SHERIDAN — As the orange Wyoming sun dipped behind the grandstands at the Sheridan County Fairgrounds Thursday night, a pink glow beamed from the seats into the arena. It was Pink Night at the Sheridan WYO Rodeo, and competitors, volunteers, pick-up men and fans doubled down on their pink attire in support of cancer awareness.
Pink Night has become a special evening at the WYO. Originally part of the “Tough Enough to Wear Pink” campaign sponsored by Wrangler, Sheridan Memorial Hospital and the Welch Cancer Center took over the partnership with the rodeo when the Wrangler-sponsored event dissolved a couple of years ago.
Now, the two Sheridan entities work hand-in-hand to continue the tradition of bringing awareness to cancer during the community’s busiest week of the year.
“The rodeo does so much for our community,” SMH marketing coordinator Meredith Sopko said. “Not just the rodeo itself, but they support a lot of different organizations in allowing them to be a part of the rodeo.”
For the hospital, Pink Night is just another chance to shed light on screenings and early detection. With thousands of spectators filling the stands Thursday, hospital workers were front and center sharing important information. They handed out pink bandanas, sold limited edition King Ropes hats and used the event as a light platform to bring attention to a serious subject.
The partnership also recognizes those affected by the disease.
“What a great way to get the word out about screenings and early detection and the importance,” Sopko said. “But also it’s a way to honor our patients and our community who have been touched by cancer — any kind of cancer, not just breast cancer.”
One of those rodeo personalities touched by cancer has been a face for awareness for nearly 10 years.
Tyson Durfey has a number of people in his life who have been stricken with the illness. When his stepmother was diagnosed in 2008, the tie-down roper threw on a pink shirt at the Canadian finals before donating 10-percent of his winnings to the cause in her honor.
“I was just doing it to kind of raise her spirits,” he said.
And while Durfey admitted that he had to answer a lot of questions at first regarding the pink shirt, he stuck with it. What was initially a one-time thing became a wardrobe staple for the cowboy once he realized its impact.
“A lot of people just became aware of what I was doing, and they came up to me and told me stories about their mom or their sister that had breast cancer, the struggle that they’d been going through,” Durfey said. “It’s something I’ve done ever since, just kind of my way to give back to the people that support the sport that I’m in. Since then, it’s kind of been my personal crusade to raise awareness.”
Durfey didn’t compete Thursday night — he’s on the draw for Friday — but there was plenty of pink to go around Thursday, and he’ll carry on the theme for another night.
Plenty of other cowboys and cowgirls sported pink button-down shirts as they put on a show for the excited WYO Rodeo crowd. Clown JJ Harrison sported a pink shirt and socks as he snapped selfies and signed autographs around the grandstands.
All parties got behind the cause.
“It takes a lot of initiative to go out and do it on your own,” Durfey said. “It takes a lot of passion and perseverance. At the end of the day, we’re all trying to raise awareness. It’s neat that (the WYO) went out and did it themselves.”
There were stellar rides and fast times; there were crashes, injuries and no-scores.
But at the end of the day, the Sheridan WYO Rodeo and Sheridan Memorial Hospital partnered to make it bigger than bucking broncs and barrel racers. It may seem like an odd pairing on paper, but those two organizations, along with spokespersons like Durfey, are making the two mesh.
“It’s an important and kind of serious topic,” Sopko said. “But hopefully we can do the education with some fun, so we hope that they will continue to allow us to do it. We really appreciate it.”
Tough Enough to Wear Pink may be a phrase of the past, but wearing pink for a cause during the Sheridan WYO Rodeo seems to have a bright future.