Teams of horses kicked up mud and snow on the race track in Afton this weekend as chariot racing teams competed for a great cause.
The annual All American Cutter/Chariot Races that took place in Star Valley last weekend brought out residents of surrounding communities in support of kids who must undergo treatment at Shriners Hospital in Salt Lake City.
The event, which last year raised over $42,000 for the hospital, drew hundreds of people who bet on which team would reach the finish line first in their custom-made horse-drawn chariots.
Tomi White, the secretary for the local chapter of the Shriners, told Cowboy State Daily the event has been going on in one form or another in Wyoming for 50 years.
“The Shrine races started up in Jackson in 1972,” she said. “It hasn’t been in Jackson for a few years, and three years ago, we were approached by the Jackson Shriner club, with them saying ‘Hey, what would you guys think about doing the Shrine races down here in Star Valley?’”
Cutter (or chariot) racing involves two-horse teams racing side-by-side 40 miles per hour along a quarter-mile track.
White said that everyone is welcome to participate – either by racing or betting.
“Anybody and everybody that’s got a team or wants to come and play is welcome,” she said.
White explained that money is collected at the gate and is more is raised through a 50/50 raffle, calcutta betting and a banquet.
“The first year (that we held the races) I think we were able to give close to like $10,000 to the Shriners, and we started up a nonprofit organization,” she said. “And last year we sent $42,000 to the Salt Lake Shriners Hospital. We haven’t gotten through everything quite yet (from this year’s race,) but we’re looking at about $42,000 again.”
That money is then used to help the families whose children are patients at the Salt Lake City Shriners hospital, according to White.
“They receive the money and they pay people’s bills,” she said. “They help with the housing for the parents so that the parents don’t have to worry about trying to stay in a place and feed themselves and all this other stuff. They ask, ‘What’s our bill?’ And they’re like, ‘Nope, it’s paid for.’”
Families right in Star Valley have benefited from the money raised by the Shriner races. Jamie Ellis’ 17-year-old son, Bradyn Jenkins, received care at the Shriner hospital three years ago.
“My oldest son was diagnosed with scoliosis,” she said, “and they tried to do a brace and some other things to slow the progression, but it just ended up being really bad. And so when he was 14, he got a spinal fusion through Shriners.”
Ellis said that since Bradyn’s surgery, his quality of life has improved remarkably.
“There’s still a lot of bending and twisting and things that he just can’t do anymore, because they fused everything together,” she said. “But as far as his pain levels, he was in a lot of pain before, and school was hard for him. Everything was hard because he was hurting all the time. But his pain levels now are very, very, very little compared to what they used to be.”
Ellis said that the family’s financial burden was lightened because of the money raised through the Shriner Races in Afton and her son can now concentrate on living his life.
“He just went in July and had a check up, and now I think he’s supposed to go every couple of years, she said. ”But I feel like he’s just really been able to move forward and kind of plan his future. That’s what we’re working on now.”