A camera’s-eye view into the heart of the subculture

June 13, 2012 02:24 pm
Ah, spring, when a rural reporter’s heart turns to...rodeo. 

This weekend the first of four rodeo events kicks off at the Wallowa County Fairgrounds, the Mountain High Broncs and Bulls Rodeo.

I’ll be there, with my rodeo side-kick Angie from Wallowa Valley Online, a couple cameras and a pocketful of batteries.

Even though I spent half of my youth in cattle country, rodeo was not a part of the ebb and flow of my life, until I moved to Wallowa County.

In the dead of winter I long for the dust and the blare of country music as I snap pictures behind the scenes of the cowboys gearing up for an eight-second ride on a bull or bucking horse.

No alcohol is allowed in the warm up area, instead, the boys drink a variety of “energy” drinks to get themselves up for the game.

It’s amazing how much training, effort and fitness goes into a few seconds. The preparation goes right down to the few minutes before the ride when cowboys help each other get ready for a ride on their dangerous livestock animal of choice.

I have a brother who was an elite athlete. He bagged graduate school, a girlfriend, and a tomato patch to move to Boulder and train for the 2004 Olympic Trials.

The first two years he lived with me and I learned to live with the phrase, “I’m tired” and to assume all extra-curricular activities revolved around running. He even worked a swing shift job making maps so he could train in the morning with the pros - the guys whose job was running and endorsing a shoe.

 Periodically I’d be out for a run or at work trimming trees and see my brother training. His brow furrowed, he would run by without a smile, a “hello”, or even a glint of recognition. Serious athlete, my brother was.

For two years buying plane tickets or finding races that would help pay his way were his focus.

He had to get the qualifying time to run in Birmingham.

I would wait expectantly for phone calls after his races - did he make money? Did he get a personal record? Did he qualify for the Trials?

The importance of rest

The miles racked up and at times he would even give up his rest days, which can sometimes be counterproductive. His advice to me during marathon training was, “The most important part of training is rest.”

Dozens of 10ks, half marathons and marathons later Sean stepped up to the start line of the Olympic Trials in an Alabama snow storm.

Mom, Dad, and I, my brother’s wife and her parents also traveled south to see Sean and his brother-in-law Pete, a professional runner for Adidas, put their best to the test with the 80 plus fastest marathoners in the country.

It was absolutely exhilarating.

Breathtaking finish 

The heartbreaker was watching Pete drop out at mile 16.

Sean hung in there and finished somewhere around 50th. But watching a guy from Boulder, a University of Colorado graduate, cross the line as the top American marathoner headed to the Olympics was breathtaking. Alan Culpepper, a well-known frequenter of family barbecues, won the Trials, arms high over his head in a V.

Now back to the arena. Marathoners aren’t sprinters like boys who ride bucking critters, but the training, the focus, the sacrifice to socializing and steady income are the same.

Not every cowboy has a sponsor or endorses product.

They work construction or farm and ranch jobs with understandable bosses that let them hit the road in pursuit of an eight-second ride and dreams of the purse at the end of the weekend.

Wallowa County hosts two professional rodeos, two ranch rodeos featuring real, honest-to-god working cowboys and cowgirls, and the Joseph Junior rodeo during the Wallowa County Fair. Not every kid, cowboy or cowgirl will make it to the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, but rodeos give athletes confidence and discipline — and for the general reporter, they are a camera’s-eye view into the heart of the sub-culture in which I live.


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