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Some jobs start after the buck

by Margaret E. Davis
| April 10, 2022 12:00 AM

“You and I, we could sign up and ride in the rodeo next weekend,” emergency medical technician Kim Vierra told me about the amateur rodeo staged between Kalispell and Whitefish. “Last night was so busy,” she said, shaking her head over the injuries. One rider went to the hospital.

For 14 years, Vierra has served as an EMT at Brash Rodeo, which calls itself the longest running series open rodeo in the state. Every other week at Majestic Valley Arena, hundreds fill the stands, trailers discharge their cargo, and dozens of riders — from throughout Northwest Montana and as far as Washington — compete in 13 events ranging from bareback and breakaway, and team roping to chute dogging.

After the pickup men, whom Vierra calls “lifesavers,” she and the other EMT, Nora Bledsoe, represent the next level of protection. They’re the people riders see if they really hit dirt.

“This is not a sport you can age well in,” Vierra says, studying the program. “You’re done by 30.” The night before, a bull jettisoned Chris Corpron, then punted him on its horn another 20 feet. Corpron busted a couple of teeth, and his fiancée, Megan Eckert, planned to call the dentist first thing Monday. For now, Eckert nods toward the chutes, “he’s back pulling ropes tonight.”

Behind the chutes, announcers John Zillner and Alex Grant roll out each event, clown Eddy Fox ducks in and out of the arena gate to alternately cajole the audience or distract the roughstock, and Vierra — outfitted in a hot-pink shirt with “Medical Team” on the back — keeps watch from a raised platform. I gaze at the horses. My childhood collection of Breyers was the closest I came to owning one.

Competitors tape their hands, and slap dust off their cowboy hats (required wear, along with Western shirts). Some swagger like the teenage Wells brothers, but most such as Devyn Campbell, Ireland Rupp and Azrael Lara focus on the steady parade of human and animal dynamics providing real-life thrills and spills.

However we feel about rodeo, it is undeniably part of our heritage predating statehood. Many of tonight’s riders from ages 6 (Wylee White) to 64 (Wendy McCaffree) apply their rodeo skills in jobs, at home or both.

Bronc rider Amanda Bicknell comes off and Vierra stares at her, lying still on the ground, her face planted in the dust. As Bicknell is helped out of the arena, Vierra and Bledsoe spring into action and spend 20 minutes tending to cuts and bruises before escorting Bicknell outside.

“I think she broke her cheekbone,” Vierra says on return, peeling off her blue medical gloves. “And she ripped her brand-new shirt. She’s so mad — just bought it yesterday.” Later, Bicknell would describe the experience as “being stomped on.”

Over post-rodeo drinks in the arena bar, staff ask after Bicknell, and Vierra shares pictures and texts from Bicknell’s mom. “Do you always follow up like this?” I ask. She pauses from the text conversation, “These kids grow up here, they become like our family.”

Audience development director Margaret E. Davis can be reached at 406-758-4436 or mdavis@dailyinterlake.com

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