Rookies reign at media day
This is the seventh year I’ve raced in the Media Grudge Match of the Virginia City International Camel Races. Although I may not have technically won every year, I could always write it in a way where it sort of seemed like I did (Mark Twain would have wanted it that way, I think.)
Some years, I lost my heat but then raced again to win. Or no other members of the media showed up, so I just raced against regular jockeys getting some practice in before the big Saturday and Sunday shows.
This year, however, I don’t see any way around it.
I was clearly matched against other media. Well, the Virginia City News brought in a ringer with veteran rider Karla Burrell, but that ended up not mattering at all.
We both got beat by Reno Gazette-Journal intern Sean Walsh his very first time on a camel.
He was as shocked as we were.
“The camel went way the wrong direction at first,” he said. “I didn’t even know where my legs were. I was just trying to get my camel not to run into the fence.”
But he’ll leave Nevada when his internship ends next week with a good story to tell.
“I don’t know many people back in Philadelphia who can say they’ve run a camel race,” he said.
Fellow intern Vince Alonzo of West Virginia won his heat as well, despite the fact that he crossed the finish line clinging to the side of his camel.
But Angie Erickson of Klamath Falls, Ore., who’s been racing 15 or 16 years, said falling off isn’t as bad as it may seem.
“The year I fell off, I did the slow one where you slide down and by the time you fall, you’re not too far from the ground,” she said.
Camel provider Joe Hedrick, owner of Hedrick’s Exotic Animal Farm in Kansas, warned jockeys of that possibility before the races.
“You’ve got until seconds before that gate opens to back out,” he said. “But once those gates open, you’re committed. If you get bucked off, throwed off, fall off, kicked, stepped on, (defecated) on, it’s your responsibility. This ain’t no place for wusses.”
Wusses are especially unwelcome in the ostrich races, where riders are less likely to make it to the finish line and even if they do cross it, the dismount often means falling into the dirt.
“It’s kind of comparable to sitting on a giant football,” Hedrick explained. “It can roll either front to back, or it can roll side to side.”
Kristy Bond of Mount Shasta, Calif., rides in both the camel and ostrich races. Although the birds are harder to ride, she said, the advantage is, it’s not so far to fall off.
She first rode a camel as a tourist in Australia. When she returned, she heard about the races in Virginia City and came down in 1985.
Now sponsored by the Elko Convention and Visitors Authority, she races every year.
“It’s the adrenaline,” she said. “And the people. Virginia City is a great little town. It’s like meeting your friends every year for a big campout and wild adventure.”
The camel races continue today and Sunday in Virginia City. A flyover is planned today at noon as a tribute to 9/11 and Miss Nevada Julianna Erdesz will sing the national anthem to get the races started.