It’s always an electric moment at Cheyenne Frontier Days when the world’s largest outdoor rodeo is paused so Wyoming can recognize its hometown heroes.
On Sunday, it was Brady Lowry’s and Kendall Cummings’ turn in the spotlight.
Lowry and Cummings made international news last fall when a grizzly bear attacked the two wrestlers from Northwest College in Powell, Wyoming.
But instead of ending up as statistics, the two wrestlers fought back until the grizzly backed down.
And for that courage, the two — along with two other teammates who helped them get down the mountain — received a rousing standing ovation in front of more than 15,000 people Sunday.
Cummings, who — astonishingly — attacked the grizzly as it was attacking his friend, choked up when recounting the event.
“People always ask me why I did it and the answer is I just felt like it was the right thing to do,” Cummings said. “I felt like it was what I had to do. If I didn’t do what I did, I think I would regret it every day.”
Garrett Yerrigan is the longtime rodeo announcer at Cheyenne Frontier Days and a master storyteller to boot.
It’s not easy to keep a crowd’s attention on a hot and dusty afternoon when rodeo-goers have had plenty of Coors and are yearning to see busting bulls and broncs.
But Yerrigan had great content on Sunday.
So, when he stopped the rodeo and pointed people toward the Cowboy Skill sponsor box where the four hometown heroes sat, the crowd took note.
“Seeing Lowry being torn apart, Cummings took the fight back to the grizzly bear,” Yerrigan’s voice boomed.
“He punched, kicked, yelled and grabbed the bear by the ear to pull him off his teammate,” he said.
That got the grizzly’s attention and stopped it from attacking Lowry but, as the story has been told numerous times, the bear then turned its fury toward Cummings.
“He put his hands and arms in the bear’s mouth to keep it from chewing on his neck,” Yerrigan said.
Although the crowd was quiet, Cummings nodded his head in reflection, and laughed.
The bear eventually waved the white flag and relented, but then came back for Round Two.
More punching, more kicking, more yelling before the bear — once and for all — gave up.
The two other teammates, who were farther down the trail, heard the commotion and ran back up. They helped Cummings and Lowry get down the mountain to where a life-flight helicopter was waiting.
“By the grace of God and the bravery of brotherhood these four share, we are pleased to have Brady Lowry, the teammate who saved his life, Kendall Cummings, Orrin Jackson and August Harrison here today,” the announcer said.
“These guys got into the wrestling match of their lives and are looking forward to returning to college and back on the mat this fall,” he said.
Danielle Mannino, who was attending the rodeo from Brooklyn, said she couldn't believe what she was hearing.
She said her only frame of reference was a 2015 movie about American frontiersman Hugh Glass which had a memorable bear-mauling scene.
"This is the most incredible thing I've heard of," Mannino said. "I saw 'The Revenant' a few years ago but these guys make Leonardo DiCaprio look like Barbie."
This is the third consecutive year that Cheyenne Frontier Days and Wyoming-based Cowboy Skill — a company under the Pace-O-Matic umbrella which is the leading developer of legally compliant games of skill in the United States— have teamed up for the hometown heroes event.
Cowboy Skill hosts the heroes in its sponsor box and provides them with lodging, dinner and concert tickets.
“Hosting the hometown heroes is something we look forward to each year at Cheyenne Frontier Days,” said Paul Goldean, CEO of Pace-O-Matic.
“Each of these amazing young men has earned the title of hero, and we are thrilled to be learning about and helping share their story today. Treating them to an exciting day here at CFD is the least we can do to thank them,” Goldean said.
More Heroes To Come
Goldean said there are two other Hometown Heroes events coming up.
Howard Dykes, a Cheyenne man who donated 39 gallons of blood and is credited with saving more than 900 lives, will be recognized on Wednesday.
On Thursday, Tiffany Gruetzmacher, an emergency medical technician who was critically injured while responding to a crash near Rawlins, Wyoming will be saluted.
Tyeler Harris, an EMT who was with Gruetzmacher that evening, was killed in the accident and left behind a wife and three young children.
Jimmy Orr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.