LAS CRUCES — When it came time to cowboy up and fight for a good cause, many were tough enough to wear pink.
Top cowpokes from throughout the Southwest came Saturday to begin the 30th anniversary Cowboys for Cancer Research (CCR) annual two-day team roping event at Sproul Arena, north of Las Cruces on Harvey Farm Road.
The event — one of the largest roping competitions in New Mexico — continues Sunday, as cowboys vie for prizes that include a three-horse gooseneck trailer, saddles and buckles and cash.
Splitting a $7,000 purse early Saturday were team ropers Hecter Lucero of Belen and Sterling Kelly of Mesquite.
"It happens this is the year we got lucky, but we'd be here anyway. This is the best hobby in the world. My wife and I have been coming for at least 10 years, and it's for a very good cause," said Lucero, whose father, Pete Lucero, had leukemia but lived to be 85.
"My mother is a survivor. It's a way to support research for cancer and it's a good time, to rope with your friends," said Sal Hurralde, heading toward the arena on his horse, Rogue.
"I like to rope and I like to support my friends," said Willie Lucero of Mesilla, wearing a pink shirt with a tribute on the back "In memory of Trish Segovia: 4/21/61-3/9/11."
For many, the event has become a kind of reunion and favorite family gathering.
"We've come for the last five years. It's kind of a family tradition now. I'm riding my daughter's horse, Don Juan Suavé," said Chancie Roberts of Las Cruces, whose saddle was ornamented with evidence of her own championship honors in a 2007 roping competition.
"It's a good run. I'm here to support my father this year," said Ricky Martinez of Las Cruces, sharing a horseback ride around the grounds with his daughter Paytyn, 4.
"This is my first year here, but I've been team roping all my life," said Linda Davis, a trait she shares with veteran roper Trey Miller of Las Cruces.
The organization's co-executive directors Denny and Geraldine Calhoun look forward to seeing familiar faces at CCR events each year.
"We've been involved for 30 years, since it all began. This is what we love. People come year after year for the dinner and the dance and then the roping, not just from here, but from Colorado, Arizona, Texas and all over New Mexico. A lot of us are passionate about raising funds for cancer research. It's hard to find someone who hasn't been touched by cancer somewhere in their lives," said Geraldine Calhoun.
"We have 625 teams signed up for Saturday and it looks like we might have another 625 on Sunday. That's above average. Last year we had about 550 each day," Denny Calhoun said.
CCR, in conjunction with the New Mexico State University Aggies are Tough Enough to Wear Pink breast cancer awareness initiative, has had a long winning streak as top fundraisers for cancer research at NMSU and the University of New Mexico Cancer Research and Treatment Center.
Cowboys for Cancer Research began in 1981, after Alma Cohorn, wife of roper Kenneth Cohorn, died of cancer. To honor her memory, several Las Cruces residents pulled together to organize a team roping competition to raise money to fight cancer.
The event went from raising about $700 in its first year to status as the largest cancer fundraiser in New Mexico where contributions stay in the state.
"Our goal this year is to raise $1 million with the help of Tough Enough to Wear Pink. It looks like we're going to come real close," Denny Calhoun said.
In addition to raising money to support breast cancer research, the CCR and Tough Enough to Wear Pink campaign help raise awareness of the disease and engages the community through educational programs, free mammograms and other events promoting early detection and intervention.
The team roping events continue Sunday with entry and signups beginning at 8 a.m. Roping starts at 9 a.m. and continues through afternoon finals. Admission is free for spectators and $150 per person for the Mega-11 Roping and $120 for the final No. 13 Handicapped Drawpot.
To learn more about the program, visit www.cowboysforcancerresearch.org.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at (575) 541-5450. Follow her on Twitter @DerricksonMoore.
If you go
What: 30th anniversary Cowboys for Cancer Research Team Roping Event
When: Ends Sunday. Enter at 8 a.m. Roping starts at 9 a.m.
Where: Sproul Arena, Harvey Farm Road, off N. Valley Drive
How much: Free for spectators, ropers $150 & $120
Benefits: Cancer research at NMSU, and the UNM Cancer Research and Treatment Center.