By Jolee Jordan
Calgary, Alberta Canada—Perhaps no place holds as much significance to the Cowgirl Hall of Fame career of 1983 WPRA World Champion Marlene McRae as Calgary, Alberta.
So it is fitting that McRae will be honored with the Calgary Stampede’s Pioneers of the Rodeo award this summer during the 106th edition of the 10 day long celebration designed to preserve the western heritage and culture of the town known locally as Cowtown.
Begun in 1974, the Pioneers of the Rodeo is Calgary’s own Hall of Fame, honoring a small group each year from both the rodeo and chuckwagon sides of the event. Candidates are selected from contestants, media, staff, volunteers and “builders” of the sport. They are chosen based upon outstanding performances during the Stampede or impact on the sport.
In addition, candidates are those who’ve had at least five years of participation and are on the tail end of their competitive or service careers to the Stampede. Interestingly, preference is given to Canadians.
McRae is just the third American to be honored with the Pioneer of Rodeo award.
“I am really pleased,” says McRae, who follows Jim Shoulders and Dean Oliver as the only Americans in the Pioneers. She is the first American woman to be inducted. “Very honored to be in this group.”
McRae joins a small group of barrel racers as well. She is just the fifth barrel racer to be included, following Patty (Ivins) Lund, Isabella “Izzy” Miller, Monica Wilson, Jerri Duce and Pearl Mandeville.
Lund, inducted in 1996, was the first barrel racing champion of the Stampede, earning the title in 1959. Inducted the following year, Miller talked the Stampede into adding the ladies’ event in 1958 during her time as President of the Canadian Girls Rodeo Association. Just 17 at the time, she would later earn two Canadian barrel racing championships.
Inducted in 2015, Wilson served as the barrel racing director of the Canadian Pro Rodeo Association (CPRA) for many years, securing voting rights for the ladies during her tenure, ensuring the barrel race would be on level playing ground with the other events. She is one of just two ladies to win the Guy Weadick Award given during the Stampede (Lisa Lockhart claimed the title in 2017) and the only lady ever awarded the Cowboy of the Year award in the CPRA.
Duce and Mandeville both received the Pioneer award in 2016. Duce was the first woman inducted into the Canadian Rodeo Hall of Fame, an honor recognizing her nine Canadian championships and three qualifications to the National Finals Rodeo. She was the first Canadian barrel racer to compete in pro rodeo’s Super Bowl.
Mandeville is also in the Canadian Hall of Fame, both for her competitive skills inside the arena as well as her work for the sport outside of it. Mandeville timed rodeos for many years, including the Canadian Finals Rodeo, and help start the Canadian Rodeo News with her husband.
McRae has plenty of accolades to her name stateside—along with the WPRA World title, she won two NFR average titles in ten appearances. She was Reserve World Champ on four separate occasions. During her long career, she won nearly every major rodeo from Salinas to Denver.
Along with those accomplishments, McRae is honored by the Stampede for a huge career inside their arena. Aboard her WPRA World Champion horse Dutch, McRae won five Calgary Stampede titles, beginning in 1984. She won again in 1985, 1987 and 1989-90.
“Not just because we won five titles there, but really, from the moment you pull in until the time you leave, you just get a good feeling being there,” says McRae, who last competed in the Stampede in 2005. “They take good care of you and they really respect you as a contestant.”
Along with the many titles in the huge outdoor pen, McRae also competed in the 1988 Olympic Winter Olympics, held indoors at Stampede Park. She and Dutch handled the switch from a big outdoor pattern to a tiny indoor one with ease, winning six of the seven rounds held during the Games to clinch the individual Gold medal. Team USA won the team Gold as well, sending McRae home with a pair of medals.
“Having the Olympics there, just topped it all off,” notes McRae. “I really just can’t love Calgary any more than I do.”
The Pioneers of the Rodeo event takes place on July 9 and includes a luncheon, visit to the rodeo inside an infield suite along with recognition during the rodeo’s performance. Because chuckwagon racing is as important to the Stampede as the rodeo itself, the Pioneers will also take part in an afternoon event before the Chuckwagon racing that night.
“Because we were always hanging out for weeks at a time [during the Stampede], we got to know a lot of the guys. I enjoyed watching them work their horses. I have a lot of respect for them,” says McRae. “I’m looking forward to that.”
Pioneers are given a gold and silver buckle commemorating their accomplishment.
“I’ve been able to be around the committee there quite a lot as part of the WPRA Board,” says McRae, who currently serves as the Futurity Director. “They really are just a good bunch of people.”
“In my book, the Stampede is just first class, all the way.”
For more information on the Calgary Stampede, which kicks off on July 6, 2018, please visit them on-line at calgarystampede.com.