When Darrell Cholach first climbed onto the broad back of a steer at a neighbouring friend’s ranch, he had no idea that years later he would be the winner of not one, not two, but three Canadian Championships before he retired from the rodeo circuit.
Today, Cholach trains young rodeo men and judges at rodeos across Alberta, but he started because his neighbours were involved.
“The guy’s dad rode bareback and roped calves,” 50-year-old Cholach recalled.
He said the thrill of winning was what got him hooked on rodeo, since he seemed to be a bit of a natural – he came in second place in his first competition, and just kept competing, finishing near the top or at the top in first place.
“The challenge or riding and competition with colleagues is intense,” he said. “It’s the challenge with the animal and yourself.”
In his career, Cholach won the Canadian Championship in Bareback in 1993, 1996 and 1999. In 1995, he was the Calgary Stampede Champion, in 1999 Cowboy of the Year, and he qualified for the CFR 16 times before he retired about eight years ago.
“I remember my first Canadian title, in ‘93,” Cholach said, his voice wry. “I was in second place three times leading up to that year. You’re so close to winning it, but not quite, and second is first loser.”
He said when he saw the numbers cross the board that put him in first place, and when he kept that spot, it was like a little “snap” inside.
“It was such a relief to know I’d finally gotten a title,” he said with a chuckle.
For him, heading to rodeos was a challenge but he wouldn’t let the competition, or the stakes, psych him out.
“You just go there and do what you gotta do,” he said.
Since Cholach had served on the Canadian Pro Rodeo board, he said he knew the required qualifications for people to be entered into the Hall of Fame – qualifications he meets and exceeds – and said that someday, he expected to get the call. Still, he’s flattered and honoured that his achievements would be memorialized in such a fashion.
For youngsters looking to get into rodeo sports, he has one piece of advice: be fit. Without strong core muscles, Cholach said the injuries will just keep coming.
“Get yourself stronger and you’d be surprised at how fast you’ll get better,” he said. If people don’t take care of their strength and core muscles, though, injuries will continue to cycle, bringing careers to painful closes.
Even for someone who’s successful, the sport is rough on the body.
“I never got hurt where I was busted in half, but I did pull my pelvis apart,” Cholach noted. The injury still bothers him to this day.
“It’s soft tissue damage and it takes a very long time to heal,” he said. “It’s almost better to have a broken bone.”
The rodeo hall of famer has also had both hips replaced.
“I don’t go around encouraging kids to get on a steer or bull or horse,” he said. “It can be so hard on the body.”
However, Cholach said he and other rodeo people can tell when a youngster is serious about the sport, and is going to go into it despite the risks and inevitability of injuries.
“When you meet them, you can tell,” he said. “They’re just naturals.”