Well the past couple of weeks have been kind of quiet, haven’t they? After the outright insanity in the sports world over the past couple of months, what with the NHL and NBA having their free agency period, the relative lack of big sports news over the last few months has left a lot of columnists, including this one, kind of at a loss for words.
After all of that, I’m kind of snarked-out. So in light of that, I’m going to try a bit of stress relief and talk about one sport that I truly love and don’t get to talk about very often – rodeo.
I’m a huge rodeo fan. I love watching it, I love photographing it and I really enjoy the culture that surrounds it. To me, there’s nothing like relaxing by the arena and watching a dude jump on the back of a 1,500 lb. animal with horns and a severe anger management problem with the sole purpose of holding on tight for eight seconds. It’s awesome.
Over the past week and a half, I had the tremendous opportunity to cover my first ever Calgary Stampede.
I’ve covered many rodeos in the past, from the Innisfail Pro Rodeo to the Canadian College Finals Rodeo. I’ve even covered a CFR.
But covering the Stampede was something truly special. I met a lot of really cool cowboys and cowgirls and had the opportunity to watch some of the best rodeo action I have ever seen.
I swear, the rodeo world produces some of the best stories that you will ever hear. Take, for instance, the story of Mary Burger, a barrel racer and grandmother from Oklahoma, who, at the age of 67, won four of the days in her pool before going on to become the Stampede champion, much to the delight of fans in Calgary.
When I talked to Burger after her day four win, she had done interviews with nearly every media outlet in the city of Calgary. Yet when it came my turn she answered every one of my questions with a smile on her face.
“We’re just having fun,” Burger said.
Or take the story of Zane Lambert, a bull rider from Ponoka who, just 10 weeks before Stampede, had to be airlifted out of Stavely Rodeo after getting in a wreck and suffering two collapsed lungs and five broken ribs.
Miraculously Lambert managed to make a full recovery in time for Stampede and fought all the way to championship Sunday at the world’s richest outdoor rodeo.
Funny thing is, if you talk to nearly any cowboy riding at the Stampede last week, I’d bet that nearly every single one of them would tell you they’re planning on riding through an injury that would make any normal person want to stay home for the rest of the month.
To them injuries are just part of the job. Besides, no one’s going to miss the opportunity to ride for the Stampede’s grand prize of $100,000. You can buy a lot of stuff with that kind of money.
Stories like the ones above are the reason that I got into sports journalism in the first place. Every athlete has a story to tell, either about the win that got away, about how they got their start or about their path to success. Those are the stories that make us who we are and those are the reasons that we love sport.
But perhaps the thing that I love the most about covering pro rodeo is how accepting the community is.
I was born and raised a city boy and when I first started going to rodeos, I didn’t know the first thing about bucking horses or tie down roping. I had no idea what a chute or a barrier was. Heck, when I was shooting mutton busting on my first day as a rodeo photographer, I actually ended up running away from a sheep.
But the guys in the arena at the time all laughed it off and after making a number of, admittedly, funny jokes at my expense, they started to accept me as one of their own.
These guys aren’t hockey players who make $10 million a year. Most of them are actually ranchers who spend their summers on the road in a desperate attempt to break even on this whole rodeo thing.
So if you’ve never been to a rodeo before, or haven’t gone in awhile, I’d encourage you to travel out to one of the ones going on around the province between now and the CFR in September. Who knows, you may actually get a little mud on those cowboy boots you wear every once in awhile to Billy Bob’s.