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Exceptional Kids Rodeo Is Just Right

COARSEGOLD – Thundering hooves and hearty applause herald the arrival of the Coarsegold Rodeo this weekend, but what about the sounds of knocking rocking barrels, stick ponies on the run, happily squealing kids and the soft clapping of their tickled-pink parents? Those are the heartfelt melodies of the Exceptional Kids Rodeo, taking place on Saturday, May 3 at 11 a.m., at Bohna Arena.

The 63rd Annual Coarsegold Rodeo invites families in the special needs community to attend this year’s Exceptional Kids Rodeo, a program that enables special needs “exceptional kids” of all ages to take part in rodeo-themed games and activities.

The action takes place before the main rodeo starts and there is no charge to watch or participate.

With help from Rodeo Royalty contestants, each participant in the Exceptional Kids Rodeo is given encouragement and individual assistance throughout each activity. As the event ends, a special awards ceremony recognizes everyone’s involvement and celebrates their unique abilities.

This year, the Exceptional Kids Rodeo committee includes Yosemite High School student Cassie Salisbury helping to organize the event as her Senior Project, along with area parents Sarah and Kevin Lockwood.

“Basically, this is a chance for kids with needs to come out and be a part of the action, right there in the center of the arena,” the couple explained.

Coarsegold Exceptional Kids Rodeo - courtesy of Kevin LockwoodThe Lockwoods are a regular family including children with special needs, so they know first-hand the concerns parents have finding events that are fun for their kids to attend.

“This event stands out to parents like us because it is done fully for the kids. Having served on the rodeo committee this year, it’s been great to see that they aren’t looking for publicity or extra advertising with this event; it’s fully to honor and celebrate members of the community who have more challenges in their lives.”

That includes the Lockwood bunch.

“Our kids are Katie (9), Eli (7), Michael (5), Hannah (almost 4) and Daniel (almost 3 and still waiting for us in China),” continued the pair. “All of our children were adopted as infants: Katie from Kazakhstan, Eli from Vietnam and Michael, Hannah and Daniel from China.”

Hannah has a rare condition known as Moebius Syndrome.

“It is a condition where the 6th and 7th cranial brain nerves never formed in utero, so she has complete facial paralysis,” they said. “Hannah is unable to smile, make other facial expressions, close her mouth all the way, move her eyes from side to side, blink or squint.”

Hannah also has a paralyzed vocal cord, and half of her tongue is paralyzed, so speech is more difficult for her. Twice a week she is in speech therapy which is expected to continue throughout her school life.

Exceptional Kids Rodeo Kevin and Sarah Lockwood with their family Katie, Eli, Michael, Hannah - not pictured is Daniel who is still waiting for them in China - courtesy of Kevin Lockwood“Along with Moebius, Hannah also had clubfeet, and Poland’s Syndrome, which results in one of her arms being shorter and having a ‘little’ hand on that side,” continued the Lockwoods, adding that some of the ways their children’s conditions affect the family is shown in the high number of doctor appointments, surgeries and therapy appointments.

Son Michael also has various congenital differences, including each of his hands, feet and legs.

“He also has some cranial differences that contribute to speech issues and some hearing loss,” said the Lockwoods. “Our son who is waiting in China has some facial paralysis as well, including significant motor delays. We’re fairly certain he will be diagnosed as having Cerebral Palsy and will likely have mobility issues all his life.”

Because the family has wrapped its arms lovingly around their diversity of differences, the parents’ sensitivities are heightened to the actions of others.

“The biggest way that it affects us is that we are a little more aware of how people react to differences. We are also aware of how often we, as adults, still make assumptions as to a person’s abilities based on looks, speech patterns, and equipment needed.”

Believing that educating the public is the key to understanding and compassion, the Lockwoods are fully engaged in activities that promote the well-being of all children, especially those who are exceptional. That’s why the Exceptional Kids Rodeo is such a perfect fit.

No one knows exactly how long it’s been going on, but rodeo doyenne Pat Strimling emphasized, “a long time.” The exceptional part of the rodeo takes place before the main rodeo starts on Saturday.

The Lockwoods are busy amidst preparations for the big event.

Exceptional Kids Rodeo Flier“We will be having multiple rodeo-themes events and games setup, including roping, bronc riding – that is, rocking a 50 gallon barrel, and barrel riding with stick horse. Hopefully we’ll have tractor rides, which are not confirmed, but we are hoping,” the Lockwoods said. The event is sponsored by Graydon Kennels in Coarsegold.

This year, the Lockwoods expect about 20-plus participants. “Some have outward or visible needs – a couple of kids use walkers – while some have developmental delays, and others have less visible needs such as autism spectrum disorder, or emotional disorders. We try not to ask too many questions and let as many participate as possible.”

Confirmed contestants currently range from age 3 to 19.

“Having an event like this means so much to us, as parents,” the Lockwoods recounted.

“Having this Exceptional Kids Rodeo here shows that the rodeo organizers care about seeing all kids enjoy the rodeo equally. With this rodeo, kids with needs are given equal access by having them down in the arena with a plethora of support, encouragement and even protection from some of the otherwise overwhelming stimulus that takes place during the main rodeo. We’re just so blessed that they do it, it’s a privilege to help make it happen.”

Organizers say drop-in participants will be accepted the day of the event if the 20 spots are not filled.

For more information, call Kevin and Sarah Lockwood at (559) 474-4940 or email exceptionalkidsrodeo@gmail.com

For more information on the Coarsegold Rodeo read the SNO story here.

TIn addition to the Coarsegold Exceptional Kids Rodeo, the following organizations are recommended by the Lockwoods as great resources for diverse family-friendly events:

Break the Barriers

Joni & Friends

Fresno Firefighters Creating Memories

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