Sandwiched between the green grass and the blue sky at the Round-Up Grounds is a sea of pink during Thursday’s rodeo.
This year will mark the rodeo’s 12th year of participating in Tough Enough To Wear Pink, a national campaign to raise money and bring awareness in support of breast cancer patients and survivors.
Money raised by the group during Round-Up will go to help local patients and survivors through St. Anthony Hospital and the nonprofit Kick’n Cancer New Beginnings. The theme of this year’s campaign is “Spur the Cure.”
In honor of the theme, Tough Enough to Wear Pink volunteers will be raffling off a pair of one-of-a-kind silver spurs from Montana Silversmiths instead of their usual custom-made belt buckle. Volunteers selling raffle tickets at a booth on the Round-Up Grounds will also be selling pink T-shirts and commemorative pins and giving away free pink beads and bandannas for attendees who missed the memo that everyone from the cowboys to the folks in the stands would be donning the bright color in solidarity.
“Not everyone knows, necessarily, that it’s the day to wear pink,” TETWP co-chair Casey White-Zollman said.
Bars around the Round-Up Grounds have also agreed to donate all of their tips that day to the cause.
White-Zollman said it’s “really neat to look out and see the sea of pink” on the Thursday of Round-Up week, but the support of sponsors, the Round-Up board, dedicated volunteers and others help make it more than just a symbolic gesture. Each year thousands of dollars are raised for local organizations.
“A lot of people will just come up and drop off cash donations,” she said.
In 2016 the group raised over $19,000, but the year before they raised more than $36,000. White-Zollman said they are hoping to return to a higher level of fundraising again for 2017. The money for St. Anthony goes to things like wigs, specialized swimsuits and mastectomy bras for cancer patients, while the money donated to Kick’n Cancer New Beginnings goes toward gym memberships, fitness classes and nutritionists for survivors.
“Anything we receive from the community’s support is really helpful,” White-Zollman said.
Tough Enough to Wear Pink can trace its origins to 2004, when a breast cancer survivor named Terry Wheatley convinced her son Wade Wheatley, a competitor in the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, to wear a pink shirt to raise awareness. He and most of his fellow competitors agreed, inspiring audience members and announcers to join in, and the tradition quickly spread to rodeos across North America.
The Round-Up was an early adopter of Tough Enough to Wear Pink, after local nurse practitioner Rebecca Hawkins-Zollman was looking for a way to strike back against the breast cancer that had affected her sister-in-law, mother, patients and herself. She heard about the Tough Enough to Wear Pink initiative that had taken place at the National Finals Rodeo and decided to bring it to Pendleton.
Since Tough Enough to Wear Pink’s inception, it has become easier for cowboys to find shirts in the right color — a color not generally associated with rough-and-tumble sports like rodeo. The very first Tough Enough to Wear Pink event was helped along by Wrangler, which rushed an order of 200 pink western shirts to Las Vegas that first year after Wheatley contacted Wrangler’s director of special events at the time and told him of her idea.
In the past as much as 90 percent of the Round-Up’s audience has worn pink on Thursday, helped along by the items sold and given away by Tough Enough to Wear Pink volunteers.