Born to Ranch – Kari McKay

by Elsie Eide Kelly

She grew up on a wheat and cattle ranch north of Almira where she helped with the chores, preferring to work with her horse and the cattle. Raised by her Dad, she helped care for her grandmother, who lived on the ranch with them until she was 97. Anything on horseback and with the cattle was heaven for Kari. Her Dad seemed to understand that she was not mechanically inclined to be as valuable in the wheat fields so he supported her in what she felt most comfortable doing.

Kari McKay

Kari has always been athletic. She played all sports in high school with basketball being her love. She had hoped for a basketball scholarship but never received one. She kept on pushing and eventually accidentally became a runner, which turned out to be her forte. She won state honors in track in her senior year. She made her mark early!

Community College of Spokane offered her a running scholarship and she moved to Spokane to pursue her education and run like crazy. She still helped her Dad on the ranch on her weekend trips home. But, while she got a scholarship for running, her Dad didn’t understand that running was actually a sport. He wanted her to go into basketball but after she kept winning her events he eventually got on board and never missed any of her races no matter what state they were held in. Kari eventually transferred to Eastern Washington University, graduating in 1993 with All-American Honors and having set a few school records with her running.

Since she went through school on running scholarships, she took the money her Dad had set aside for her education and bought cows for the ranch. She would go home on holidays and in between semesters to help her Dad on the ranch and keep an eye on all the cows.

After a very successful college running career, she decided to continue with an eye on the Olympics. She bought a house in Spokane and filled it with roommates to help cover expenses and train for the women’s marathon. In 1998, she won her first marathon, against the odds, at Portland, Oregon. She was the first woman to run in and made the cover of the Oregonian for her effort. Her time of 2:45.59 was enough to qualify for the 2000 Olympic Marathon. She ran in the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Trials but did not qualify to compete in them. After running the New York Marathon a couple of times and a few other marathons she retired from competitive running to return to the ranch and repay her father for all the support he had provided for her over her young lifetime. Now, after buying out her father, they work together on the ranch and he can relax a little and enjoy retirement while still keeping his hand in the business.

She thinks that her luck in running has had a lot to do with the “village of people” who have stood by her and helped her. She enjoyed the wonderful friends she gained along the way. Therefore, she feels a deep need to connect with her community and does it by doing rescue work with others of like mind helping animals in need of rescue from a variety of situations. She says there are quite a few people out around our area who work together to problem solve whenever a pet turns up missing or is found wandering. This group of Facebook users, with the Lincoln County Lost and Found Pet Network as the pivot point, work together to reunite lost pets with owners or place abandoned animals in new homes. She is not formally connected but is a well known participant in the work of that group, especially in north Lincoln County. She is the one who is called when a pet in that area is in need and does her best to get the animal trapped and rescued.

Kari is fiercely independent. She is a rancher through and through and appears to feel that boundaries sometimes need pushing. She expands her life to where the need is at the time. If she hears of animals in need even hours away, she will get her rig loaded with what she needs and go on a rescue mission. She is known for that. “What speaks to her heart is what she follows,” according to her friend Gina Habbestad. She goes where the need is at the time. She just gets it done.

If you ask around in the community, most everyone knows Kari and will have a story to tell you about her adventures all across her life from the time she was young. They all know of her love of ranching. She loves her cows and is devoted to raising good quality animals. She is a forward thinking rancher and puts her knowledge of the qualities offered by different breeds to work on cross-breeding just the right calf for the market. Since she works the cows mostly by herself it is important for her to have gentle animals. She primarily raises Angus crosses and likes Gelbvieh animals for the additional natural gentleness they offer. The last thing she wants to deal with is wild cows and calves.

In addition to her love of helping animals, she also has a kind heart towards her neighbors and friends. She was instrumental in helping get needed items to those devastated by the wildfires in our area last year that left a number of people homeless and with their livelihoods damaged. She helped make sure they had feed for their animals and also items for themselves that would help them through the hard time immediately after the fires.

So the bottom line with Kari is that she’s a very positive influence in our community and can be counted on to step in and help whenever it is needed, no questions asked. She’s a good role model for the younger members of the community and her caring comes from the depths of her heart.

Elsie Eide Kelly is a Lincoln County resident who has been a recipient of this community’s kindness and help.