I’ve written numerous times about how the rodeo industry is one big family. It’s a matter of pride for those in the Western world that the rodeo community is such a tight-knit group that is always willing to help out its fellow man or woman.
An illustration of that is what happened to Wrangler NFR steer wrestler Todd Suhn’s family on the night of Round 1. I was at Bob Tallman’s charity bowling tournament on Saturday when I learned of the story, and I felt compelled to share it because of its heartwarming nature.
I was introduced to Barbara Rinehart, Suhn’s mother and Jake Rinehart’s aunt, and she had quite the story for me. On the afternoon of the first performance, she was taking her other son, Justin, to the rodeo when she was involved in a traffic accident.
Knowing she was going to be tied up with the police for a while, Rinehart worried about getting Justin to the rodeo on time. You see, Justin has been confined to a wheelchair for the last 27 years.
He suffered a debilitating brain injury on June 28, 1984, at the age of 13 when a horse fell on him at the family’s South Dakota ranch. Justin was in a coma for more than two months and lost most of his motor control – including the skills that control speech, walking and eating – as a result of the accident.
He requires round-the-clock care, so much that Rinehart enlisted the services of a personal care attendant (PCA) in Las Vegas. So, needless to say, she was in quite the predicament.
While waiting for the police to arrive, Rinehart overheard a woman talking to a security guard at the Hard Rock about getting a cab to the Thomas & Mack Center. That woman turned out to be Colleen Hastings, the marketing coordinator and administrative assistant for the Dodge City (Kan.) Roundup Rodeo.
Rinehart approached Hastings, who had been attending a NASCAR event at the Hard Rock with her “significant other” Don, and told her about the situation. In true rodeo family spirit, Hastings volunteered to help get Justin and his PCA to the rodeo while Rinehart dealt with the accident report and the police.
Hastings and Don answered without hesitation.
“I asked them if they’d help take Justin and Morgan,” Rinehart said. “They said, ‘Sure, we can do that.’ It was just so nice. They just automatically said yes that they would help Justin get over there and go to the rodeo to watch his brother.
“They took Justin on as a family member and helped him. It’s just awesome.”
Unable to get Justin and his motorized scooter onto the shuttle bus, Hastings waited for the handicapped-accessible shuttle to arrive. What should have been a 15-minute wait turned into an hour-and-a-half ordeal in a growingly bitter cold night.
Finally, Hastings was able to get Justin and his PCA, Morgan Harris – who’d just met Justin and his family two days before and who had never been to a rodeo – onto the bus and to the Thomas & Mack Center.
After rushing to get the tickets and find a handicapped seating area, Hastings and Justin – holding a sign cheering on his brother – got there just in time to see Suhn make his run in Round 1. They also saw Justin’s cousin, Rinehart, make his run as well. (They both had 4.4-second runs and finished just out of the money.)
Once there, Hastings stayed with Justin and Harris for the entire rodeo. She was then making arrangements to get him back to the shuttle bus when Rinehart finally made it to the arena at the end of the rodeo.
Rinehart was eternally grateful for Hastings’ generosity and for making sure Justin didn’t miss his brother’s run.
“That’s why we rodeo – the people are awesome,” Rinehart said. “They step up to the plate, and everybody is good to everybody.”
Hastings said she felt compelled to help not only because it was the right thing to do, but also because she has a family member who is handicapped.
“You could just tell she was terribly distraught,” Hastings said. “I have a great niece with multiple disabilities. When you’re in rodeo, you’re family. My thought was, here you are inLas Vegas, this big city, you’ve got a disabled child and are in a situation where really, what are you going to do?”
Hastings vowed to take care of Justin at the rodeo as if he were her own son.
“I told Barb before we left, ‘I will not leave his side,’” Hastings said. “More important (than anything) was helping Barb fulfill what she needed to take care of. That was the most important part, that Justin got to see his brother and his cousin. It was all about Justin.”
In town to attend the annual PRCA Convention, Hastings only attended the rodeo that one night before heading home to Kansas. It wasn’t the viewing experience she expected, but she felt full of joy by being able to help rodeo family members in need.
“It wasn’t exactly what we anticipated going to the rodeo that night, but you know what? I think that’s how God works,” Hastings said. “Justin was so delightful, and I really enjoyed him. You could tell in his eyes that he was so appreciative. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
What makes the story even more amazing is that Hastings wasn’t even supposed to be at the Hard Rock that afternoon.
“We hadn’t even planned on going to that event, because it was sold out and we couldn’t get tickets,” she said. “We were standing next to somebody on the Strip earlier that day when they did the victory lap, and he happened to have two extra tickets. So, we ended up getting to go.”
Hastings thinks destiny played a big role in the sequence of events that occurred that cold December day.
“In my opinion, it was no accident whatsoever,” she said. “We were supposed to be there at that time, and I’m delighted that we were.”
So, what did Suhn think about Hastings’ generosity?
“This is just a great example of how people stick together in the rodeo community,” he said. “They go out of their way to make sure everybody has what they need, and they don’t look out for themselves first. If you see someone who needs help, it’s the cowboy way to help them, and it filters down through generations.”
Suhn said his brother’s situation helps put everything into perspective.
“It’s pretty hard to feel sorry for yourself when you see other people trying so hard just to do the little things,” he said. “What frustrates us in our sport is pretty trivial compared to what real life is about.”
Another great aspect of the story is that, because of Hastings’ efforts, Justin was able to keep an impressive streak going.
“He hasn’t missed a perf in 15 years at the NFR,” said Suhn, a 15-time Wrangler NFR qualifier. “He’s the main man and is the best fan ever.”
Fate can be a funny and beautiful thing. So can the kindness of a stranger.