The tie that binds

Step sisters share a love of sports, just not the same ones

Running cross-country races gives Fruita Monument High School senior Mackennea Broyles, left, joy. Ashtyn Hammer, right, is an accomplished barrel racer. Though they compete on different fields, their is plenty of love between the two girls. They are step sisters who can’t imagine how they got along without the other for so long.

Two pictures with the same subject matter: A girl on a horse.

One picture shows a tiny girl with curly blonde hair. She is 1 year old, barely walking, barely talking, but completely at home on the horse.

The second picture is of a girl, 14 years older, with a completely different mood. She is bundled up, cold and unhappy. It is clear she would rather be anywhere else than on that horse.

The girls grew up, but the pictures still provide a window into their drastically different lives.

Mackennea Broyles on the first Monday of August was about to take to the halls of Fruita Monument High School for her senior year. For her last first day, Broyles chose patterned wide-leg pants, a gray lace shirt and wedges. Her wavy brown hair frames her face, and a silver heart-shaped nose ring completes the look.

Beside her that morning sat Ashtyn Hammer, who is approaching her second year at Colorado Mesa University. Hammer’s look was starkly different, but no less put together. She wore a simple sapphire-colored top, blue jeans, a jeweled belt buckle and cowboy boots.

Broyles and Hammer don’t look like they would ever run in the same circles, let alone live in the same house, but two years ago, they became sisters when Broyles’ mother married Hammer’s father.

Broyles and Hammer aren’t quite sure how their parents met, but after hearing far too many stories, they’ve settled on the most believable: They met while out shopping. A new baby, then a new marriage, and a new family of seven followed shortly after, and the two girls were brought together.

“It was kind of a shock at first,” Hammer said. “But now I couldn’t see it any other way.”

When Broyles first made the move with her mother and sister from Delta, the Hammer side of the newly formed family tried desperately to get Broyles on a horse.

“Horses are not my thing at all,” she laughed.

Hammer lives and breathes all things equine. Her father, Lonnie Hammer, trains horses, and her grandmother was an accomplished barrel racer. However, this was a family tradition Broyles wasn’t keen on being part of.

When Broyles was in seventh grade, she got a call from her best friend, begging her to give cross-country a try.

“Please, please, please,” said the voice on the other end of the phone.

Broyles had just given up on soccer and was looking for a new activity. She immediately was swept up in the world of cross-country.

“I was hooked,” she said. “I couldn’t (quit) if I tried.”

Recently, Broyles developed an interest in half-marathons and triathlons. This time, she was convinced by her neighbor, teacher and family friend to train and compete in a half-marathon.

Again, she was hooked.

To Broyles, half-marathons are to the running world what chess is to board games: a deep thinking and strategy-filled task.

“It was so different, but so much fun,” she said. “Just like any other distance, you have time to take in the scenery and strategize to think about what you are going to do and how you are going to run. In sprint running you just go, and in a longer race you can strategize, which is cool.”

Broyles was led to her love of running by a friend, but Hammer almost had to be a barrel racer. It was fate.

Since she was that 1-year-old perched on a horse, Hammer has been around the sport, and at the age of 6, she began competing in peewee rodeos. Now, Hammer travels all over Colorado and parts of Wyoming to race.

According to Broyles, when Hammer gets on a horse, she becomes a different person.

“She is goofy and fun-loving and relaxed, until the moment of (the race), and then she is suddenly so focused,” Broyles said. “If a tornado came, I don’t think it would snap her out of focus. She gets out there, and she knows what she has to do, and she does it exactly, but when she is done, it’s all fun and games again.”

Hammer and Broyles are on opposite ends of the sports spectrum, but their 2-year-old sister, Carli, falls right in the middle.

Carli already loves horses just like Hammer, and she loves to go “wunning” around the block with Broyles. Through Carli, it is also easy to see the thing that pulls Hammer and Broyles together.

When talking about Carli, both girls can’t stop smiling. They both have the same light in their eyes and the same tone in their voices. Family is the most important thing to them, and although theirs is a bit unconventional, and at times challenging, it is everything they could ever want.


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