The Calgary Stampede and Exhibition grounds were under hundreds of gallons of water two weeks before the $2-million rodeo opened because of the floods that ravaged southern Alberta.
It seemed impossible on June 21 when the rodeo infield, chuckwagon track and livestock barns were mired in a muddy lake that the 101st edition of the Stampede rodeo would happen.
"The things they pulled off here were unreal," saddle bronc champion Cort Scheer said.
"You can't say enough for the people around here. They pulled together. That's community and that's what rodeo is all about. It's good to see that's still going on."
The 10-day rodeo concluded Sunday with the top 10 in each event battling for a berth in the final four and chance at the biggest paycheque in the sport.
Canadians were shut out of the titles with Americans winning $100,000 in each of the six rodeo events.
But Jason Glass of High River, Alta., won a close chuckwagon final Sunday night for $100,000. His team's time was one minute 10.26 seconds.
It was an emotional win for the 42-year-old Glass because his hometown was hardest hit by floodwaters.
"The devastation that happened in High River, it wasn't in the back of my mind. It was on the front of my mind the whole time we were here," Glass said.
"Just thinking of all my friends in the town of High River and what they're going through, the hard work they're putting into that town, just pushed me that much further. I thought about it every single day."
J.B. Mauney of Mooresville, N.C., took the bull riding championship with a score of 91.5 aboard Bombs Away, which was a bull his brother-in-law Shane Proctor won with two years ago. Mauney was a two-time champion in Calgary after his first win in 2009.
"It's an accomplishment even to be invited to this rodeo and to win it not once, but twice, your confidence can't get any higher than that," Mauney said.
Steer wrestler Wayne Sumpter of Fowler, Colo., was also a second-time winner after his victory in 2008.
Scheer of Elsmere, Neb., bareback winner Caleb Bennett of Morgan, Utah, barrel racing champion Jean Winters of Texline, Tex., and tie-down roping victor Bradley Bynum of Sterling City, Tex., were winners competing at the Stampede for the first time in their lives.
"I wonder if it's going to put a little more pressure on my shoulders for the future," said Bennett, whose winning score was a 90.5 atop Stampede Warrior.
Winters, 45, had never been to Canada before this year's Stampede. She didn't win any money in the preliminary rounds earlier in the week, but charged into Sunday's championship via a wild-card berth earned Saturday.
She rode Crickets Peppy Zan to victory in a time of 17.40 seconds Sunday.
"When I got him, I was going to trade him, so I didn't name him anything fun," Winters explained. "If I'd know he was going to be this good, we might have come up with some fancy name. Zan it is."
Both Scheer and Bennett were already competing in other Alberta rodeos when the floods hit. When their rodeo in Sundre was cancelled, they both feared they would not get to make their Stampede debuts.
"There were rumours going around that this rodeo wasn't even going to be able to take place," Bennett said. "We really wanted to experience this. It was remarkable they got it cleaned up."
Saddle bronc rider Scheer scored 93.5 aboard Spring Planting to collect his six-figure prize.
"I'm going to have to hire a banker I guess, or something," he said. "I've been wanting to build a house."
Some Stampede events were cancelled or modified this year. River water reached the eighth row of the Scotiabank Saddledome, which is a concert venue for the Stampede. Those concerts were cancelled.
But the relief and joy of Calgarians and the organization committee over the rodeo's rescue was infectious, Mauney said.
"It was a little more upbeat," the 26-year-old explained. "Everybody was in great spirits because most places wouldn't even have had it, considering what's been going on. It pumped you up a bunch. I was ready to ride."
"Shoot, I love this rodeo."
Bynum's time of seven seconds was fastest in the tie-down event. Sumpter's 3.8 second-takedown was the quickest in steer wrestling.
"It never gets old. I can guarantee you that," Sumpter said.
Half of the $2 million in prize money the Stampede rodeo offers is paid out on championship day. Contestants are divided into two pools when the rodeo starts.
The top four money-earners in each pool advance to Sunday's round. The remaining six in each pool compete in wild-card Saturday with the top two advancing to Sunday.
Bareback rider Dusty LaValley of Bezanson, Alta., and bull riders Ty Pozzobon of Merritt, B.C., and Tanner Byrne of Prince Albert, Sask., were the only Canadians to make the final four of their respective events.
Byrne finished second to Mauney with a score of 90.5 aboard Pop Evil. Pozzobon scored 88 with Rainy Nights to finish fourth. LaValley was second in bareback behind Bennett with a 91.5 score on Cajun Queen.
The Stampede rodeo continues to be criticized by animal rights groups. A chuckwagon horse collapsed and died after a race Friday. A steer was euthanized earlier in the rodeo because of a neck injury it suffered in competition.
A lead horse of chuckwagon racer Kelly Sutherland fell at the start of a heat Sunday night.
It was a panicked two minutes disentangling the prone animal from the other agitated lead horse as the other three chuckwagons sped around the course.
The horse that went down was re-hitched to Sutherland's wagon, which returned to the barns pulled by the team of four.Suggest a correction