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Ponoka Stampede offers week-long cowboy experience to Quebec boy

The 2023 edition of the Ponoka Stampede may be over, but the rodeo spirit will last forever with one Quebec family.
Darby and rodeo clown CrAsh Cooper. (Ponoka Stampede photo)

The 2023 edition of the Ponoka Stampede may be over, but the rodeo spirit will last forever with one Quebec family.

In the lead-up to the Stampede, the board was approached by Make-A-Wish as they had a child who wanted to be a cowboy.

According to board chair Jason Cline, the board felt strongly that “this was something we need to be part of.”

“Everyone was behind it,” said Cline, in an interview.

The family behind the request from Gracefield, Que., has an eight-year-old son named Darby who was previously diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumour. After undergoing surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, Darby had to relearn his motor skills.

While the wish was initially supposed to be for a one-day experience, as the board and volunteers got more excited at the prospect of giving this young boy the experience, it soon blossomed into a five-day cowboy experience.

“Everyone involved was so excited for him,” said Cline.

Helping drive the experience was long-time Stampede volunteer Karen Skeels; unknown to the board when the request was first received was that the Quebec family was also family friends of the Skeels’.

“Our son did a fundraiser,” said Skeels.

“Ponoka Stampede and Jason Cline have bent over backwards for them … I like our community.”

Darby’s experiences over the week include petting a bull, helping run an auction, touring a farm, meeting the Stampede Royalty, including Skeels’ daughter Mackenzie, who is the 2023 Miss Rodeo Canada, watching the chuckwagon races, taking part in the Stampede parade, having fun on the midway and helping out rodeo clown CrAsh Cooper.

“If more people lived life with the zest and curiosity that Darby has, the world would be a much better place,” said Cooper, in a media release.

“I’m not sure who enjoyed the time we spent together more, Darby or myself. He really liked dressing up as a rodeo clown and performing for the audience. And we also had fun riding on top of the stagecoach together in the arena waving at all the fans.”

Darby even had the opportunity to ride a horse across the infield.

“There was so much magic made for our son and family this week. We can’t thank the Ponoka Stampede and Make-A-Wish Canada enough. Darby really enjoyed the variety of activities from riding into the arena with the cattle raffle herd to being a real Rodeo Clown apprentice,” said his father, Pat Sullivan, via a media release.

Darby got to ride on the Overland Stage Coach with CrAsh! (Ponoka Stampede photo)
Darby was able to pet a bull during his five-day cowboy experience. (Ponoka Stampede photo)

Kevin Sabo

About the Author: Kevin Sabo

I’m Kevin Sabo. I’ve been a resident of the Castor area for the last 12 years and counting, first coming out here in my previous career as an EMT.
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