What's Her Story? | Ralphie Handler Rachel Demby

If you’re like me, you probably walk around campus and read about alumni and see amazing women doing amazing things and wonder, “What’s her story?” So, I decided to find out. Introducing “What’s Her Story,” an ongoing series profiling amazing women doing amazing things.

 

1,600 pounds. 10,000 screaming fans. 270 yards to run. 30 seconds. 20 miles per hour. 1 buffalo. You’ve seen the incredible Ralphie Run, named one of the best traditions and live mascots in college sports.  Meet Rachel Demby, one of three incredible women behind Ralphie.

Her Campus CU Boulder: Where are you from, and what are you studying at CU?

Rachel Demby: I’m from Cortez, Colorado, but most people don’t know where that is, so it’s past Durango. I grew up on land with cows, and while I’m not a full-blown cowgirl, I did have experience with wildlife. I’m a fifth-year senior, majoring in Integrative Physiology, and I’m graduating in December. (I took a fifth year to do Ralphie again!)

HCCU: What made you want to become a Ralphie Handler? Did you run track in high school? 

RD: I ran track and cross country, and my older brother was a Ralphie Handler. I tried out at the end of my freshman year at CU but was not selected for the team.  At the time I was heartbroken, but it was definitely a blessing in disguise. I tried out again after my sophomore year and was lucky enough to be chosen. The rookie class I ended up being in are my best friends. 

HCCU: Can you tell us more about Ralphie? 

RD: Ralphie’s kind of like anyone when you first meet someone, she is a little apprehensive at first. She takes a little while to warm up to all the rookies. She has to get used to your scent and how you look in the Ralphie uniform. But she knows: people in black shirts and jeans are her safe zone. When she sees our coach’s truck, she’ll jog along the fence. When we back the trailer up, she knows she is coming with us. If you see her right before a run, she’ll be hopping around because she gets excited. We get a lot of questions if she is treated humanely, and I cannot think of a more well-pampered animal. She loves to be brushed and scratched on the ears, and she goes crazy for oats. We really do everything we can to make her more comfortable. If she wasn’t ready, we wouldn’t run. She’ll give us signals when she doesn’t want to run, and we have canceled showings and runs when she wasn’t ready. Thankfully that almost never happens. Every time those panels open, she bolts out of them. Ralphie knows when it’s game time. She’s 13 and still so fast, but when she doesn’t want to run anymore, she’ll let us know. 

HCCU: What’s the team like?

RD: There are 16 Ralphie Handlers and two coaches — 13 men and three women currently. There’s five positions on the buffalo, two in front, two in back, and one in the very back. Typically, the two handlers up front are the fastest, the two back positions are for guidance and extra brakes, and the one in the very back is the strongest and puts on the most brakes. We have a couple of people on the team who can do every position, and the coach puts up a sheet in the trailer detailed who is on the run and in what position. It’s very nerve-wracking when that sheet goes up on game days! How hard you work at practice really determines when and where you run. Since there are only 16 of us, the coaches really watch and can see improvement. The team works out four times a week, two days in the weight room and two days practicing with Ralphie. Our coach writes all of our running and lifting, which usually involves a lot of upper body strength and speed work. Our workouts are tailored specifically for running with Ralphie. The workouts are hard but fun. I’m definitely in better shape now than I’ve ever been.

HCCU: Do you have any pre-run rituals?

RD: The night before the game, we have a team BBQ. It’s nice to just hang out with everyone. Most of the time we have practice the Friday night before the game, then go to the store, cook and eat. On game day we are together for pretty much 12 hours. We have team breakfast together, we go to Ralphie’s ranch, then do Ralphie’s corral on campus. The people who know they are running stretch while everyone else puts the harness on Ralphie and get the panels set up. When I’m on a run, I’ll stretch and keep myself calm. I don’t get nervous to run with Ralphie, mostly just to run in front of thousands of people.

HCCU: What advice would you give to young women potentially interested in becoming a Ralphie Handler?

RD: Don’t let it intimidate you, it can be so intimidating especially because it’s a group of big “burly” guys. I’ve never had an issue with it. Girls say “I could never do it,” but anyone who wanted to do it, it’s no problem. If you like running and like working out, don’t be discouraged that the team is mostly guys. They’re incredibly supportive and fun to be around. 

HCCU: How does running with Ralphie change your perspective on life?

RD: Our coach put it this way, and I think it’s perfect. On a given game day, a run you’re on might be someone’s first and only time ever seeing Ralphie run. As I’ve gotten older, I've started to become numb to it. It’s nice to be reminded that I’m a part of something amazing, something that people will come out and see. It’s very humbling, and sad to know I’ve peaked in college!

HCCU: What’s the biggest thing you learned on the field?

RD: It’s 100% a team effort. The five people on the buffalo get all the glory, but the people who should get it are the people closing the trailer door, running behind to make sure nothing goes wrong. Even more, the real MVPs are our two coaches. Without them, we’d all be running around, not knowing what to do. We are the best people in the world at what we do, and it’s all because of them. HCCU: Any plans for after graduation? What else are you involved in?

RD: After graduation in December, I’m planning to attend medical school, so I’m in the application process right now. I’ve wanted to be a doctor since high school, so my goal now is to be a doctor practicing rural medicine. Outside of being a Ralphie Handler, I volunteer at a clinic in Longmont twice a week. It’s mostly for the homeless or those without insurance, and it’s been a great experience outside of college. I was a part of the sports medicine program for a year and a half, working with the cross country team. I was also a part of a biomechanics research lab, taught anatomy one summer and taught biology as an undergrad TA. Every summer I’ve been in Boulder I’ve worked at the tiny little Buff Team Store, too!

HCCU: What’s been your most memorable game? 

RD: My most memorable game was last year at the Veteran’s Day game. It was really fun for me because all of my best friends were on that run. It was the senior run, so they were all happy. It was the most picture-perfect run, so that game definitely sticks out in my mind. Plus, my hat stayed on for the whole run! HCCU: What kind of questions do people ask you?

RD: I get a lot of older men ask, “Do you run?” Yes, I run. I had a man last week that said, “You look really out of place here, all these guys look really big.” Sometimes I have people ask me if my team jacket is my boyfriend’s. My favorite thing on the team is when little girls come up to me and want to take pictures, just in awe. When you know you’re actually making an impact, it’s a good feeling. I’m trying to find more avenues to get more girls to try out. Physically, the coach does a great job of making sure we all get a fair shot at everything. If you work hard, you’re never going to get passed up for anything. I admire that about our coach. He has constantly challenged me to be just as good as the guys. I’ve seen people working at the rec working out and totally want to get them to try out but don’t want to stalk! So if there are any girls reading this page… our application is open! If anyone is interested, it’s due November 11! 

For more on Rachel, check out her feature on SB Nation here. Follow @cubuffsralphie on Instagram for Buffalo Fact Fridays, game highlights, and some fantastic pictures of the handlers and Ralphie!  Special thanks to Rachel Demby for all of her fabulous photos!

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