Adams, a graduate student in the College of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources, will serve as the university’s mascot for the 2021-2022 academic year.
Ashley Adams is no stranger to Texas Tech University or the Masked Rider. Born and raised in Lubbock, Adams even dressed up as the iconic mascot as a little girl.
“Ashley dressed up as the Masked Rider for Halloween for several years,” said Adams' mom, Diane. “When she was in kindergarten, we met then-Masked Rider Katie Carruth at so many events that Katie eventually recognized us. So, we have lots of pictures of Ashley with the Masked Rider.”
And though Adams – a graduate student majoring in animal science in the College of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources – has adored the Masked Rider since kindergarten, her passion for horses came even before then.
“I was 4 years old when I rode my first horse,” Adams said. “My friend had a birthday party at a local barn. My mom said that, even when it was time for cake, I was the kid still standing with the horses, asking if I could brush them and ride them again. So, I started taking riding lessons after that.”
Adams has since grown from a fascinated 4-year-old girl to a strong-willed young woman. Recently, her love of horses and Texas Tech's beloved mascot collided when she was named the 60th Masked Rider.
“I am looking forward to working with Ashley,” said Stephanie Rhode, director of the Spirit Program. “I've had a lot of fun getting to know her as a Masked Rider Assistant over the past two years, and I anticipate that we'll make a lot of great memories together as she serves as Texas Tech's 60th Masked Rider.”
A passion sparked
Even before that fateful birthday party when Adams was 4, her love for horses was apparent.
“When Ashley was about 6 months old, my husband Shane and I had season tickets to the Texas Tech football games,” Diane said. “Since she was our first child, we would always get a sitter for the games. But, we had a sitter cancel for one of the games, so we decided we'd take Ashley with us. I had told my brother, ‘I know it's crazy taking a baby to the football game, but I'm hoping I get to stay at least until half time.' And I later told him, ‘I got to watch the whole game because Ashley watched the horse the whole time.'”
At that time, Diane worked in Texas Tech's psychology department. When it was Adams' first birthday, the people in the department got her the perfect gift.
“The faculty, staff and graduate students went together for Ashley's first birthday and bought her this antique bouncing horse from an antique mall, and she loved that horse,” Diane said. “We have videos of her on that horse from before she could walk.”
“When she went to that birthday party when she was 4, Ashley stayed out in the pasture still wanting to play with the horses. One of the ladies who was working at the party said, ‘Most kids don't care about this horse. Your daughter's different.'”
Though Adams' parents weren't well versed in the equestrian world, they knew they needed to get her involved. Shortly after the birthday party, Adams began taking riding lessons.
“I eventually started taking lessons at the Texas Tech Equestrian Center, and that really furthered my love for horses,” Adams said. “But, only being able to go there once a week soon wasn't enough. I wanted more. My parents told me if I could save up a certain amount of money, then I could buy a horse.”
Diane said she and Shane gave Adams what they believed to be a daunting amount of money in order to buy a horse.
“We told her, ‘You're going to have to save $1,000,' because we thought $1,000 is a lot of money to a 10-year-old-kid,” Diane said. “Ashley made flyers for her own pet sitting business and put it out to all of her friends. She also told the college kids at the equestrian center she would clean their stalls for $5. Ashley started saving all that money, and when she finally had $1,000, it was time to start looking for a horse.”
With the money in hand, Adams bought her first horse, Lena.
“My parents' eyes were huge,” Adams recalled. “They realized this wasn't a phase, and it has evolved from there. Lena was my youth horse, and I showed her in 4-H competitions. I even went to state with her in Abilene.”
Becoming a Red Raider
There wasn't any doubt in Adams' mind that she was going to Texas Tech. In fact, she dropped out of the traditional high school setting through the Lubbock Cooper Independent School District and enrolled in Texas Tech's TTU K-12 just so she could graduate early.
“When I was a junior going into my senior year in the summer of 2013, I was working for Bill and Michelle Cowan in Ardmore, Oklahoma, riding cutting horses,” Adams said. “I finally saw an industry that I had always loved up close and personal. I got to learn so much from them. I asked Bill, my boss, ‘How do I become you?' And he said, ‘Go get your education first, and if you can ride horses while you do it, that's even better.' So that's how I really decided I wanted to go to Texas Tech because it would allow me to get my education and compete on the Texas Tech Ranch Horse Team.
