When there is a good story, it doesn’t matter how many times it’s told, it’s still a good story.
Such is the case with the Exceptional Rodeo held in conjunction with the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR). It is an event that has brought rodeo contestants and special needs children together for the past 34 years.
Presented by NV Energy, the Exceptional Rodeo has been part of the events in Las Vegas since they started hosting the NFR. There are now over three decades of memories stored in the hearts of participants, fans and family members.
It is a special effort for NFR contestants to take an hour out of their busy schedules to go through modified rodeo events with the kids, but it is well worth it. Sherry Cervi has made a point of participating for years and the last two years has brought her team roping husband, Cory Petska along.
“I’ve just been here the last two years,” Cory said. “It’s so awesome. I really regret not doing it every year I’ve been here.”
The current Miss Rodeo America Katherine Merck was paired with 10-year-old Sergio Chavez. She took him to individual stations where he could rope a steer, run the barrel pattern on a stick horse, ride a dummy bucking bull and horse.
“He loved riding the bulls,” Sergio’s mother Sylvia Chavez said. “I’m so happy that Miss Rodeo America took the time to spend with him. He is a mama’s boy so it was really special for me to watch him with her.”
Organizer Ruth Dismuke-Blakely started the Exceptional Rodeo with the idea that it would be a way for rodeo contestants to give back to local communities. She is a speech/language pathologist and professional horsewoman who has been involved in hippotherapy since 1975. They use props and set up events with the safety, care and well-being of the children in mind.
Children arrived at the Wrangler Arena at Cowboy Christmas ready to get on the dirt and be cowboys and cowgirls for a little part of their day. When they arrived, each was outfitted with a t-shirt, hat and bandana. They also got ropes and trophies to commemorate their participation. And pictures were taken with their contestant partners.
“Everyone here is a winner,” Dismuke said. “We’ve had so many great stories come out of Exceptional Rodeo. It’s amazing to see the smiles on the participants faces, but the real reward is often to the contestants.”
WNFR barrelman John Harrison along with bull fighters Dusty Tuckness, Cody Webster and Nate Jestes all were part of this very special morning. John who appeared in the opening ceremony with his son, Caz, was partnered with Max who made a big impression.
“Max loved the dirt,” he said. “We go all over the country and when we have the chance to bring a little happiness to a child and their family we need to jump on it. That puts a smile on my face.”
After John and Max went through their events, Caz and John’s daughter, Addison, came to say hi to Max. His parents explained that while he couldn’t talk if they would pat him on the knee and say hi, he would know what they were doing.
Max’s reaction was instantaneous and the smiles just kept coming. Young and old, contestant and fan, it was a gratifying experience for all. And this is one story I look forward to telling every year.