It starts with a simple beginning, like the journey of a thousand miles that begins with the first step, and begins to grow. It’s like the first seed planted in a spring garden — properly nurtured and tended to, it grows bigger and bigger.
Beaver, a Texan of Cherokee descent, began roping goats as a kid before graduating to open calf roping at age 15, eventually earning his reputation as an 8-time World Champion All Around rodeo cowboy. Today he conducts roping schools and does sports broadcasting for the George Strait Team Roping Classic and the Indian National Finals Rodeo.
It was at this year’s Indian National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas where the civic-minded Beaver took one successful concept and parlayed it into what he hopes will be a second success. Earlier this decade, he initiated a “Tough Enough To Wear Pink” campaign to raise funds for breast cancer research. And while pink is not typically associated with the Super Bowl of professional rodeo, cowboys and cowgirls and rodeo clowns alike decked out in special pink Wrangler shirts to show their support and in the process make history with a $1 million donation to the breast cancer research community.
Now he wants to do it again with a rodeo-connected Blue Shirt Night for Diabetes Research. “About 10 years ago, we started the Tough Enough To Wear Pink campaign for breast cancer by selling a $20 tee-shirt. Now that’s grown into a million dollar a year deal through the rodeo industry,” he says.
“Last year when I came to work for the Indian National Finals Rodeo, a lot of people brought to my attention that one of the biggest killers in Indian Country was diabetes. So I made them a deal that if they’d bring me back to keep announcing the event, I’d start a fund-raising operation for diabetes research and education.”
With Native Americans having the highest rate of diabetes of any ethnic group in the U.S. — 2.8 times the overall rate of diabetes — it’s a steep learning curve to eradicate a disease that is preventable. “We can’t take a 70-year-old who wears a 3XL shirt and keeps eating french fries on a regular basis and completely change his lifestyle, but we can focus on educating people about the disease, what causes it and what steps can be taken to combat it.”
At the November 2011 INFR World Champion competition, Beaver and other supporters of the cause, sold tee-shirts to raise money — $20 at a time. Until the awards ceremony on the final night when buckles, saddles, and purse money was handed out to the winners…and Joe (and fellow 8 time World Title bull rider Don Gay) auctioned off some special tee-shirts signed by top cowboys in each specialty. The shirt auction took on a life of its own as the bullriders tee-shirt sold for $700, only to be donated back with the request, ‘sell it again.’ The auctioneer did, this time for $475. The item was donated and sold for a third time for $500 — and a fourth time for another $500. “We raised about four grand on the shirt auctions alone,” Beaver says with a happy smile.
“I want it to go as far as it’ll go, just like the pink campaign did. Everymajor, amateur, college or high school rodeo, if it’s more than a day, they most always have a pink night so I’m hoping in a year we’ll have ten rodeos doing it — in two years, maybe 50 — and in ten years I hope we have a thousand rodeos holding a fund-raising Blue Shirt Night.”
Beaver plans to work with the 11 rodeo regions of INFR where the Native American Diabetes Fund has an outlet and where part of the gate proceeds can be allocated to the diabetes cause. “It may not be but a couple of hundred dollars in each region to begin with, but in several years it could be thousands of dollars. The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.”