Michaela Richbourg, Athlete
Growing up in Broken Bow meant lots of time outdoors for Michaela Richbourg.
She remembers fondly the big family hunting trips to the river, where her relatives would try to one-up each other with stories of the biggest deer they ever saw. At Thanksgiving, family elders cook Choctaw traditional foods like tanchi labona and banaha to share with everyone. In this close-knit family, Michaela found the love and support that is so cherished among the Choctaw people.
While hunting and fishing hold a special place in Michaela’s heart, she is most at home on the field. An elite athlete since childhood, she played several sports, including football, little league baseball and travel league softball. Eventually, her talent and hard work landed her a spot on the Oklahoma State University softball team.
"When you see failure, there's an option to get better and grow within different opportunities."
Traditionally, OSU athletes wear orange and black, but Michaela wears her turquoise uniform in our photos as part of OSU’s partnership with Nike’s N7 project, which seeks to honor the culture and traditions of Indigenous people in sports. Basketball and softball players wear the N7 turquoise uniform in select games, particularly during Native American Heritage Month. According to OSU’s statement on the partnership, the color turquoise is significant because it “represents harmony, friendship and fellowship in the Native American culture.”
Playing college sports taught Michaela how to hold herself accountable for a growing list of responsibilities. Balancing school with softball practice and a social life isn’t always easy, but time management is one skill Michaela put to good use, but she is most grateful for her teammates who became a family-away-from-family. “You have to build a good relationship with your teammates and your coaches to have a successful career and be happy,” she said.
In addition to balancing her responsibilities as a student athlete, Michaela realized college softball wasn’t like high school softball. The pace of the game is different, and the skills required to be successful required her to step up her practice habits. “They open your eyes up with more drills, and there’s always more that you can learn,” said Michaela, “But it helps not having to go through it on your own. On the bad days, your teammates are there to help build you up.”
Of course, the bad days are just part of the learning process. According to Michaela, “If you’re not failing, that means you’re not getting any better. If you’re succeeding at everything, that means you’re not growing as a person. When you see failure, there’s an option to get better and grow within different opportunities.” Dealing with failure may not be easy, but she believes not being afraid to ask questions and get help is the most important thing.
"Be open to other people’s opinions and be willing to try something new."
After college, she returned to Southeastern Oklahoma to teach middle school special education in Allen. Working with special needs students has been a calling for Michaela since childhood. She recalls a classmate who was told at an early age that he would never walk again. Over time, Michaela got to watch him progress from being in a wheelchair to walking the halls with his cane. “It was the coolest thing to see, and it just kind of pulled me towards that,” she said. Working one-on-one with a boy from her church who had a disability solidified Michaela’s calling to teach.
Having a niece and nephew who have Down Syndrome has also taught Michaela a lot about how others see disability. Often people don’t look past the disability to the person behind it, which leads to misguided ideas about what that person is able to do. “Even though someone has a certain disability, they are still able to accomplish multiple things that you may not consider,” Michaela said.
Michaela draws on the strength of her Choctaw ancestors for inspiration in her daily life. She knows the responsibility for things they were unable to accomplish now rests on her shoulders, an honor she is proud to bear. She also relies on her faith as a Christian to keep herself connected to the past, present and future.
Together, We're More
More Than an Athlete
Knowing who you are and where you came from matters. Community ties are what ground us in tradition and cultural values. Hear how Michaela Richbourg draws on the strength of her ancestors to be successful.