After four days of watching the excitement of the 2019 Utah High School Rodeo Finals in Heber City, the best two words that I can come up with to describe it are these:
Toughness and dedication.
I don't see how anyone can see these cowboys and cowgirls in action and not come away incredibly impressed by their toughness.
That grit is exemplified almost every time one of them enters the arena, although this particular moment really stood out to me last week:
Bullriding definitely takes a certain mindset, since climbing on a bull that weighs 1,500 pounds that has been trained to spin and buck isn't for the faint of heart.
The inherent danger is why there are also two or three bullfighters -- although bull-distractors would usually be a more accurate term -- in the arena to protect the rider if he is bucked off.
In the final performance Saturday night, however, the trio of bullfighters lived up to their official title.
One of the high school cowboys got tossed off, only to have his hand get stuck in the rope tied around the waist of the huge, jumping bull.
The bullfighters immediately rushed in, trying to slow the leaping animal and even at one point physically grappling with the massive beast as they tried to get the hand freed.
After what felt like an eternity of frantic jumping and mayhem (which was probably only a few seconds), the young man finally got clear and the bullfighters were able to direct the bull back out of the arena without any significant harm.
Talk about toughness.
That may be one of the most dramatic samples but I could describe so many others that would also show the intense determination of these athletes.
I saw cowgirls face-plant into the arena dirt as they jumped off their horses to compete in the goat-tying, then get up and get the job done.
I saw cowboys go head-over-heels when trying to grab the horns in the steer wrestling, then run to chase down their horse and go after the steer again.
I saw cowboys and cowgirls who didn't give up, even if their first roping attempt failed or if they knocked down poles or barrels in those events.
Those moments often are all about heart and I have to say these cowboys and cowgirls have no shortage in that department.
That is one aspect of the other word I chose -- dedication -- but to me that element goes so much deeper.
Yes, these athletes are dedicated to their sport and work hard to be at their best when it is time to rodeo.
But rodeo also requires so much dedication from families and communities.
This isn't a sport where you just grab a ball or some pads and you are ready to participate. Every rodeo requires countless horse trailers and livestock trucks to be brought in just to get started.
During the events themselves, the arena is filled with judges and directors and rakers and animal handlers and countless others -- all working so the cowboys and cowgirls can compete.
I am staggered when I think about the amount of time and effort that is required for a rodeo athlete to even get an opportunity, let alone do the practicing necessary to be successful.
To all the parents and siblings and friends and neighbors who toil in the shadows to make high school rodeo happen, I say thank you for your dedication.
For more than a decade now I've covered high school rodeo and I've come to love the excitement, the passion and the athleticism that is required.
In greater sense, though, I've come to love the proud legacy of the West that these young cowboys and cowgirls are carrying on.
With the rapid population expansion in Utah Valley, it seems inevitable that at some point there will no longer be enough room for ranches and farms. I don't know how long it will take but it appears likely there will be fewer and fewer opportunities in our part of the state for cowboys and cowgirls to develop their skills.
So I'm going to enjoy it while it lasts, enjoy seeing the dedication and toughness that our rodeo athletes and their families demonstrate every year.
To all who make rodeo part of their lives, I honor you for what you do, what you stand for, and the heritage you represent.