The Alaska State Fair Rodeo got underway Saturday with a record field of 90 cowboys and cowgirls, who will compete in two days of roping, riding and racing at the Palmer fairgrounds.
Organizer Charlie Willis, who has been involved with the rodeo every year for nearly 40 years, either as a competitor or an organizer, says the sport in Alaska has largely remained the same over the years, but one thing he has noticed is more interest among young people.
One of those young people is 18-year-old Austin Stratman of Kodiak, the first bareback rider to compete Saturday. Stratman taped up his arms with the hope that would relieve stress on his muscles as he tried to hold on when Buzz Lightyear bucked out of the chute.
Stratman said he used to ride bulls, but switched to broncs because he didn’t like the thought of getting hooked by a bull’s horn. “I don’t want to get messed up too bad,” he said.
Rodeo clown Dominic Giorgi of Oakdale, California, feels his pain. He broke a dozen bones during his career as a bull rider and bullfighter, but things got a little easier when he became a clown.
“It’s definitely a young man’s sport,” he said.
Giorgi is making his second appearance at the Alaska State Fair Rodeo, one of more than 40 rodeos he works at each year in addition to his day job as a diesel mechanic.
Dea Kneale of Wasilla also has a tough time staying away from rodeo. She’s entered in breakaway roping, her first rodeo in 22 years, she said. After years of watching, she decided to give it another shot.
“I’m not getting any younger,” Kneale said. “It’s hard to watch and not want to do it.”
The rodeo wraps up Sunday at 2 p.m.