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B.C. cowboy Ty Pozzobon brought extra life to Calgary Stampede rodeo

More from Kristen Odland, Postmedia

Published on: July 5, 2017 | Last Updated: July 5, 2017 1:55 PM MDT

Bull rider Ty Pozzobon of Merritt, B.C., at the start of the Canadian Finals Rodeo in Edmonton on Nov. 9, 2010. JORDAN VERLAGE / EDMONTON SUN/QMI AGENCY

Bull rider Ty Pozzobon of Merritt, B.C., at the start of the Canadian Finals Rodeo in Edmonton on Nov. 9, 2010. JORDAN VERLAGE / EDMONTON SUN/QMI AGENCY

“He was a very very big part of my life,” Byrne said. “You can’t replace that or forget about that. It’s just hard, in general, living the same lifestyle. Everywhere you go, you have memories of what you did there or had done years before that.

“There’s always a memory every mile of the road.”

Tanner Byrne from Prince Albert SK rides Fat Boy while competing in the bull riding event during day 1 of the Calgary Stampede rodeo on Friday July 3, 2015. GAVIN YOUNG /  CALGARY HERALD

It was believed that multiple concussions led Pozzobon to a deadly bout of depression.

His story is similar to other athletes that have suffered from CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) which is diagnosed by studying the brain tissue after death and presents itself in the form of memory problems, anxiety, depression and potentially dementia. Pozzobon’s family donated his brain to the University of Washington for research.

The silver lining in Pozzobon’s death has paved the way for better medical attention at rodeo events, particularly in bull riding, with Sports Medicine teams being at every ProRodeo and PBR event in Canada in 2017. It’s the first time the PBR in Canada has used the Canadian Pro Rodeo Sports Medicine Team.

The Ty Pozzobon Foundation was created by family and friends close to the cowboy to help support this, to “protect and support the health and well-being of rodeo competitors inside and outside the arena.”

The initiative has also created and funded a concussion spotting team to better protect its athletes.

“There’s always going to be those questions and what-if’s . . . but at the end of the day, we have to live in his memory and his honour,” Byrne said. “With our foundation, we’ve made our sport a better sport and taking care of our athletes and trying to make it a little bit safer in educating our athletes coming up of the effects of head injuries and the toll the sport can take on your body.

“A group of us wanted to do something in his honour and make his name live on for the betterment of the sport. That’s what he would have wanted.”

And its riders are becoming more educated when it comes to brain trauma.

Cowboys such as Ponoka’s Wacey Finkbeiner and Tanner Girletz of Cereal, Alta., have set examples this season after suffering concussions and opting to stay on the sidelines to recover.

“This year, it’s definitely taken a 180 now,” Radford said. “We can get on through broken ankles because that’s all we know they are — it’s just a broken ankle. If you get on with a broken ankle, that’s all you know it is. But with a concussion, you don’t know if you’re five hits away from being brain-dead or one hit away from dying. You just don’t know.

“It’s definitely not cool to get on like that anymore.”

A bull-rider’s income depends on getting on a bull each and every night.

To ‘cowboy up’ is a phrase commonly used in the community — concussions flew under the radar more frequently because being tough and getting on, no matter what, is what being a cowboy is all about.

“A guy was concussed and got on, and it was kind of still half and half — Like ‘Oh, maybe he shouldn’t do that’ or ‘Oh, he’s just cowboying up,'” Radford said. “Now, it’s just — you hurt your head, you’ve gotta take time off and take care of your brain.”

Since his death, all of the bull riders have been wearing ‘Pozzy 23’ patches to honour his memory — the No. 23 stands for the placement of Pozzobon in the world standings at the time of his death.

No doubt, Pozzobon will be in everyone’s thoughts at this year’s Greatest Outdoor Show On Earth.

“We think about him every day,” Byrne said. “He always loved Calgary and did really good at Calgary. We always had pretty good times around the Stampede time. Definitely, it brings back a lot of memories. It’s a day-to-day thing that never gets any easier, and he’s in my mind 24/7.”

Yet, Pozzobon is looking down on his pals.

Byrne was a late injury replacement for last year’s world champion Cooper Davis of Jasper, Texas, while Radford also qualified for the first time.

“He knows how to motivate guys to get them there,” said Radford with a chuckle. “Last year, he elevated my bull-riding to a new level. He just kind of showed me I should believe in myself a lot more. You’re capable of a lot more than what you think is possible.

