Cowgirl Up: How ‘Helmet Girl’ is Challenging the Rodeo Scene

In the barrel racing world, it takes a brave cowgirl to stand up against tradition — and still set world records while doing so. Meet Nicole Aichele, also known as “Helmet Girl.”

Top photo from Helmet Girl, used with permission.

High-school sophomores are not always known for their logic and reasoning; at that age a lot of young cowgirls are celebrating the fact that in most states they’re no longer required to wear helmets. Yet it was at this moment that Nicole Aichele realized there was no good reason not to wear a helmet — she showed up to her next barrel race wearing one, and from that day on she never looked back.

Even when she branched into the world of professional rodeo in 2013, she kept the helmet on her head, flattered and humbled by the numerous emails and letters she received from fans who saw her as an inspiration. While she still turned heads at rodeos, Nicole was glad that she was accepted for her decision to protect her head and even more honored to pick up the nickname “Helmet Girl.” Her 2010 world record was set while she wore a helmet.

But her fan mail told a different story — girls wrote to Nicole telling her about persecution from other competitors, relentless teasing and bullying for wearing helmets. Many young riders confessed that they would like to continue wearing a helmet but they were tired and ashamed of being teased, or were afraid of the stigma of wearing a helmet and were not brave enough to take off the cowboy hat. When the online magazine On the Rodeo Road approached Nicole about writing an article about wearing a helmet, she knew she had the opportunity to affect change in the way helmets were viewed on the rodeo trail.

In the responses to a poll Nicole posted online, she realized, however, that one article was not going to be enough. From this original spark developed Nicole’s Helmet Tough campaign, seeking to end the stigma on the rodeo scene about wearing helmets. The campaign, though just started within the past year, is picking up momentum through social media (use the hashtag #helmettough) and the sales of T-shirts, as well as online articles posted on the Helmet Tough web page.

“When actually looking at our western heritage,” states Nicole in one such article, “Why Cowboy Hats Are Not Western,” “we discover that the ‘cowboy way’ has nothing to do with the outside and everything to do with what is inside.” Therefore, the old argument that wearing a hat is a crucial part of western heritage is superficial at best — if competitors value truly what is important, like the welfare of their animals and the support of their friends, there should be no stigma to wearing a helmet at all. Helmets aren’t un-western; we’ve simply forgotten what being western really means.

Photo from, used with permission.

Photo from Helmet Tough, used with permission.

Go Nicole — and be helmet tough.


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