Elkanah Riley can relate to the guys on the television show “The Big Bang Theory.” And it doesn’t bother the Brule, Neb., cowboy one bit.
The 18-year-old is a self-proclaimed “science geek,” who enjoys science but is involved in many other activities. As a senior at Ogallala High School, he is a steer wrestler, team roper and tie-down roper in the Nebraska High School Rodeo Association, is leader of his school’s Science Club, captain of the Quiz Bowl, is a football player, wrestler and 2012 State Power Lifting Champion in the 132 pound division.
Science and engineering are his future, and he has a good start on it. The school’s Science Club competed at the Science Olympiad, and in its first year of competition last year, did well, finishing “in the middle of the pack,” Elkanah said. He and a partner finished fifth in the state with their gravity vehicle. This year, the team is making a wood and paper elastic glider launched with a rubber band.
His favorite class is calculus and chemistry lab, and his favorite teacher is Mr. Jason Glenn. “He can command an audience in the classroom, and he knows how to add just the right amount of seriousness and fun into a class and it makes it great.” Elkanah knows that liking calculus makes a person a math nerd. “You have to embrace the fact that if you’re sitting in that (calculus class) seat, you’re a nerd, and he understands that. With the kind of comedy we throw out, you can only understand if you’re smart, and that’s what makes it the best part.”
Last year, Elkanah also took part in the International Space Settlement Design Competition at NASA in Houston. Students were given 21 hours to design a business proposal for building a space station to orbit the moon. It was mentally taxing, Elkanah said, but good for him. “I was thoroughly exhausted, but looking back, it was a really good opportunity to see what it was like.”
That experience has helped him decide to pursue a career in aeronautical engineering, and he hopes to be accepted to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. He’s received two nominations, one from Representative Adrian Smith and a second from Senator Ben Nelson, and he has fulfilled all other obligations. If he attends the Academy, he’ll compete on the rodeo team there.
What drives him? He likes to win, but he also likes the sense of accomplishment. “You only live once, so you need to make the best of what happens, every day. You want to look back and say, you did everything you could.”
Elkanah has competed at the Nebraska State High School Finals Rodeo in Hastings three years, and looks to go back again in all three of his events in June.
He didn’t grow up in a rodeo family; his mother was a farm girl, and his dad was from Seattle. At age five, he wanted a horse, and neighbors Brad and April Harms promised him, when he was eight, they’d help him learn to ride. So, two weeks after his eighth birthday, April called Elkanah’s mom from a horse sale, and said, “Bring the checkbook. He’s got his horse.” They have helped him learn to ride and have mentored him through rodeo.
And when he watches “The Big Bang Theory,” he often recognizes the science things written on the white boards in the background. “Sometimes I can look at a white board (on the show) and know, ‘Oh, we’re going over that in class.’ As far as the things they find funny, I can relate, because you know what they’re talking about.” But unlike the guys on the show, Elkanah gets the girls every time. “Yeah, right,” he chuckles.
He is a member of the National Honor Society, Spanish Honor Society, and is a Junior Leader of Archery in 4-H.
He is the son of Shawn and Kim Riley. ❖