Original Article Published by Western Ag Reporter
July 28, 2022

by Hannah Cranor

On July 14, Gunnison, Colorado looked a little different than it normally does. Everyone was wearing pink in honor of the country’s largest Tough Enough to Wear Pink (TETWP) event at the highly acclaimed Cattlemen’s Days rodeo, and the town was filled with horse trailers heading for the local fairgrounds.

Gunnison is an unassuming rural town, located at 7,700 feet above sea level. Originally known for mining, its agricultural roots are deepest. The 60-day growing season, harsh winters, and cool summers make Gunnison ideal for raising hay and cattle, and by 1900, agriculture had surpassed mining as the number one industry.

Gunnison is home to the oldest professional rodeo in all of Colorado: Cattlemen’s Days. Each July, the town comes together to celebrate with rodeos, 4-H livestock shows, and auctions, and much more. It originally started in 1900 on the main street of Gunnison as a celebration between calving and haying, a way for ranchers to take a much-needed break.

Not only is Cattlemen’s Days the oldest professional rodeo in the state of Colorado, but it is also home to the largest TETWP fundraising rodeo in the entire country.

“Gunnison is the number one TETWP rodeo in the PRCA because TETWP is listening to the needs, providing opportunities for prevention, creating community, taking action for the future, and saving lives every day,” Gunnison’s TETWP Development and Media Director, MacKenzie Bode, said.

A diagnosis of cancer in a rural town is hard, but TETWP allows the community to navigate the challenges. Starting in 2005, the TETWP program has raised over 4 million dollars as of 2021. This money has been used to help Gunnison become one of the top rural cancer centers in the nation. They have purchased over one million dollars worth of equipment, including Breast MRI Coil, 3D Tomosynthesis, ultrasound, digital mammography, and stereotactic biopsy machines.

The support for the community doesn’t stop at the machines. The TETWP program provides cleaning services for women with breast cancer, as well as the chance for their children to receive financial scholarships to help with the cost of schooling. They also have created “Lucy’s House,” which can provide housing to patients closer to treatment facilities, so they can spend less time traveling to and from appointments.

Additionally, they have three vehicles that they use to transport cancer patients to and from cancer appointments. These three vehicles have traveled over 130,000 miles around the state since they purchased the first one in 2016. The program has also helped financially by supporting cancer patients with costs associated with out-of-town travel for cancer care, as well as helping women who have lost wages due to cancer.

The TETWP program is funded by several annual events, but the major event is the Cattlemen’s Days Rodeo. It is always the Thursday night rodeo, and the town goes “all out” in celebration. The TETWP committee spends all day decorating the Fairgrounds in pink – ribbons, bras, and banners decorating the entire grounds. The fans go all out as well – dying their hair pink and wearing pink shirts.

Walking around the rodeo on Thursday night, it is apparent how much the rodeo means to the community.

“To be at the nation’s number one TETWP fundraising rodeo is surreal and such an honor,” Miss Rodeo Colorado 2022, Ashley Baller, said. “It shows how supportive rodeo is of our community, but especially women. I love that the community and the rodeo world combine together to support a cause such as this. I sit here in awe looking around tonight – this rodeo is making history.”

“I think the rodeo has had a monumental impact on TETWP’s ability to connect and share our hopes, plans, and needs for cancer care in the community,” MacKenzie Bode added. “I think a lot of people don’t realize what it really means to have the number one TETWP rodeo in the PRCA. Besides being a great time celebrating a great cause, the TETWP night at Cattlemen’s is one day out of 365 days that TETWP and donor dollars are working to provide comprehensive support to cancer patients here in the Gunnison Valley.”

Cattlemen’s Days 2022 Queen, Clara Cranor reflected on how much the TETWP has helped her family personally.

“Tough Enough to Wear Pink has always been a huge part of this valley, but it means more than that for me personally. My family has utilized the vehicles to go to cancer treatments in Denver Colorado,” Cranor said. “The trip is 210 miles one way, so to have a reliable vehicle that we can use to travel to these appointments monthly is life-changing. Cancer affects a lot of people in our hometown, so it is so amazing that we can help these people when they get a life-altering diagnosis.”

The committee gives added money to any contestant who wins an event wearing a pink shirt. The added money and the draw of a prestigious rodeo brings top names in rodeo to the tiny town. Contestants such as Statler Wright, Mary Walker, Tilden Allan Hooper, Jesse James Kirby, Shali Lord, and many others came to take their shot to win the added money.

The contestants are not the only big deals in town, as the rodeo has bragging rights in other categories. Stace Smith and Smith Pro Rodeo provide the livestock, and Andy Stewart can be heard announcing every year. Cody Sosebee served as the clown for 2022, and other years have brought John Harrison and other clowns who have served as the Coors Man in the Can at the NFR. Cattlemen’s Days has been Selected one of “The Top 101 Events” in the Country by American Cowboy Magazine, as well as being selected as a finalist for the “Mid-Sized Rodeo of the Year” at the annual PRCA convention. They have been a finalist for the “Sowing Good Deeds” award multiple years in a row.

Mary Walker and Jimmie Smith tied for the Barrel Racing title for Cattlemen’s Days with an 18.02 second time, while Tilden Hooper won the Bareback title with an 85-point ride. Tanner Tomlinson turned the steer for heeler Patrick Smith to win the Team Roping competition with a 4.0 second time. Steer Wrestling was won by Justin Shaffer, at 3.8 seconds. Saddle Bronc Riding was won by Jake Clark, with an 85.5-point ride. The Tie-Down roping title was won by Justin Brinkerhoff with a time of 8.7 seconds, and Bull Riding was won by Jeff Askey, finishing with an 88.5-point ride.

“TETWP is one of the biggest assets in our community. It makes an incredible impact in the community. There is nothing like this organization,” TETWP’s “Volunteer of the Year” winner, Katherine Ketcham, said.

She presented the programs that they offer to the National Rural Health Annual Conference, and the program stuck out tremendously. Gunnison is providing services some major cities cannot even provide.

Gunnison’s celebration each July is worth adding to your list to attend next year. What you will see and experience in this little town is truly unlike anything else.