“He was something special — that’s for sure”



Kelly 'The King' Sutherland looks back at chuckwagon success

More from Wes Gilbertson

Published on: July 5, 2017 | Last Updated: July 5, 2017 2:28 PM MDT

Chuckwagon driver Kelly Sutherland with one of the Taliyah Marsman memorial stickers on his chuckwagon tarp at the Calgary Stampede on Saturday July 16, 2016. Postmedia file MIKE DREW / CALGARY HERALD

Clear as day, Kelly Sutherland still remembers his first ascent to the stage as champion of the Calgary Stampede’s Rangeland Derby.

In fact, it remains his most cherished moment at Stampede Park, where he’s made more memories and collected more hardware than any other chuckwagon ace.

“In 1974, that’s the year they opened what I call the new plant, which exists today. Prior to that, it was an old wooden grandstand,” Sutherland recalled. “But when they built the new plant and made the leap from six or seven days to 10, I climbed on stage. I was 22 years old. I remember going up there with my wife, and the old Albertan was snapping pictures. I remember looking up in that grandstand, and it was full, and it sat 22,000 on the top end . . .

“I looked up there, a kid from Grande Prairie, and I was traveling with people that had never won it and were in their 50s and 60s. And I just felt blessed to be able to accomplish what I did at that age. That was a special moment for me in time.”

That kid from Grande Prairie turned into The King, the most accomplished chuckwagon driver of all-time.

Now a 12-time champion of the Rangeland Derby — and winner of a dozen world titles, too — the 65-year-old Sutherland will retire at the end of this season. He’ll spin his final laps at Stampede Park over the next 10 days.

“It will be special,” Sutherland said. “It’s the Super Bowl of chuckwagon racing, and having never envisioned myself ever winning it when I started outriding and then to accomplish the wins I have, it’s going to be pretty surreal to make that last trip around that oval at the Calgary Stampede.

“I’m so thankful for the fans and the people and the business-people in my whole life at the Calgary Stampede,” Sutherland added. “I just always felt that when I drove onto the grounds at the Calgary Stampede, after my run in the ’70s when I won it, I just felt I was the guy to beat. And that turned out to be true in most circumstances.

“It was just kind of a feeling I got when I entered those grounds — that I was pretty much unbeatable, and that at the end of the 10-day marathon, I was going to be the last guy standing on the stage.”

He was often right.

Sutherland was Calgary’s champ four times during a five-year stretch from ’74-78, topped the heap again in ’86 and then rattled off five more titles between ’97 and 2002.

He continued to add to his collection with back-to-back victories in the Rangeland Derby dash-for-cash in ’10-11.

“I’ve run against the grandfathers of a lot of the people that I’m competing against now. It’s just quite surreal, when you look back at my whole life of 51 years in the sport,” Sutherland said. “I’ve been fortunate that I’ve won in every decade of my life, from my 20s to my 60s . . . I feel blessed that way. I mean, I don’t know any other sport that you can win in your 20s and win in your 60s. It’s just been a very, very fantastic career that I’ve had.”

There’s no doubt about that.

CALGARY, AB: JULY 17, 2011 – Kelly Sutherland celebrates his victory in the GMC Rangeland Derby at the Calgary Stampede in Calgary, Alta., July 17, 2011. (Postmedia file) GRANT BLACK /  CALGARY HERALD

While others have auctioned off their horses and called it a career after their final runs in Calgary, Sutherland plans to complete the World Pro Chuckwagon Association’s summer circuit, with stops in Bonnyville, Strathmore, Dawson Creek and Rocky Mountain House.

The mandatory retirement age for chuckwagon drivers is 65, but that kid from Grande Prairie — his grandkid, 19-year-old Dayton is now steering his own outfit on the WPCA — insists he’s ready to hang up his reins.

“I’m in great physical shape, except my body doesn’t like what I do, which it probably shouldn’t at 65,” Sutherland said. “I continue to work out the last three or four years in the off-season every day, in order to compete at the level I’m trying to compete at. The last couple of years, I said, ‘I’m going to the end, ’til I’m 65, and that’s when I’m going to quit.’

“I know that you start losing strength, you start losing other things. I’m not stupid. I watched other guys in the sport. I think I’m still competing at the level that I can win, and I want to leave competing at that level. I do not want to compete at a level where I have to risk having an accident or risk an accident to myself or to other competitors. I don’t want to be remembered like that. I want to be remembered in history being competitive and fitting in.

“And if I get lucky, I’ll win it again. I know that.”