Special Smiles

More than half of the Pace Picante ProRodeo Challenge field showed up Sept. 24 at the Qwest Center with one objective: make a child smile.

Laughter and joy filled the arena where area special-needs children took part in the second annual Rough N Ready Challenge.

The event, organized by the Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben and River City Round-Up committee, pairs a disabled child with a PRCA cowboy or WPRA cowgirl in a variety of rodeo-type of events, including stick horse races, dummy roping and barrel riding.

"The mission behind it is to put a smile on the face of every child," said Craig Korkow, member of the organizing group and former PRCA cowboy. "That's what we decided a couple of years ago when we brought it back to fruition. You can see it's happening. We've had great participation and that's what it's all about, to be able to partner them up with the kids and let that common bond just take off on its own."

Thirty-one children took part in the Rough N Ready Challenge, with more than 50 cowboys and cowgirls showing up to do their part.

Bulldogger Jason Lahr, the 2002 Coors Fans Favorite Cowboy, hooked up with 13-year-old Troy for the morning activities.

"To see a smile on these kids' faces means a lot to us cowboys," said the Kansas steer wrestler. "This is my first time and I'm enjoying it."

The event meant just as much to Troy, who last year teamed with 2001 World Champion Steer Wrestler Rope Myers during the inaugural Rough N Ready

"He's my buddy," Troy said of Myers. "I've got pictures of him."

Bareback riders Jason Havens and Bobby Mote, the 2002 world titlist, worked with Matthew, who was in a wheelchair.

"We get to rodeo every day and these kids don't get to come watch rodeos or do stuff like this every day," Havens said. "This is a way to help out, let a bunch of kids have a good time."

Mote, who has two young children of his own, said the event touches his heart.

"It's amazing what we take for granted every day," Mote said. "Every one of these kids might have what we consider an infliction, but they don't know any difference. We get to rodeo every day, they just get to do it once a year so this is a real treat for them. I'm fortunate to be involved."

One cowboy who knows first hand what it means to make a difference in the life of someone who's disabled is bulldogger Todd Suhn (Brighton, Colo.). Suhn's brother, Justin, was involved in an accident when he was 12 and is now confined to a wheel chair.

Suhn spent the morning with 14-year-old Katie, who said she enjoys riding horses.

"It's a great way to pay back the community who support us by bringing this together and putting smiles on these kids' faces. A lot of guys realize that and come out. It feels great and when they smile it's all worth it."

Justin participated in the activities and on Saturday was headed to Grand Island, Neb., for the special equine Olympics.

"Seeing Justin have these problems and being around it, you know what they go through every day," Suhn said. "To give them a lift like this and help them enjoy themselves makes them feel special."

Justin, Suhn said, has lived a productive life. He competed in youth rodeos up until the time of the accident and today still manages to do a variety of chores around the family's ranch in Arthur, Neb.

"My mom does everything for Justin, she's been great," Suhn said. "She's made sure that he stayed at home and had a full life. He graduated high school with me and that was a big thrill. We went across the stage together. He's been at home since the accident on the ranch. They structure it so he can drive a tractor, feed the cows and ride his horse. He's real active and has a full life.

"He also knows everybody and is best friends with everyone."

For more photos from the Rough N Ready Challenge click here.