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Mental health stakes high on the Canadian rodeo circuit

ATB takes on title sponsor role for Canadian Finals Rodeo and joins bid for better mental health support for competitors

By Angelique Rodrigues 8 November 2021 3 min read

ATB Community Ambassador Zeke Thurston

In the wake of beloved bull rider Ty Pozzobon’s controversial death in 2017, the western lifestyle community in Alberta has been working to reduce stigmas around mental health.

Pozzobon was a 25-year-old bull rider from Merritt, B.C., who - according to friends and family - took his own life after experiencing numerous concussions and a lack of support and protection in the industry.

“Ty was one of the greatest bull riders in the world, and when he lost his life to mental illness it really shook the whole western lifestyle,” said Tanner Byrne, a longtime friend who founded the Ty Pozzobon Foundation. “It wasn’t just anybody—he was the McDavid of our sport, so if it could happen to him, it meant it could happen to anyone.”

Since then, Byrne says the foundation has been on a mission to raise awareness on mental health and reduce stigmas around accessing care. Along the way, they teamed up with the Canadian Pro Rodeo Sport Medicine Team to run an education and awareness program around mental health and promote better concussion protocols for bull-riding and other events.

"It used to be no big deal for someone to get rattled, come to and get on the next ride. It makes me proud [to] know the sport is moving in the right direction."

Zeke Thurston, ATB Community Ambassador

 

The foundation funds the sports medicine team to go to high schools and professional rodeos and to create video resources on mental health and concussion education.

“Since Ty’s passing we’re more aware of mental health issues related to concussions and our team, and the foundation, - we’re out there raising awareness and providing education about it,” Brandon Thome, Executive Director of the sports medicine team.

And, he says, it’s working.

Bucking the stigma

Zeke Thurston, two-time Canadian Saddle Bronc Champion and ATB Financial’s sponsored rodeo competitor in this year’s CFR, agrees.

“There are definitely a lot more people aware of the mental health impacts and they take it quite seriously now. It used to be no big deal for someone to get rattled, come to and get on the next ride,” said Thurston. “It makes me proud and I know the sport is moving in the right direction.”

It’s why, when the opportunity to become title sponsor for this year’s CFR came up, ATB elected to focus the activation on those two teams as they actively work to dismantle stigmas and provide access to mental health resources.

“As strong advocates for mental health, we are proud to partner with the Ty Pozzobon Foundation and the Canadian Pro Rodeo Sport Medicine Team to raise much needed funds and awareness,” said ATB President and CEO Curtis Stange. “We are also excited to sponsor an event that celebrates Alberta’s vibrant western culture, engages community spirit and drives economic growth in the region.”

In addition to a direct $10,000 donation, split between the Pro Rodeo Sport Medicine Team and the Ty Pozzobon Foundation, ATB also offered three, free therapy sessions to each rodeo participant through our partner—Inkblot Therapy—and discounted rates following the event. Thurston says that access to private, flexible therapy can help save lives in the western community—especially among competitors who still find it difficult to admit when they need help.

“The therapy—that’s a huge asset for them. Lots of us in the rodeo like convenience, so the therapy session being private, easy to set up, on the go, nobody needs to know about it—that is huge,” said Thurston. “We talk about trying to be open about it but there are still a lot of people who don’t want to admit they need help and this, well, it makes it easy.”

You can learn more about the Ty Pozzobon Foundation, and their efforts to protect and support the well-being of western lifestyle participants in Alberta, at typozzobon.ca.

 

ATB’s Greater Good strategy seeks to move the province forward in the areas of Access to Mental Health Supports and Access to Information and Communication. You can learn more about ATB’s Greater Good strategy here.

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