Son's spirit helps guide barrel champ to new heights

RANDY SPORTAK

, Last Updated: 3:28 AM ET

To most people, it was just a tiny piece of wood with the letter "R" on it.

To Tammy Key-Fischer, it was a sign.

Just over two weeks ago, the barrel racer's son, Riley, was killed in a car accident in which two other teenagers died.

For Key-Fischer, the little game piece or part of a trinket found by her husband Brian just before she was to go for the final run gave her a little more belief she could win the $100,000 prize at the Calgary Stampede.

And a lifting of the heart her son's spirit was with her.

"You have to believe. You don't have any choice when something like this happens," Key-Fischer said.

"The alternatives are terrible."

Whether it was some wings lent by Riley or a determination to celebrate amidst so many dark days, she ripped through the barrels in a time of 17.26 seconds to take an emotional victory as well as the big paycheque.

"This is the first time I've been here without him," Key-Fischer said, not caring about the marks the tears had left down her face.

Her good luck charms didn't end there.

Key-Fischer was wearing her son's buckle on her belt and high-school ring on her finger, while Brian was wearing Riley's favourite cross on a chain around his neck.

"Sentimental? Yeah," she said quietly.

"I think everything I can use helps. Belief and faith, it all helps."

Savanah Reeves of Dublin, Texas, placed second with a 17.36 run, worth $25,000, while Molly Powell crossed the line at 17.39 to win $15,000 and Lisa Lockhart came in at 18.56 and won $10,000.

But there was no doubt the sentimental favourite of the day was Key-Fischer.

How she mustered the strength to race having gone through such an emotional wringer is incredible.

Then again, the vivacious cowgirl from Ledbetter, Texas, has a smile that would light up the sky and has managed to be as upbeat as possible all week.

Besides, running horses at the rodeo is the getaway that stops her from mourning all the time.

"You have to get up every day to take care of the horse. You have to feed him. They don't let me sit around and feel sorry for myself. I keep going, so it's the best therapy," she said.

"If it wasn't for them, I'd probably just hide out in my trailer, lay around, and cry for a while.

"I have a few of those crying fits every day, and then I get up and ride my horse, feed my dog, and make it through the day."

If her son's death isn't enough to contend with, Key-Fischer has had other struggles to deal with lately.

Their horse trailer is in Washington with a broken axle currently being fixed.

Their truck is in Montana with a blown engine.

Today, she and Brian will drive with the borrowed truck and trailer to Montana to pick up their truck and grab the trailer in a couple of weeks.

"I needed the $100,000 so we can start over and go again," she said, able to laugh at the situation.

"When we leave here, we might be able to get to the next one."


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