“We want to celebrate with you and I can’t think of a better way than by having you lead the 2020 Calgary Stampede Parade” said Dana Peers, president of the Calgary Stampede, while riding with me for the day in Teslin, Yukon, last July.
Quite honestly, I never saw it coming. Nor could I believe it.
A few months earlier, before driving to Alaska to begin my last long ride, I met Peers in Calgary. I asked if he would allow me to finish my ride in the 2020 Calgary Stampede rodeo.
“I just need you guys to leave the gate open” I said, making him laugh out loud. He said he would allow me into the Stampede Park at the end of my journey and promised to ride with me during my final leg.
A year before, when I launched my first book, “Long Ride Home,” at the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, I presented Peers with a signed copy and included in the dedication an invitation to ride with me. I never imagined he would take me up on it. Nor that he would award me the biggest honor of my life on the same day.
Walt Disney, Chris Hadfield, Pierre Trudeau and William Shatner are just some of the past Calgary Stampede parade marshals. The marshal leads the parade that opens the rodeo and is an ambassador for the Stampede. In a normal year, the marshal would give speeches at special events and participate in the rodeo’s grand entry. I was ecstatic to have my name on a list next to so many legends.
Then Dana Peers told me I would have to keep the news a secret until June 2020. I am the worst person in the world when it comes to secrets. But after signing a non-disclosure contract, I obviously got better.
Flash forward to April of this year when we were set to make the big announcement in front of Canadian media. I would finally get to tell the world my colossal secret. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the unveiling was cancelled. Then the Stampede was cancelled for the first time in nearly a century.
I wanted to cry. But I realized everyone in the world had their plans cancelled in 2020.
There was no time to feel sorry for myself.
I kept working with my horses Mac and Smokey, while I waited for Alberta to begin easing COVID-19 restrictions. I was set on riding into Calgary the same way I left eight years ago — an unknown long rider. Then Peers called me one afternoon and said he was still going to announce the 2020 parade marshal, even with no parade to ride in.
“Your story needs to be shared, Filipe,” Peers said over the phone. “The world needs this message, now more than ever.”
I felt blessed. Honored. Relieved.
We set the big day for Tuesday, June 2.
On May 20, with Alberta’s parks opening again, I began the final portion of my cross-continental ride — 800 kilometers from Grande Prairie to Calgary.
The first two weeks on the road brought close encounters with bogs and bears along with $170 for the Barretos Children’s Cancer Hospital in Brazil raised from three kind-hearted truck drivers. At the end I rode into Old Entrance, a train station turned horse B&B. It was June 1 and my heart could hardly contain my excitement.
The following morning, we would announce on national television that I was this year’s marshal. I had interviews booked with Global News, CTV, Citytv, CBC Radio, CBC French and television stations in Brazil. Since the interviews started at 6 a.m., I went to bed early.
“Filipe, your phone is ringing.” Clara, my girlfriend and support driver for this final journey, woke me up at midnight, startled.
My only thought was “someone has died.”
I saw that it was Jason Coxford, director of corporate communications at the Stampede. I was so dazed, I had no idea what was happening. But I answered.
“Filipe, I know you are probably sleeping already … I’m so sorry but we can’t make the announcement tomorrow,” said Coxford in a low voice while I sat in silence on the other side.
The reason for yet another postponement of the announcement was the #blackouttuesday movement started by the music industry to raise awareness about police brutality and systemic racism. It was set off by the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who was pinned to the ground and suffocated May 25 by a white Minneapolis police officer – now charged with murder for his actions. As a result people were urged to use Tuesday, June 2 as a day to reflect on racism by not posting anything on social media.
I studied journalism in college and started Journey America in part to show others that we are all inherently the same regardless of our religion, nationality or skin color in the hope of inspiring a more just world. As a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, I completely agreed with Coxford.
My secret would have to wait one more day, but for a good reason.
Finally, on June 3, the world finally learned that I am the 2020 Calgary Stampede parade marshal. I cannot wait to promote this extraordinary Canadian event and celebrate western heritage for the next month through my ride.
On July 3, after crossing 12 nations and traveling more than 25,000 kilometers, I will ride into Calgary. With me will be my horses Mac and Smokey and my girlfriend Clara will be by my side as this ride and my dream comes to a fitting close in the place where it all began.
Sometimes things do not happen when or the way we envision them. But that’s life. As Jason Thomson, a champion Ontario cowboy, and my high school roping coach, once told me, “Hope for the best. Plan for the worst. Take what comes.” Hold on to your dreams. You, too, will be back in the saddle in no time. We will ride again!