American barrel racing legend grateful for Calgary support

Oklahoma cowgirl Mary Burger wins the $100,000 in the barrel-racing event during the final day of the rodeo at the Calgary Stampede on Sunday, July 17, 2016. AL CHAREST/POSTMEDIA 

 

An American barrel racer who won a lot of new fans along with the Stampede title is grateful for the support she received here.

Mary Burger, 67, was a crowd favourite every time she thundered across the infield. She used that energy to sweep the four days of Pool A action, earning $22,000 in the process. She was the one to beat come Showdown Sunday and she didn’t disappoint. The senior from Pauls Valley, Okla., and her mount Mo, took home the $100,000 grand prize and some great memories.

“Ever since I left there I can’t get it off my mind about how great they treated me,” Burger said. “The people just made me feel so good, and I’ve been trying to think of a way to thank them.”

Burger said that during Stampede people stopped her at food tents and in the barns to tell her how she inspired them, and she earned a standing ovation from the grandstand every day. She was especially touched by all the youngsters, many of whom come from rodeo families themselves, who wanted to take a photograph with her or just say hello. She was almost always the last to lave the daily autograph sessions with fans.

For the third day in a row Mary Burger from Pauls Valley Oklahoma took top day money in the Barrel Racing event at the Calgary Stampede Rodeo, Sunday July 10, 2016. Gavin Young/Postmedia GAVIN YOUNG /  CALGARY HERALD

“People were just lined up. I was about worn out because I was trying real hard to do everything I could. I kind of felt obligated because of the people being so warm and accepting of me and making me feel welcome.”

It was especially sweet since Burger hadn’t competed in Calgary since 2010. As the 2016 champion she’s guaranteed a spot next year, but, even so, she’d be a shoo-in based on crowd reaction.

“I’ve been coming to Stampede every year and I’ve never seen a crowd give a standing ovation, let alone every single day,” said Kynan Vine, Stampede rodeo spokesman. “It’s fairly impressive for anybody, let alone a 67-year-old grandma. She’s a person the crowd can get behind and relate to.

“For us, when we’re planning the rodeo and trying to get the best in the world, it’s always competitors like Mary we hope to attract.”

Thanks in part to the big win in Calgary Burger is at the top of the WPRA standings with $187,532 in earnings. That earns her a spot at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas in December. But even if she hoists the world trophy in Vegas, the Calgary Stampede will always have a special place in her heart.

“I had such a great time there even though I just about froze to death and my horse tied up. It was just one memorable deal after another.”

mjarvie@postmedia.com