Hekkert served as Texas Tech University’s iconic mascot during one of the most challenging years in recent history.
Texas Tech University has named Ashley Adams of Lubbock as its 60th Masked Rider. Adams is a graduate student majoring in animal science in the College of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources. She will serve as the Masked Rider for the 2021-2022 academic school year.
Cameron Hekkert, a graduating senior majoring in sport management from Highlands Ranch, Colorado, and who will enter Texas Tech's School of Law in the fall, has now passed the reins of iconic black steed Fearless Champion to Adams.
“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.”
As the 59th Masked Rider, Hekkert began her journey in August 2020 amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“Cameron served as the Masked Rider during an obviously difficult time, but she did so with great energy and positivity despite not being able to perform many traditional Masked Rider functions such as Carol of Lights®, Texas Tech Homecoming events and the iconic touchdown runs at Texas Tech football games,” Rhode said. “I will always admire her for doing more than 160 appearances despite these limitations caused by the pandemic and for her dedication to Texas Tech University.”
Hekkert said she cherished her time as the Masked Rider in spite of the COVID-19 restrictions.
“It was the best opportunity I've ever had in my life so far,” Hekkert said. “To know that there are only 59 people in the entire world who have been able to have this kind of experience just makes it that much more special, and it's also so humbling to know I'm one of the few people who's been able to do it. Obviously, this year has been so much different because of COVID-19, but I still wouldn't change it for the world.
“It's just been such a great opportunity for myself, to grow, and it's just been such an honor to be able to represent the university, because I love this university so much. So, it's just been great to give back to it, in a sense.”
Even though Hekkert didn't experience a typical year as the Masked Rider, she said the support she received from members of the Red Raider community is something she'll never forget.
“I think the best experience throughout the entire year was just seeing how much the Red Raider community came together and rallied in support for this program,” Hekkert said. “I felt so much support, not just from the Athletics department and from Stephanie and the whole Spirit Program, but also from the Red Raider fans I saw out every day. They really felt and recognized the challenge I was going through. They just elevated my experiences so much because they knew how hard it was, and they also had been going through hard times.
“Everyone I came in contact with was obviously going through this pandemic and kind of struggling, so being able to put a smile on their faces and have them laugh and tell me stories about when they were at Texas Tech was so rewarding. Getting to see little kids and having them smile and getting to be outside with a horse when they might never have seen a horse before, that was probably the best part. Getting to bring joy to these people when the pandemic has obviously been so tough on us, it was incredible.”
With so many memories made in such a short amount of time, Hekkert said the one that will stick with her the most is her steed, Fearless Champion.
“What I'll remember most is how great it was to work with Fearless Champion because he's just such a one-in-a-million horse,” she said. “I don't think there's another horse out there like him. He has such a fun personality, and he's so fun to be around, and he really does love his job. So, getting to go into this challenging year with him by my side was a great experience because he knows the drill for a lot of appearances.
“He's been doing this so much longer than I have, obviously, so getting to have him was kind of like a comfort zone, and he was always there when things were tough. So, getting to have him be that one consistent factor in a year when nothing was consistent, that's what I'll remember the most, just the time I got to spend with him and being able to cherish that.”
Hekkert also shared a few words of wisdom for Adams as she begins her time as the Masked Rider.
“My advice for Ashley would be not to take any moment for granted because, especially for my year during the pandemic, things can change in an instant,” Hekkert said. “You never know what's going to end up happening, so every appearance you go to, really cherish that time and appreciate what you have. Once she starts her year, there will be only 59 others who have been able to do this and know what it's like. It's a really special group of people. Just be aware that you're not going to get to do this forever, so really make sure you're spending the time wisely.”
Hekkert will begin law school in the fall and wants to focus on athletics in some way.
“I really enjoy being around athletics,” Hekkert said. “During my previous years in my undergrad, I was doing internships with athletics, so I really think I'd like to somehow go back into football or maybe do athletic directing or something like that.”
Hekkert said she couldn't hand over the reins without recognizing the hard work of those in the Spirit Program.
“I want to say thank you to Stephanie Rhode,” Hekkert said. “She, along with Fearless Champion, was one of the constants throughout my year. When things were changing or I was down in the dumps, she would tell me to look at the bright side and kept me going. She was always a support system for me, and I couldn't be more appreciative of our relationship.
“And to the rest of the Masked Rider committee, this year was so difficult. I know everyone really pushed for us to be able to do the things we were able to do this year, like running at football games. I'm so grateful everyone rallied around the program and pushed for us to continue the traditions of the past, even during the pandemic.”