It’s not out of the ordinary to find horses parading down Main Avenue in tiny McLeod, North Dakota. After all, there are hitching posts outside of both of the town’s saloons. One weekend each year though, the town gets a bit bigger.
Since 2004, McLeod has hosted the Cowboy Up Ride Against Cancer, an event to raise money for the Sanford Roger Maris Cancer Center in Fargo, and the centerpiece of the event is a trail ride just down the road in the Sheyenne National Grasslands.
“It’s easy to get on the back of that horse and just ride out there in the peace and quiet and think about what’s going on in your world and what’s happened to your family members,” said Karen Haugen.
The people of Cowboy Up
Haugen helps run things for Cowboy Up, including the bake sale, the silent auction, the burger stand and more. Cancer took her father 17 years ago. He was from Milnor, North Dakota, another small town, just south of McLeod, and she knows how a little help can go a long way during cancer treatment.
“His wife was driving him to Fargo every day for radiation. 75 miles there, 75 miles back. There’s a lot of people that have those issues. So to be able to help with a gas card or a hotel room when those family members need that so they can be there to support their family member that’s in the hospital or getting treatment, it’s a good thing,” Haugen said.
This year, Carl Sad of Cooperstown, North Dakota, was the guest speaker at Cowboy Up. He was one of the first people ever treated at Roger Maris Cancer Center back in 1988. 35 years later, he is cancer-free. But he still makes time for this event.
“If you had the chance to just travel back and just see year-to-year, you’ll see a lot of the same faces. And they’re always smiling. They’re always so happy to be there. They just love the event. But I think it’s because of what it’s for,” Sad said. “It means a lot to people. It means a lot to me.”
This year, Cowboy Up celebrated a milestone. They have now donated more than $1 million to Roger Maris Cancer Center and Sanford Health Foundation, and they don’t plan on stopping any time soon.
“Cancer affects everybody,” said Haugen. “I think it would be rare to find the person that didn’t have a friend or a family member that had cancer. And so it’s easy to support the cause because it can be pretty devastating sometimes.”
More than 100 riders took part this year, coming from all over. North Dakota, Minnesota, even as far away as Georgia. All to care for each other, to remember the loved ones they’ve lost, and to give back to their hometown cancer center that’s just a little ways up the trail.
“This is like a beacon. I mean, anybody who unfortunately gets cancer, they have to know there’s a place that can help you. And to have this place here, just to be able to get the help you need, get the hope you need, it’s tremendous,” said Sad.
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