They love this, they absolutely love this. I know some of them look forward to this all year. —UHP Trooper Stephen Matthews
HEBER CITY — Children from Wasatch and Summit counties who have special needs experienced a little bit of Western culture at a Special Needs Rodeo Friday as part of the Wasatch County Fair.
"The motivation behind the whole thing is just to have these special needs kids have an experience with the rodeo," rodeo announcer Brent Kelly said. "Have the experience of doing some of the events, riding the horse, riding the bucking machine, roping dummies and those kinds of experiences that they don't get to have all the time."
The rodeo, which has been going on for about seven years, hosted about 80 people with special needs along with family members and volunteers from the Deer Sams Utah chapter, Walmart, Utah Highway Patrol and local authorities.
"It's just good to come out and support these kids and the event that goes on here," UHP Trooper Stephen Matthews said. "They love this, they absolutely love this. I know some of them look forward to this all year."
Mathew Heimburger attended the rodeo with his 4-year-old daughter Lucy who has a rare disorder called Rett Syndrome, a condition that is undetectable until a child is more than a year old. There are 33 known cases of Rett Syndrome in Utah, according to Heidi Burnham, regional representative for the International Rett Syndrome Foundation.
"Everything seems fine and then this little defect in her X chromosome kicks in, because the body is finally developing in a new way," Heimburger said. "Within a week everything goes away, everything that's been achieved goes away and they are lying still on the floor."
Heimburger said events like the rodeo remind him that his family isn't alone.
"It often reduces us to tears, to be honest, because we're new at it and I think we feel pretty alone and overwhelmed a lot of the time," he said. "And then you come to an event like this and you realize that you are in good company."
He said that since his daughter was diagnosed a year ago he finally has the eyes to see how beautiful every single child with special needs is.
"For Lucy, it means she gets to experience things and touch things and so much of what we do in American culture is designed for the able-bodied," Heimburger said. "But for anybody that stops and takes the time to connect with these children I think there's a whole world of joy and gratefulness too."
Those volunteering at the rodeo reiterated just how great it is to work with the children.
"Quite honestly, it's nice to be able to work with the very best of society when 99 percent of my job is working with the worst," Wasatch County sheriff's deputy Chris Goode said.
"I hate to be so crass with that but this is awesome. I am so glad my department gets to come and do this with people who really go through the effort. We show up and we're a face, but there's a lot more that goes on behind this every year and activities like these, it's really neat."
The Wasatch County Fair continues tody in Heber City.