In this 10-part series, Julie Mankin profiles the unsung heroes of breakaway roping.

Talk to any professional female roper during the days of the original WNFR and she’ll have fond memories of the biggest, baddest rodeo in the country.

It was the PWRA rodeo held with the Wyoming State Fair in Douglas, and it drew over 100 breakaway ropers and paid eight places and more than a thousand bucks to win – almost 30 years ago. Montana native Cindy Gruwell started the idea and got a director on the state fair committee to give her permission and put up the first $1,000.

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“It was an 18-year run,” she recalls. “The first one was in 1985 or ’86 and it ran until 2002.”

Gruwell made the WNFR in team roping one year, but with two little boys and a ranch to manage, she didn’t get to travel like she would have liked. In producing Douglas, she says the biggest challenge was finding tie-down calves. One would think she’d have said it was managing the diverse and demanding interests of hundreds of women from all parts of the country and all walks of life.

But the no-nonsense Gruwell stuck to the PWRA rulebook and wasn’t afraid to go toe-to-toe with barrel racers over the drag or ropers about which box they’d use. In fact, she says there’s so much history involved with that rodeo, she wishes she’d saved more of it.

“It wasn’t the fanciest production but we always gave a really nice wool coat for the all-around,” she says. “Everybody came. It was just fun.”

Gruwell, 58, loves being a grandma. She’ll spend this winter in Arizona, riding a young horse that hasn’t been through a barrier yet. Still, Arizona is having plenty of breakaway jackpots and she plans to “be entered.”