aged for a few years.

In the meantime, the tasting room has become a community gathering spot of sorts for the people of Pine Bluffs. The distillery regularly hosts events such as painting parties, board game nights and yoga.

The concept is similar to what is seen in breweries, Brown said.

“They hang out,” he said. “It’s a community gathering.”

And through it all, Pine Bluffs Distilling remains committed to its local grain producers.

“If we can lift up everybody at the same time, it just benefits the whole town,” Brown said.

The distillery and tasting room are open from noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturdays.

Visitors can sample the distillery’s various spirits, take part in special events or even tour the distilling operation itself.

Pine Bluffs Distilling is on 322 N. Beech St. in Pine Bluffs, just north of the Frenchman Valley Coop.

For more information, visit the distillery’s website at PineBluffsDistilling.com.

First Lady launches support for food security at Friday Food Bags

in Community/News
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Both Jennie Gordon, First Lady of Wyoming and Governor Mark Gordon worked alongside Cheyenne volunteers Monday evening to fill 925 food bags for area children who may not have access to nutritious meals when school is out for spring break.

Wyoming’s First Lady decided to spotlight food security after a visit with a friend in Sheridan opened her eyes to the number of children in Wyoming communities who go hungry or don’t know when their next meal will come.

“…if you have food in your stomach, you can learn, you can do better in school. Just a lot of things in your life improve,” said Gordon.

Gordon added growing up in a big family, with lots of mouths to feed, made clear how a good meal is foundational for kids.

The event was put on by Element ChurchOneReach, and Friday Food Bag Foundation.

Element Church Associate Pastor Steve Doolin said the church partnered with area non-profits to tackle the issue head on.

“Well, I believe it’s an epidemic,” said Doolin. “It’s not just in Cheyenne, it’s all over the country but lack of food is very prevalent in Cheyenne, Wyoming and Friday Food Bag, One Reach, Element Church are making a huge difference in trying to combat that.”

A Most Unique “Barn” Tour

in Community
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A look inside Cheyenne Hills Church new youth facility

By Cowboy State Daily

Cheyenne Hills Church recently completed work on “The Barn” so middle and high school parishoners have “a place to call their own”. Sandy Johnson, senior staff assistant at the church, took Cowboy State Daily on a tour of the new facility. 

Like barn raisings of the past, over 100 volunteers and 20 donors plus several local business leaders came together to bring the space to life.

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