Taylor runs with the buffalo

Network News Spring 2014, Vol. 27 No. 1
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The first time Taylor Stratton saw CU-Boulder’s mascot Ralphie run onto the field at a home football game, she knew she wanted to join the team of Ralphie Handlers. Ranked one of the top college mascots in the country, Ralphie is a real buffalo – female American bison to be precise -- that leads the CU football team onto Folsom Field. Ralphie Handlers are varsity student-athletes who run with Ralphie around the field before the games.

“It’s the coolest thing in college sports to watch Ralphie run and I just knew I had to do it,” said Stratton, a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) student at Niwot Ridge LTER who graduated in December 2013 with a triple major in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Environmental Studies, and Geography and is currently employed as an Admissions Counselor Intern at the University of Colorado. 

As a Niwot REU student, Stratton participated in an American pika research project studying the potato-sized, hamster-like mammals that live in the Rocky Mountains (see separate story elsewhere in this issue). During the spring 2013 semester, Stratton studied wildlife conservation and political ecology in Tanzania, where she stayed with a local family and learned to speak Swahili while earning college credit.

Stratton grew up in Southern Colorado on her family's working ranch, which raised beef cattle and Quarter Horse racehorses. “Transitioning to college was a bit of a rough transition for me and I was missing all of my animals pretty badly when I went to the first home football game. I saw Ralphie lead the team into the field, and immediately knew that it was something I wanted to be a part of. Ralphie running is easily one of the most exciting and unique things I have ever seen and it has been a privilege to be a part of it during my time at CU,” she said.

As a Ralphie handler, Stratton spent the majority of her time interacting with fans, which she considered a true privilege. “It doesn’t get better than having kids and adults of all ages come up and talk about how much they love Ralphie,” she noted. “All of our hard work and physical training culminates on game days when the crowd goes wild as Ralphie leads the Buffs onto the field before the game, and again at half time. There is a special thrill you get listening to the fans chant for Ralphie, and knowing that as soon as the gates open you and an 1,100lb animal will go charging down the field!"