Few things in the world compel people to give of themselves more than a child in need. For Wrangler NFR contestants, the PRCA Exceptional Rodeo offers a great chance for them to enrich the lives of Las Vegas-area children who are facing an uphill climb.
The Exceptional Rodeo – held each year for special-needs children – has always been one of my favorite events to cover, and this year’s 29th installment was a blast yet again. Approximately 40 Clark County children with special needs came to the Thomas & Mack Center at 10 a.m. Monday to participate in the one-of-a-kind rodeo.
They were joined by nearly 50 Wrangler NFR contestants, including World Champions Dean Gorsuch, Sherry Cervi and Lindsay Sears and other stars such as Bradley Harter, Tuf Cooper, Todd Suhn and Seth Glause. Announcers Bob Tallman and Boyd Polhamus helped kick off the rodeo, which was also attended by Miss Rodeo Canada 2012 Arleta Bowhay, Wrangler NFR barrel man Crash Cooper and U.S. Forest Service mascot Smokey Bear.
The Exceptional Rodeo participants, who all suffer from either mental or physical ailments, were paired up with a Wrangler NFR contestant and went through a series of “events.” From roping a steer head and riding bucking bull and horse apparatuses to riding a real horse, running barrels on a stick horse and bulldogging a stuffed steer, the participants were able to experience every rodeo event.
The children received t-shirts, cowboy hats, ropes, gold trophies, autographs and pictures with their special Wrangler NFR teammate. They were accompanied by their teachers and parents and were able to be the stars of the Thomas & Mack Center arena.
“The kids are really having a good time with their cowboy heroes,” said PRCA Exceptional Rodeo Executive Director Ruth Dismuke-Blakely. “We’ve got a lot of Wrangler NFR contestants here, and they’re sharing their sport of rodeo. These cowboys are on the road on a hard, competitive trail all the time, and for them to have a moment to stop and see their sport of rodeo through these kids’ eyes and be heroes for them is just a real bright spot.
“We’ll have friendships forged here that last long after this event’s left town.”
It’s always heartwarming to see how much fun the kids have, and the Wrangler NFR contestants and personnel who participate often get just as much out of the experience. For a skeptic with cynical tendencies like me, it’s refreshing to have your faith in humanity renewed by events like this.
The rodeo not only means a lot to the children, but also to their parents.
“This is a joy that nobody else can give them,” said Dione Jackson, mother of Jena, who was accompanied at the rodeo for the second straight year by Cooper. “It’s a different experience that makes them forget their troubles or whatever they’re going through, and it gives them a minute to put a smile on their face and forget about things.”
I’ve had several contestants tell me through the years that they think they get more out of it than the children, and bull rider Glause said he had a lot of fun participating.
“I had a lot of fun coming here and hang out with these kids,” said Glause, who won Round 1. “You see their eyes light up when they get to be around the horses and in the arena. The little girl I was with today loved it and was all over the place. It was a lot of fun.”
Glause also said meeting the children gives the contestants an important perspective on life.
“They’re going through some hard times, so it makes a guy really appreciate what he has and what he’s able to do,” Glause said. “It’s great that they can have this event. We can hopefully make their day better, and they dang sure make our day better.”
The children all leave with their heads held high, eyes gleaming and hands filled with gifts and trophies. They head out of the arena as champions, and that’s just the way it should be.