You know it’s going to be a good day when you roll up to the check-in tent where Shiner beer is flowing and Frito pies are ready for the taking. That’s also a sure sign there’s another meaning to the term “triathlon” – the second annual Redneck Triathlon, held May 31st at the Walsh Ranch in Aledo, Texas, was a hot afternoon full of shooting, fishing and golf, but not in the traditional sense. Hosted by Fort Worth restaurateur Jon Bonnell, his physician brother Ric and singer/songwriter Dan Roberts, Redneck Triathlon was once again a break from the ordinary for veterans, active duty servicemen and military supporters that left every single attendee smiling and slightly sunburnt.

During his closing remarks, Jon Bonnell recounted that the impetus for the tournament came from Chris Kyle, who envisioned an event that would be a fun, carnival-like experience free from the pressures and constraints of everyday life. Kyle was killed before the first Redneck Triathlon took place last year, but his imprint on the event is indelible: throughout the course, teams competed to earn points that would eventually crown a supreme redneck winner and the 2014 guardian of the Chris Kyle trophy – a bronze sculpture depicting a shotgun, fishing pole, golf club and an American flag. It’s a solid reminder of the sacrifices our soldiers make that allow us to gather together for a day of light-hearted camaraderie.

Rednecks, on your mark
First stop of the day: the shooting stations. In addition to taking aim at sporting clays, contestants set their sights on rolls of toilet paper, cans of shaving cream (oh, the mess!) and lacrosse balls perched on golf tees. The archery station featured toilet seats for targets, the slingshots aimed for glass liquor bottles and the blowguns fired darts at various left-wing celebrities. One of the last stops on the shooting course involved Jon Bonnell riding a four-wheeler in the field as teams fired paintballs at their moving target. In true redneck fashion, Bonnell’s only means of defense was a snow shovel held in front of his face. Giddy up!

Tee time and the tank
Once their shooting skills had been tested, teams drove farther into the ranch to the tank for some fishing and golfing shenanigans. It was hard to miss the makeshift pool on the shore – it was full of Texas-sized catfish and the name of the game was noodling. Teams stripped off their socks and boots, climbed into the “pond” and used laundry baskets and, of course, bare hands, to secure their catch. Even Boot Girls Heather, Melissa and Christina joined in the fun!

Young Mason McElroy couldn’t stay out of the water, diving in time after time and catching an estimated 30 catfish over the course of the afternoon. “This is my first time catching fish with my hands,” he grinned, “that was pretty cool.” While many of the all-male teams handled the hands-on fishing with minimal fanfare, one or two groups seemed less than thrilled with the task and may have hollered just a bit. Other fishing activities included casting into various rusty buckets and wheelbarrows and what can only be called “regular” bass fishing – even rednecks can be serious when it comes to bass fishing. After the appropriate over-measuring and tall tales, the fish were thrown back into the water for another day.

Golf at the Redneck Triathlon is, of course, anything but ordinary. Taking a cue from trailer parks everywhere, contestants drove balls at a washing machine that had seen better days, a toilet bowl that had seen many, many days and a johnboat with cutouts of Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders on board. If you’re wondering, yes…there were extra points available for certain successes.

Band of brothers
As the teams rolled in for dinner, grimy and sweaty and ready to cool off in the air conditioned tent, one thing became obvious: these men and women, many of them veterans but many of them not, weren’t there to compete or win prizes or even to blow off steam with the festivities Chris Kyle had imagined – they were in it for our American heroes. Their patriotism was evident as they broke bread together, bid generously during the live auction, offered hearty congrats equally to the tournament winners and the “I Suck at Fishing” award recipient, too, and rose to their feet to honor veteran speakers Morgan Luttrell and Joey Jones.

All told the event raised more than $115,000 for the Boot Campaign, which will further our mission to cultivate awareness, promote patriotism and provide assistance to military personnel, past and present, and their families. We could not be more grateful to the Bonnells, Dan Roberts, sponsors Keg 1 O’Neal, Hughes Construction and Freedom Powersports of Weatherford, special guests Jay Novacek, Morgan Luttrell and Joey Jones and the many volunteers who made the day perfect and meaningful for all. We can’t wait to get our redneck on again next year, but until then…boots on!