ROCK SPRINGS — When Juel Afdahl was diagnosed with stage four brain cancer this past year, it rocked the Wyoming High School Rodeo Association.
Juel is a member of the adult board, and the dreaded news has not only affected the association, but much of the rodeo community. He is the type of guy who touches everybody around him, and his character has sparked a special effort to help with the fight.
Ian Dickinson is a 12-year-old boy who lives on a ranch outside of Rock Springs, and he is turning a stall-cleaning operation into a heartwarming story. He wanted to donate to Juel’s cause, and decided to offer to perform unappealing rodeo duties.
The idea was to clean stalls for a small fee and donate the majority of his earnings to Juel. Ian’s mother, Gerda Dickinson, must have foreseen how tempting such an offer might be and issued a warning.
She said she told him, “You know what, if you want to do it, you’re going to have to buck up and really get it done.”
Ian took on the challenge, but neither of them could predict how big Sanitary Stall Service would become. Once the word started to spread, the young man became one of the most popular faces on the Sweetwater County fairgrounds.
He started mucking stalls at the Wyoming High School Rodeo Finals for a small fee, but the family didn’t really publicize the effort. Keeping it quiet wasn’t an option at the National High School Rodeo Finals this week, however, because the word started to spread on Facebook and throughout the rodeo community. Eventually Ian made it onto the National High School Rodeo Association’s Snapchat.
“After that it just blew up,” he said. “I had calls from Canada, Mexico.”
He put his head down and leaned into the huge workload. But even though he was basically going nonstop, the operation had grown too big for one person. Ian was up at 4:30 a.m. Friday with the plan of getting 12 stalls done in the next couple hours, but around 8 a.m. he realized he needed a hand.
“Yesterday, I was like, “Mom, Kate, I think I bit off a little more than I can chew. Can you help me?’” Ian said. “We busted our hump from eight o’clock in the morning to 10 at night (which) is when I finally stopped.”
With the help of his mother and sister, Kate, Sanitary Stall Services made it through Friday, but it certainly made them realize how far the story had spread.
“He goes, ‘I didn’t want this to get all big or anything, I just wanted to do the job for Mr. Juel,’” Gerda said.
Ian was right back at it Saturday morning. As contestants keep pulling their stakes to head home, orders for clean stalls keep coming in. Even with the huge workload, Ian refuses to drop his work standards.
Growing up as a ranch kid, he has learned the dangers of diseases with stock. So he not only removes every bit of waste and sawdust, but takes the next step and bleaches the stalls to finish the cleaning.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Through the madness, Ian hasn’t lost sight of why this whole thing started. Juel, the man behind the idea, has what is called glioblastoma.
Gerda has spent quite a bit of time around Juel with the WYHRSA, and he has become a man that she strongly admires.
“Juel is just a tremendous man. He’s the kind of person of character that we want our kids to grow to be,” she said. “When we found out that he was sick, it really rocked our whole association.”
With the personal connection to Juel, the Dickinsons are even more grateful to everyone who has donated.
“(Ian) had a really good turnout, and people have been incredible,” Gerda said. “Our rodeo family ... the hearts that are here are pretty amazing.”
But it’s not just the rodeo contestants that are pitching in now. The legend has spread to the top of the tree, and what started as a small operation is now getting donations that can make a real difference.
“Twisted J and Behind the Alley said, ‘We want to help you out. We’ll donate a $1,000 to the cause,” Gerda said.
The next big company to jump on board was Cinch, whose slogan for nationals is “Lead, Don’t Follow.” Cinch realized the leadership quality on display and also decided to match Ian’s first $1,000.
Ian has already cleaned hundreds of stalls, with a lot more to come. Once the traffic from nationals concludes, he says he’ll take a small cut for his effort, but the big majority will go straight to Juel.
“The best thing is that he’s going to be able to pay that forward,” his mom said.