Dec 8, 2022
2022 Exceptional Rodeo
By Patrick Everson
COVID did wrong by so many things in this great country and around the world. Specific to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, it put a kibosh one of the best annual events here in Las Vegas.
The Exceptional Rodeo, which allows special needs children to get up close and personal with the superstars of rodeo, was canceled in 2020 and 2021. And that didn’t go unnoticed by Wrangler NFR contestants, who on Thursday welcomed the return of the Exceptional Rodeo.
Better still, the Exceptional Rodeo returned to the hallowed ground of the Thomas & Mack Center, after several years at the Wrangler Rodeo Arena at Cowboy Christmas, followed by that dreaded two-year hiatus,
“This is where it should be,” said Adam Daurio, who as principal of the Exceptional Rodeo oversees these events at PRCA rodeos across the country.
But none are better than the one in Vegas at the Wrangler NFR. Contestants paired with 28 Las Vegas-area youngsters, showing them the ropes in roping – and seesaw bull/bronc riding, and stick-horse barrel racing.
Steer wrestler Kyle Irwin, who’s taken part in five Exceptional Rodeos at the NFR, missed this event immensely the past two years. He was thrilled to be helping make these kids’ days brighter once again.
“Every year, it’s just as good if not better than the year before,” Irwin said. “The pandemic changed a lot, but it can’t change our love and compassion for each other.”
There was lots of love, compassion and – more than anything – smiles across the arena. That’s just the way bullfighter Dusty Tuckness remembered this event, of which he’s a 14-year veteran.
“Putting a smile on these kids’ faces is what it’s all about,” Tuckness said. “It’s just a fun day. There are really no rules. It’s organized chaos. These kids come down and have fun. It’s a highlight of my week.”
The Exceptional Rodeo returning to the Thomas & Mack makes it even better, letting these kids set foot on the same dirt as the best rodeo athletes on the planet.
“It’s good to be back here,” Tuckness said. “These kids get to step in the arena where world champions are made and gold buckles are won.”
And on this day, every year, the kids of Exceptional Rodeo are the true world champions.