August 5th, 2021

Grabbing hockey by the horns

By Ryan McCracken on August 9, 2018.

Robert Bowers talks to students at the Platinum Star Power Skating hockey camp Wednesday at the Family Leisure Centre.

Driving up to the Family Leisure Centre Wednesday you might have thought there was a rodeo school going on.

Kids outside gleefully roping fake calves. Inside, rodeo legend Robert Bowers held court with room-fulls of youth, telling stories of his days at the National Finals Rodeo and showing off the cheque for $85,677 he won at the Calgary Stampede in 2004.

Alas, it’s just Gay Dubeau’s latest brainchild for helping make better hockey players.

“I try to do things a little bit unorthodox, only because there’s lots of hockey schools out there, and I don’t want anybody to say it was the same-old same old,” said Dubeau, the boss at Platinum Star Power Skating. “So I work hard at it.”

For all the hours kids spend doing stick and skating drills on the ice, these camps need to give them something to do off the ice. Hand-eye coordination? Balance? How about a little inspiration from an athlete who’s been to the top in his sport? Bowers checks all of those boxes.

Growing up in Brooks, Bowers played hockey too, but rodeo was his real passion. He remembers getting on his first bull at 16 years old.

“I never have been a big, strong guy, you’re never going to out-power a bull,” he said after the last of three presentations Wednesday. “It’s always been more about balance and coordination.

“Gay, one of her things yesterday was balance on their skates, getting to the next level by making those skills stronger as you’re going. That’s the same thing with bull riding, the balance and coordination and knowing where your body’s at.”

Having that innate sense of which way to lean at the right moment helped Bowers ride for more than two decades, winning the Canadian Finals Rodeo in 1997 and a regular at the NFR in Las Vegas in his prime.

So too did his mentality of staying positive despite a list of injuries so long he needed to write them down to remember them all.

Broken ribs, ankles, arms, his nose, teeth, a thumb, elbow, collarbone, jawÉ you name it he probably hurt it badly. He matter-of-factly told the campers of the time he broke his arm one day at the 10-day-long NFR, then came back to ride with his opposite hand for the last five days. Then he showed video proof of an 88-point ride during that stretch.

To say the kids were in awe would be an understatement. They couldn’t ask enough questions.

“I wish there was more opportunity to talk to kids, be able to maybe foster some thoughts of being cowboys and knowing bull riding,” said the 44-year-old, who hasn’t competed in four-plus years now but refuses to use the word retired. “It’s still sports, it’s still athletes, right? You still have to have your goals and your positive attitudes. They do work together.”

Plenty of kids in the audience knew lots, having relatives who compete in rodeo and one who’d been on a couple steers himself. But one question from a parent caught the champion rider: “Would you let your own child ride bulls?”

Turns out Bowers’ wife is pregnant with their first child. But yes, he said, he’d support whatever his kid wanted to do.

No doubt that major change will keep him off the back of any 2,000-pound animals for a while longer. He worked at casinos in Calgary for the better part of the last decade and recently got into long-haul driving for an RV company.

“I was worried coming in, I’ve got four sheets of stuff and all of a sudden here I am an hour in, I’ve gone way over (my time limit),” Bowers said after the last presentation.

“It’s awesome, the kids really received it well,” said Dubeau, whose camp has surged from 40 participants last year to more than 100 this time around.

And then then kids went outside to rope some fake calves.

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