Friday night, Alex White was just one of the cowboys at Wells Arena.
Alex, who turned 9 on Saturday, rode a horse, roped a steer and was bucked by a bull.
It was a special moment for a child who has Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia, a disability that affects the lower limbs.
Thanks to the Kaw Valley Rodeo Association and Hope Ranch, the disability didn’t matter on Friday night.
Alex was one of 16 kids who joined the cowboys and rodeo queens in the Kaw Valley Special Rodeo at CiCo Park. All participants met bull fighter Greek Ellick, had their pictures taken on a hay bales and received a hat, bandanna and t-shirt before heading into the arena.
On the Wells Arena floor, children could ride a stationary bull that volunteers bucked lightly with wood planks. They could also rope a stationary steer and watch cowboys do tricks with a lasso, or ride a stick horse and interact with a real horse from Hope Ranch.
Alex, whose disability requires him to use two blue arm crutches to walk, spent the time with Ellick going through the events. He said his favorite event was roping, and he enjoyed riding a horse, which he noted was tall.
Ellick said it was an inspirational moment for him.
“The time that I spent with Alex was special, it was more of a blessing than anything,” he said. “It inspires you to do better. Alex is a great kid, he is the true meaning of heart and try — he really is.”
Ellick said Alex took to each event he participated in like a duck to water, going at each one with unlimited enthusiasm.
“I had a lot of fun with a young kid who enjoyed himself thoroughly and we tried everything in the arena and he really enjoyed riding the live horses,” he said. “He is a very independent and strong individual, and quite an inspiring young man.”
Ellick said he participates in 44 rodeos throughout the year, and the Kaw Valley Rodeo is one of four that has a special rodeo.
He said it’s something that he hopes can gain more following throughout sport.
“The special rodeo is something they ought to include in every rodeo throughout the world,” he said. “Those are kids that have some special needs, but also the experience they have in that rodeo arena can be life changing, and it has been life changing for me.
“I think that is the greatest part of rodeo a man can participate in, just giving back to the community.”
It’s been a wish of Alex’s to ride in the Mutton Bustin’ competition over the past few years, but he has been unable to participate in the event to this point.
When asked if he thought Alex could find success in an event like that, Ellick slightly smiled.
“I think he would,” he said. “The definition of try takes on a new name, and that’s Alex.”
Friday night’s special rodeo preceded the rodeo events, which included “Tough Enough to Wear Pink Night.”
Members of the audience were invited to wear pink and purchase pink balloons to donate money to the Kansas State Johnson Center for Basic Cancer Research. The balloons were released all at once before the start of the night’s events.