“So, for my senior year, I enrolled in TTU K-12 and finished my entire senior year in one semester so I could get to Texas Tech faster.”
Once at Texas Tech, Adams joined the Ranch Horse Team and showed a gelding horse, Maverick, for two years.
“I learned so much from him, my teammates and my coaches,” Adams said. “Then, I moved on from Maverick to my current horse, Mighty. I showed him the last two years of my undergraduate career. Since then, I've shown him in the National Reined Cow Horse Association.”
Adams said her time with the Ranch Horse Team is something she'll always cherish.
“I was part of that team for four years, and we were National Champions in 2015 and 2016,” Adams said. “That, to me, is always a feel-good moment when you see all of your hard work pay off. I'm pretty proud of those two national titles.”
Becoming the Masked Rider
Even though Adams graduated from Texas Tech in 2017 with her bachelor's degree in equine production, she wasn't done with school – or her dream to become the Masked Rider. Before becoming the university's most recognized mascot, she had tried out twice previously. Though she didn't become the Masked Rider sooner – people rarely are chosen after their first audition – Adams became an assistant.
“Having tried out three times, you kind of start slowly figuring out more and more about yourself,” Adams said. “Having been an assistant for the 58th Masked Rider, Emily Brodbeck, and the 59th Masked Rider, Cameron Hekkert, I've been able to see two riders in their roles with the public. During my time as an assistant, I fell so in love with the public, Fearless Champion and the behind-the-scenes parts. Being a Lubbock native, you always see the Masked Rider on the football field or at baseball games or an alumni event. But seeing the behind-the-scenes of it, it just furthered my love for the program, for Fearless Champion and for the Masked Rider.
“I was an assistant for two Masked Riders, and before that, I volunteered my time to the 57th Masked Rider, Lyndi Starr. It really gave me the opportunity to watch from behind the scenes and see how things are done and to understand better what is being asked of you as the Masked Rider. Watching three friends serve as the Masked Rider, the responsibility you have as an assistant is pretty large, but the responsibility of the Masked Rider is something you can't explain to somebody until you see it.”
The third time was the charm for Adams, and she was chosen to be the 60th Masked Rider for the 2021-2022 academic year.
“It feels so humbling and so exciting all at the same time,” Adams said. “To be named such a recognizable college mascot is an amazing feeling. It's very honoring and very humbling.”
Diane said she's proud to see Adams' progression from dressing up as the Masked Rider when she was little to becoming the actual mascot as an adult – especially since there's a long line of Red Raiders in the family.
“It's unbelievable,” Diane said. “It's been Ashley's lifelong goal to be the Masked Rider since she was a baby. To watch that come true for her is just incredible. In Lubbock, the Masked Rider is such a celebrity, regardless of who's wearing the cape and mask. Nationwide, people recognize the entrance of the Texas Tech Football Team because of the Masked Rider running through the smoke and leading the team onto the field. It is a one-of-a-kind, powerful entrance. So, for her to be able to represent Texas Tech, which is my family's alma mater, is just unbelievable for us. We're so excited for her and so blessed that she has this opportunity.”
Though restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic have started to loosen, there's still uncertainty on just how “normal” Adams' year as the Masked Rider will be. Adams notes that football games are her favorite Masked Rider tradition, and she is excited to continue it.
“To have a university that allows you to have a live mascot on the football field and lead the team out, that's just an incredible tradition that everybody knows and is so recognizable,” she said.
Though the fanfare of football is exciting, Adams said she also is looking forward to the quieter, but still important, events.
“My second favorite tradition is all of the community involvement,” she said. “You get to be involved with the community by going to appearances ranging from alumni events to elementary schools. While that's not a tradition that is as recognizable as football, that's still, to me, an important role. Letting kids pet Fearless Champion and ask questions is how we grow our Red Raider family. Engaging with the public, being able to make an impact and show that this icon and tradition belongs to every Red Raider is something I am excited to do.”
From the mother of a wannabe Masked Rider to the 60th one, Diane has some advice for her daughter.
“Enjoy it,” Diane said. “It's going to be over so fast. One year is gone in the blink of an eye. Savor every moment and enjoy every child that runs up to you because that used to be you running up to the Masked Rider.”