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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Jim Wayment talks to his daughter Whitney at the high school rodeo finals at the Wasatch County Fairgrounds in Heber City on Friday, June 8, 2012.
And she's done it all on a backyard horse. This will be a bump in the road for her. This is rodeo. —Jim Wayment

See more photos of the rodeo

HEBER CITY — Kayla Wayment looked at the tiny, sleeping baby and listened to the pediatrician's question in anger and disbelief.

"Why would you go to Russia and adopt a baby that is so severely mentally retarded she'll never be able to do anything?" Wayment said the doctor asked. "I picked Whitney up in her little baby carrier and walked to the door. And then I turned around and said, 'My baby is just find and she'll prove it to everyone.' "

And watching that now-grown young woman navigate the pole bending event at the Utah State High School Finals Rodeo on the back of her powerful buckskin horse in about 20 seconds, one has to wonder what that doctor was thinking.

In fairness, when the Wayments brought Whitney to Utah at 7 months old, she weighed just 7 pounds and suffered from a long list of medical conditions, including malnutrition and a hernia.

But that little girl had done more fighting in seven months than some people do in a lifetime. In fact, just her survival was a miracle.

"She was born in Russia and she was just 13/4-pounds when she was born," said Jim Wayment. "Her mom went in for an abortion, and Whitney was born."

No one thought she would live, but she did.

No one thought she would ever walk, but she did.

No one believed she'd be able to talk, but she can.

"There have been so many miracles," said Jim Wayment, wiping away tears.

With numerous health problems, the only reason the Wayment couple was allowed to adopt her from Russia was because her health was so poor.

In fact, the woman they paid to broker the adoption left Kayla alone in Moscow with no paper work, and she faced the threat of being prosecuted for kidnapping. It took two months and the help of another couple duped by the same woman to work out the adoption and arrange to bring Whitney to the U.S.

"I never had any doubt it would work out," Kayla said after her daughter's final pole bending run Friday at the Wasatch County Fairgrounds.

In fact, she knew the minute she held Whitney in her arms that the baby girl was meant to be their daughter. She calls it a "mother's instinct" and said she felt just as she did when she gave birth to her other three children.

Jim Wayment said they can't really explain why they know she was always meant to be part of their family.

"I've never second guessed it my whole life," said Jim. "She was supposed to be ours."

Still, he admits through tears that, "she looked rough."

Since then, her life has been blessed but it has not been easy.

When she was about 7 years old, she was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, which is a developmental disorder on the autism spectrum, and usually means that a person has normal or high intelligence but poorly developed social abilities. The disease can look like other issues, but the Wayments have chosen to treat it with years of therapy and by involving Whitney in just about any and every activity the little girl could handle.

It paid off.

Whitney no longer looks any different than any other cowgirl at the rodeo. She followed her siblings into rodeo and 4H because she loves animals so much. She was riding through a neighbor's pasture with her father when she saw Buck and asked her dad if she could buy him.

She used her own money, earned from showing steer, to buy the horse and she's used him in pole bending, as well as in barrel racing, although she didn't do much barrel racing until recently.

She hoped to earn a trip to the National High School Rodeo next month in pole bending, but that dream ended when she knocked over a pole in her second run Friday morning. She wasn't even comforted to know that she may earn a prize for her third-place run in barrel racing.

As Wayment finished her final high school pole bending run, she broke down in tears. She told her mom she didn't want to stay and watch other girls earn what she'd been dreaming about for years. As she tried to understand what her dad was telling her about disappointment being part of rodeo, and part of life, too, she couldn't help expressing her dismay at "failing."

She accepts hugs and congratulations from other competitors, even as she argues with them about whether or not she had anything to be proud of.

"You finished the run and we're proud of you," said Kayla.

And then her mom explains that losing isn't failing. She's done more than most just by being in the competition.

"Most people don't realize what these kids do out here," said Jim.

It might seem that just participating is enough for a girl with disabilities so severe that a vocational rehabilitation counselor recently told her the government wouldn't waste money trying to educate her. But Wayment said the possibility of winning is what she loves most — well, next to Buck.

Just like her parents knew Whitney belonged to them, she knew that buckskin horse belonged to her. He was young, easily spooked and barely rideable when the two began working together.

"He'd walk up to the fence and let her climb on his back," said Jim, choking back emotion again. "He's kind of taken care of her his whole life."

What Whitney has accomplished should silence any critics. She graduated with honors from Fremont High this spring and she's won numerous belt buckles and awards for her riding and her 4H efforts.

"And she's done it all on a backyard horse," said Jim with a grin. "This will be a bump in the road for her. This is rodeo."

Her parents said competing has given Whitney confidence and self-esteem. It's made her feel a part of something, competent and normal.

"It's just been a great blessing," said Kayla. "She's affected so many people. … She's brought an understanding about autism and Asperger's to our family, her school and this rodeo community."

Whitney isn't ready to discuss that lesson, but she graciously agrees to answer a few questions about her future. Despite being told that the government likely wouldn't help her earn a vocational degree, her mother said they are determined to find a way for her to be as self-sufficient as her siblings.

Whitney said she's begun writing "Christian songs."

"I'm starting to write some Christian songs," she said. When asked what led her down that road she says, "I'm LDS, and maybe Heavenly Father wants me to do that. It comes pretty easy once you think about it."

And despite still struggling with losing her high school rodeo dream, she has some advice for parents who have a child struggling with autism or Asperger's syndrome.

"Don't let anyone tell your kid he can't do stuff when he can," she said.

For full rodeo results, visit uhsra.org.

email: adonaldson@desnews.com twitter: adonsports