Black Tie Bingo earns $67,000 for charity


Dustin Thompson had already won $30,000 at the Canadian Finals Rodeo and was on his way to winning another $18,000 and a truck when he found himself flying through the air.

“My horse narrowly missed jumping on my head,” the saddle bronc rider said Monday. “I could so very easily have been killed.

“The horse, Cool Alley, did step on my head and broke my jaw. I was in hospital for five days undergoing reconstructive surgery.”

Thompson, born and raised in Brooks and riding in the Canadian Finals Rodeo next week, said everything had been going well when he must have “screwed up” and was thrown over his horse’s head.

“You always know at the back of your mind that there’s a chance you could be seriously injured. You just hope it doesn’t happen.”

The incident took place in November 2006. Thompson was back in the saddle for the season opener in Denver by mid-January.

“Most professional athletes have insurance to help them out financially when they are hurt,” the 30-year-old Thompson said. “We don’t and neither do we have a signing bonus. If we don’t ride, we don’t make a cent.” After that incident, Thompson made a vow to the Edmonton Rodeo Cowboys Benevolent Foundation: “If I can ever do anything to support you, please call me.”

True to his word, the cowboy was at the The Westin on the weekend, helping at the organization’s major fundraiser, Black Tie Bingo.

“Many of us couldn’t stay afloat after injuries if it wasn’t for the Edmonton Cowboys Benevolent Foundation,” Thompson said.

Since its inception in 1989, the foundation has supported more than 200 cowboy athletes to the tune of more than $1.4 million.

Twice helped families

Laura Gadowsky, chairwoman of the benevolent fund, said: “Twice we have helped families from which cowboys had been killed. We have also looked after a family whose cowboy had died of cancer.”

The fund also annually awards four post-secondary scholarships to students interested in agriculture or broadcasting. They are in the name of the late Bill Kehler, a popular rodeo announcer.

Gadowsky, who saw her first rodeo at the age of eight in her native Alexis Creek on the Bella Coola Highway in B.C., became involved with Black Tie Bingo in 1989 when she worked at The Westin Hotel. “Edmonton was in danger of losing the CFR and a group people, including representatives from the chamber of commerce and Edmonton Northlands rallied to show the city’s support for Canadian cowboys and cowgirls,” she said.

“While Calgary and Vancouver had nice arenas and could put up lots of prize money, Edmonton promised to raise a minimum of $100,000 every year to support the Edmonton Rodeo Cowboys Benevolent Foundation.” The Canadian Professional Rodeo Association, which sanctioned 52 rodeos in Canada last year, with a total payout of more than $5.1 million, gave Edmonton the nod.

“The CPR knew our rodeo would be safe and professional and that the cowboys loved Edmonton,” Gadowsky said.

Northlands spokeswoman Cathy Kiss said a new economic impact study is being carried out this year, but many estimate the CFR, with an attendance of 83,936 people for six performances in five days, and Farm Fair, with more than 85,000 visitors last year, have an $88-million impact on the city.

Vowed to help

At the Black Tie Bingo on the weekend, which raised some $67,000, Thompson praised the foundation for its help. He said about 18 months after returning to rodeo after his head injury, he was out for 18 months after seriously hurting a knee at a rodeo in San Antonio.

A successful year for a cowboy, he said, might be earning $30,000 or $40,000. Earning $20,000 on weekends during the rodeo season will definitely cover expenses, but it’s not enough to live on.

“Cowboys with wins at the big rodeos can earn between $80,000 or $100,000,” said Thompson.

Winning at the CFR and the Calgary Stampede could perhaps bring in $150,000 or $200,000. But that is exceptional.

The majority are at the other end of the scale. “They don’t place and go home empty-handed, having to pay their own hotel and gas expenses,” said Thompson.

He might be a cooler customer after January, when he marries Lorelei Reidy, whom he met in Okotoks, where they both now live. “A significant other can be a voice of reason,” said Thompson.

“If your partner worries, you wonder whether it’s worth riding a horse that has a very bad reputation. But you still have to pay your entry fee.”

Source: Edmonton Journal