Special guest writer – Jack Nowlin
Smiles were out in full force Monday at the Exceptional Rodeo at the Las Vegas Convention Center’s Wrangler Rodeo Arena.
Now in its 35th year, the Exceptional Rodeo brings together dozens of special-needs kids from around the area and contestants from the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for an hour of rodeo-style events.
“This helps show us just how lucky we really are,” said steer wrestler Tyler Pearson, who was second in the NFR average and the world standings entering the day. “This is an opportunity for us to come out here and be with these kids. And just seeing the laughing and the joy on their faces makes it all worthwhile.”
That joy was very evident at the make-shift bulldogging event Pearson was a part of. The kids – one bulldogger, one hazer – would ride stick horses toward a “steer” and the bulldogger then wrestled it to the ground. Although a number of kids instead chose to knock the steer over with their stick horse, no one cared. In fact, that only added to the enjoyment.
The kids, who were paired up with NFR contestants, also got to try their hands at stick horse barrel racing, roping and bronc riding. In the bronc riding, a “horse” was atop a board that two volunteers would then move slowly up and down while the kid hung on. At the end of each ride a whistle would blow and a score was given.
Safe to say that no one was bucked off and every kid made it to the whistle. Afterwards, the kid as well as everybody helping out was sporting a big smile.
“This is my ninth year coming to this and I think this is one of the highlights of the whole week,” said eight-time Bullfighter of the Year Dusty Tuckness. “There’s a lot of things going on with signing autographs and the rodeo and everything else, but this is something I really look forward to. I’ve got a good spot in my heart just seeing these kids come out and kind of experience our lifestyle a little bit.”
Lisa Lageschaar, 2017 Miss Rodeo America, who was here for the first time, shared Tuckness’s sentiments.
“I’m so thrilled to have gotten to come to the Exceptional Rodeo,” she said. “Through a week of being completely busy – I’ve slept maybe four hours a night for the last 10 days – this is like a reality check. It helps us realize that we are so blessed, because these kids face many more challenges than we ever could imagine.
“This is all very heartwarming, very grounding and very refreshing.”
In addition to the rodeo activities, the kids got to spend time with Smokey the Bear, get photos taken with the rodeo stars, and take home trophies and T-shirts. As for the cowboys and cowgirls and volunteers, they got to take home a reminder of how fortunate they are as well as some new friendships and memories.
“We are very blessed so to be able to spend some time and come hang out with these kids who don’t always get an opportunity like this,” said three-time world champion bull rider Sage Kimzey. “Just seeing the smiles on their faces makes it all worth it. Being part of something that is bigger than yourself just makes you feel good.”
The fact that the Exceptional Rodeo takes place during the NFR also offers the cowboys and cowgirls a chance to get away from the everyday stress of the rodeo while knowing they’re helping to make a difference.
“It’s great to take a load off and get away from all the craziness for a little bit,” Tuckness said. “For some of these kids this will be the only time they get to be around a rodeo all year long, so it’s awesome if we can put a smile on their face or give them a positive memory.
“In the end, they’re the stars of this, not us.”
Added three-time world champion barrel racer Sherry Cervi: “It’s just a really good feeling and a good atmosphere to be able to help these kids have an hour of fun in the dirt. It’s pretty humbling for me. This is a very rewarding way to start my day.”