When most people think of cowboys, they think of the wild West, ranches, rodeo and men who are rough and tough. The color pink likely never comes to mind.
But, alas, the Thomas & Mack Center was a sea of pink Monday night, as the Wrangler NFR celebrated “Tough Enough To Wear Pink Night.” The sport’s top charity, TETWP is sponsored by Wrangler and raises money year-round for the fight against breast cancer.
There is a TEWTP trailer located outside the Thomas & Mack Center that has been selling merchandise all week, and much of those products were on display Monday night. Rodeo attendees, staff and contestants were decked out in pink of all shades and types.
Pink cowboy hats, shirts, caps, boots, scarves and pants could be found throughout the building, as people went the extra mile to show their support of the program. As in past years, the PRCA Media Department used pink paper to print all of the statistics in the Wrangler NFR press room, and it always warrants a comment or two from various media types.
Bareback rider Brian Bain wore a pair of fluffy, shag carpet-like pink chaps that looked like they came straight off a 1970s suburban bathroom floor. Heck, even most of the horses were sporting pink leg wraps.
It’s impressive to think about the money that’s been raised by the TETWP program since it began in 2004, and Monday night was a celebration of that. There were a number of breast cancer survivors in attendance, and it was an emotional night for many.
The cruel reality is that many people have been touched by the diabolical disease, either directly or indirectly, and it is a galvanizing affliction that unites people from all walks of life. The rodeo world has been behind the cause of raising money for treatment and research for years, and its dedication has been nothing short of amazing.
PRCA Commissioner Karl Stressman and TETWP co-founder Terry Wheatley – herself a breast cancer survivor – presented a check for $12 million after the tie-down roping to represent the total money raised for the worthy cause.
Stressman is most impressed by the grassroots nature of the donations and how everyday people are giving to the cause just as strongly as corporate America.
“This industry cares for itself and for its own,” Stressman said. “The biggest thing people don’t understand about Tough Enough To Wear Pink is that it was a deal that was largely raised $5 at a time from people who probably couldn’t afford the five dollars. It was done with bake sales and car washes, and that just shows how we are one big family.”
Wheatley said she was surprised by how immense the support for the TETWP program has been.
“I had no idea it would get to be this big,” she said. “Rodeo raised $2.2 million this year in a tough economy, more rodeos participated and more people got involved. It was exceptional.”
Wheatley said she expects the program to keep growing in the future.
“My daughter, Katie, said there was another 25 to 40 rodeo committee members who came up to her this week at the convention and asked how to get involved,” Wheatley said. “So, I look to next year as being even bigger than this year.”
Jhett Johnson, the heeling half of the team that won the team roping in Round 5, is a testicular cancer survivor, so he can relate to breast cancer survivors. He and partner Turtle Powell won the round in 3.8 seconds and stand second in the average heading into the second half of the rodeo.
“To win on pink night is special, and it hits home with me,” said Johnson, who was declared cancer-free in 2006 and underwent surgeries in 1995 and 1996. “My wife said, ‘I would really like you to win this night one time.’ I’ve been 3.8 and 3.9 on pink night here in the past and had broken barriers, but to win it tonight is special.”
Johnson said he is more than happy to help inspire others afflicted with cancer.
“It’s not a death sentence,” Johnson said. “You can beat it ,and you should do what your doctors tell you to do. If it can help one person keep their chin up and realize that this guy did it and they can too, I’m cool with that.”
Johnson applauded Wrangler and the rodeo community for making TETWP into a national phenomenon.
“When it started, some rodeos would have a pink night and a few guys would wear pink, but now, every rodeo has a pink night,” he said. “It’s a tremendous deal. I see football and other sports getting in on the act, and if sports can have a hand in stopping this disease, we need to.”
Barrel racer Jill Moody is a cervical cancer survivor, so she knows how crucial the money raised is for those in need.
“I think the first time I noticed Tough Enough To Wear Pink was when I was at the NFR, and I was like, ‘What’s everybody wearing pink?’” Moody said. “Now you’re starting to see it in other professional sports, but I think it started in rodeo.”
Moody won the Wrangler NFR average last year in record fashion, but is riding a backup horse this year and is 12th in the average through five rounds. Still, she feels lucky to be able to compete in the sport she loves.
“It’s a scary thing to have to go through, but it doesn’t always have to be the end-all of everything,” she said. “I was very, very, very fortunate and lucky, so it breaks my heart to see some of the people who aren’t so lucky.
“I think I could set the record for the 10 slowest runs at the NFR this year. But when you put it in perspective with what’s happened in my life with cancer, I’m just thankful that I’m here to play.”
It’s important to note that ProRodeo Hall of Famer Joe Beaver was instrumental in getting the rodeo world involved in the fight against breast cancer, and it’s been a wave of support that began small and has morphed into a potent force.
It was a festive night that is always special at the Wrangler NFR. A tip of the hat to Wrangler and the TETWP program, and here’s to the next $12 million.