How does one who’s seen it all – won it all – know when to call it quits?
When do you give up passion, after 20 years, maybe 40? Especially if you’re an athlete, the window does not last too long.
For chuckwagon driver Kelly Sutherland of Grande Prairie, it took 50 years for him to say “enough”.
“I think 50 years is enough for me, I have some other things I want to do and I’ve been around the sport for a long long time. It’s just time for me to exit, it’s getting a lot more difficult on my body to stay in shape, and I think time to move on.”
That’s it. He’s ridden enough and it’s time to move on, as if 50 years is no big deal. But what Sutherland has accomplished is a very big deal. He has been declared the World Professional Chuckwagon Association (WPCA) World Champion 12 times. He has won the legendary Calgary Stampede Rangeland Derby 12 times as well. There is really nothing he hasn’t accomplished in the sport. This year is a bit of a challenge for the cowboy, as he is 21st in the WPCA standings.
“Well, I’ve been about middle of the pack in the association so I’m supposing that’s good,” he said sounding happy to be able to still race., while also OK with the end of his career drawing near.
However, his voice perks up when asked about an upcoming race.
“Should be fine, I’m on an outside barrel with some tough competition. So you know I’m not sure I’ll win the race but the important thing is to stay close and when you get the advantage to try and make it pay. Got to beat all 36 guys, so it’s just important to be clean in our association and to be tough every time you head out there,” Sutherland said.
You can hear it in his voice – the passion is still there. And yet, he’s got some plans made already for the future.
“I’d probably go riding in the mountains a little bit, do some guiding and stuff. And just to take the summers off. I haven’t seen a summer in the Peace country for 50 years, so maybe have a look around and see what it’s like, see if it’s the same as when I was a kid or not.”
What is most evident as we talk is his passion for the Peace Region. Living in Grande Prairie and racing in places like Dawson Creek has been important to him. Especially because DC is where he got his start in 1968.
“Dawson Creek is kind of special to me because that’s the first ever time I was in a race was the 1968 Fall Fair. I’ll be pretty much ending my career where I started it.”
This year, the Dawson Creek Exhibition is the second last race of the WPCA’s season, so it’s a pretty true statement.
“I think it’s just fitting to end things at that end where I’d been up to Dawson Creek riding race horses since I was about nine years old. You know I spent a lot of time in the peace country when I was a kid.”
Sutherland took time to reflect on his career and what the sport of chuckwagon racing has meant to him and his family, and it’s clear how fond of it he still is after all this time.
“I think it’s just been a fantastic sport for me you know, me and my wife Debbie raised all of our kids in the sport. I entered it when I was 14 years old working and so, I don’t think I could ask for anything more successful for me. I won a lot of stuff and was highly competitive and the sport was very rewarding to me.”
He said that his first love was for thoroughbred horses and he’s managed to spend 50 years of his life working with them. He knows the fact that he’s never had a job he didn’t like is a unique situation and one he is thankful for.
It is easy to get lost in a daydream imagining what it would be like to have your dream job for 50 years. Just think of what it must be like to have that come to an end.
He appears to remain grateful as he lists off accomplishments and how honoured he is to have been chosen to host the royal couple at the Calgary Stampede and carry the torch for the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games.
For now he is just looking forward to the “Cowboy Christmas”, the three stretch that features the Ponoka Stampede, the Calgary Stampede and the Bonnyville Chuckwagon Championship, in hopes that he can “win some money here.”
He may not win a race this year, but he knows how fortunate he’s been to have that much success.
“I was very fortunate to gain that confidence early that I knew I could win, and therefore ended up winning Calgary 12 times. You know when I won the first time I thought I’d just be very happy to win it once because a lot of people have tried their whole life and never got the job done,” he said.
“So I don’t think I could ask for a better career or a better life.”