If you’ve been to a rodeo in the recent past, you may have noticed some cowboys and cowgirls dressed in pink. And if you found yourself at the Kispiox Valley Rodeo last summer, you definitely would have noticed someone at the centre of those pink cowboys and cowgirls. New Hazelton’s Sarah Lazzarotto, in her sixth year of fundraising, surpassed $15,000 in total fundraising dollars for cancer care in the Bulkley Valley.
I had the chance to chat with Sarah about this achievement and two of her passions: rodeo and cancer care fundraising.
What inspired you to start fundraising for cancer care in the Bulkley Valley?
When I was eight years old, my older sister was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She was 10 at the time and had to spend a lot of time in Vancouver initially for treatment. I didn’t get to see much of her for a while so it meant a lot to me that she was able to get her follow-up treatments at the cancer care clinic in Smithers.
Treatment for my sister’s cancer was successful and my family stayed involved in raising awareness and funds for cancer research and treatment. We would have a team in the local Relay for Life every year but that event was always scheduled at the same time as the rodeo, which is something I love and was involved with at the time! So I asked myself, how can I stay involved in rodeo and get involved in cancer fundraising? I learned about the Tough Enough to Wear Pink campaign while visiting the National Finals Rodeo in 2011 on a vacation in Las Vegas and it was a perfect fit! I decided I wanted to host a Tough Enough to Wear Pink Day for my hometown rodeo in the Kispiox Valley. It was a way for me to give back while staying involved in rodeo.
What is the Tough Enough to Wear Pink campaign?
It’s a nationally recognized campaign – a toolkit, really – for rodeos and western events to raise awareness about cancer prevention and fundraise for local cancer care. The name comes from the cowboys and cowgirls who wear pink to bring attention to the cause. What I like about it, and why it works so well for me, is that it’s flexible! Where other rodeos might focus on breast cancer, I can keep it more general, which is important to me given my sister’s experience and that of other individuals who were close to me. The actual fundraising varies and may include BBQs, raffles, auctions, and more but a big part is typically selling Tough Enough to Wear Pink merchandise at local rodeos.
It sounds like the rodeo community is an important one for you! How did you get involved in rodeo?
I grew up in New Hazelton and spent lots of time in the Kispiox Valley. I worked out there, rode everyone’s horses out there, and was part of the drill team and multiple rodeo queen contests. Did you know that Kispiox has one of the biggest drill teams in Canada next to the RCMP Musical Ride? I worked for the president of the Rodeo Club and was one of the youngest Rodeo Club members, having joined in grade 9. I ran for Rodeo Queen in 2008/2009 and won. I carried my title of Kispiox Valley Rodeo Queen over to the 2010/2011 season, too. In that role, I got the chance to learn about rodeo events, take part in community events, and represent Kispiox at other rodeos. At the time, I lived, slept, and breathed rodeo! For the past three years, I have been living in the city so it hasn’t been as easy to be around the rodeo environment. However, as of this summer, I moved to Quesnel because I missed the small town feel after I had come back from the Kispiox Valley Rodeo. So I’m hoping to get more involved again.
Why is the rodeo community such a special place for you? Why did you look there when it came to the chance to fundraise for cancer care?
I just love being around the rodeo community! It’s homey and social. You can go up to anybody at a rodeo and have a great conversation. I find the people are always kind and appreciative – in part, I think, because of how much work goes into rodeo.
I also simply enjoy and appreciate rodeo as a serious sport. Cowboys and cowgirls practice year-round, just like other athletes. Rodeo is exercise for yourself and your horse, it takes mental discipline, and it leads to new skills – it’s healthy all around and I love watching my friends and others compete or take part in different events!
Now that you’ve surpassed $15,000 in fundraising at the Kispiox Valley Rodeo, what’s next for your combined interests in cancer care fundraising and rodeo?
I’d love to bring the Tough Enough to Wear Pink campaign to other rodeos. I don’t like to see a rodeo go without it! I’m currently working with a nice new team to host the event in Smithers.
Your successes and passion are inspiring! What advice do you have for others who are looking to support health and wellness in their community?
Find something to join and contribute to. And if there’s nothing that ignites your passion, be courageous, go out there, and be the first to do it! Don’t be afraid of people saying no. In my experience, there’s a very good chance that people will say “yes” to a cause that you’re passionate about and that contributes back locally. Everyone will have opinions – remind yourself of why you started what you started and just go with it. Everyone in the world has an opinion and they are great to consider, but don’t let it stop you from organizing an amazing event. At the end of the day, it won’t be an event without you.
It sounds like the community comes together around this event at the Kispiox Valley Rodeo. Is there anyone in particular you’d like to acknowledge?
The community businesses are wonderful – they donate baskets for us to raffle, sell our merchandise, offer their services at no cost, host BBQs, and more. In addition to these sponsors and volunteers, I have to say a very, very special thanks to my mom, Liz Lazzarotto, and to family friend Jude Hobenshield, who has been so instrumental in making the events happen over the last six years. Thank you to anyone who has ever supported me because that is obviously a huge motivation to keep going with Tough Enough to Wear Pink. I also love, love, love all my volunteers! I love you all!