First attended a gay rodeo in 1995
Brian Helander was born in Teulon, Manitoba, which is a small farming community an hour north of Winnipeg, Canada. The Helander family was one of several Swedish pioneer families that settled the very cold, rugged and unforgiving area known as the Interlake region of Manitoba.
Brian stated that: "As a young boy, I was never an athlete, I lived in the shadow of an older brother who was the star quarterback, star hockey goalie and star soccer center. I could not throw a ball, kick straight, skate right, or stop a puck. To a Canadian family this is either "very disappointing" or verging on pathology. Brian's best Canadian Winter sport was "jam-pail curling."
When Brian was forty he attended the Road Runner Regional Rodeo in Phoenix as a spectator and thought: "That looks like fun, I wonder if I can do that?" Like many people, Brian never thought of Rodeo as a "Team Sport"...or even an athletic endeavor, so his poor athletic skills were not a barrier. Brian began competing in IGRA rodeos in 1995 at the Tucson Rodeo. Like many other contestants, Brian could say: "I started my rodeo career with one event and no horse."
A serious hand injury interrupted Brian's first year of competition, but he overcame the traumatic finger amputation and won his first buckle (Chute Dogging) in 1996 at the Las Vegas "Big Horn Rodeo." Prior to his induction into this Hall of Fame Brian competed in over 200 rodeos, earned 165 Event Buckles, including 12 International Finals Champion Titles, and 5 All-Around Championship Titles. Brian competed in 11 of the 13 IGRA events and earned multiple buckles in 8 different events. In 2012 the year of his induction into the Hall of Fame, Brian became the only men's five-time International Chute Dogging Champion in the history of IGRA, winning both the WGRF rodeo championship buckle and the 2012 season World Chute Dogging Championship. Brian was also recognized as the 2012 IGRA Season "All Around Cowboy"
In 1996, Brian partnered with Chuck Browning (a 2008 IGRA Hall of Fame inductee). "We agreed to partner in the team events and it was one of the best decisions we ever made." The team eventually bought horses; rented a "U-Haul" truck and trailer for travelling to rodeos; and honed their team skills on the rodeo circuit. Brian stated: "The most important thing we did as a team was agree to never blame the other for a failure in the arena. We realized that the outcome of any event was a convergence of knowledge, practice, skill, luck of the draw, and the daily best performance of two regular cowboys. I am so proud of my teammate, his friendship and partnership and our shared recognition in the IGRA Hall of Fame." At the time of Brian's induction, this team has won 3 Finals Buckles and hold the Goat Dressing event record, completing the event in an astounding 7.67 seconds at the Phoenix Road Runner Regional Rodeo in 2008.
Brian became involved in the administrative side of rodeo in 1998 when he was elected Vice-President of the Arizona Gay Rodeo Association (AGRA). He became AGRA President in 1999. At the IGRA level Brian was asked to chair the IGRA Health and Safety committee and did so from 2000-2004.
From 2005-2010, Brian served as the President of IGRA, and has the distinction of serving as IGRA's only three term, 6 year President.
"I enjoyed every minute of my term as IGRA President, despite the sometimes difficult task of leading an organization of 26 Member Associations with about 5000 individual members, all with diverse viewpoints. I think I only lost 3 or 4 friends, but always tried to see the bigger picture and the greatest good. I brought my best independent thinking to my job as President."
In 2006 Brian revitalized a floundering IGRA University by creating a team headed by Brian Rogers of the Nevada Gay Rodeo Association to structure the annual educational program with certifications, meaningful classes and workshops. Since then, Brian has also been an annual Instructor at every IGRA University.
In 2007, Brian envisioned an updated concept for a struggling and troubled "IGRA Finals Rodeo" and led the organization through the transformation of IGRA finals into the branded "World Gay Rodeo Finals ." The plan included a self-sustaining, mentor-based leadership program that focused on a team of directors who, over a five year span of involvement, took on increasing levels of responsibility and accountability. The goal was to harness organizational memory to improve and achieve a quality event.
In 2009, after a chance meeting with historian Gregory Hinton, President Helander planted the seeds of the "Gay Rodeo History Project." This project led to the inclusion of IGRA's contributions and archives at the world-renowned "Autry National Center" in Los Angeles, California. "I am very proud of the commitment and accomplishments of the history project team members including Patrick Terry, Tommy Channel, Gregory Hinton, Scotty Shadix, Tom Lott, Frank Harrell and many others who saved the extensive IGRA collection from the brink of destruction. It was a project that brought all of IGRA together behind an historic common goal and I think the full impact and potential is still to be realized."
Along the way, Brian was active as an IGRA instructor at numerous IGRA Rodeo Schools. He has also taught dozens of rodeo schools for Arizona, Florida, New Mexico, and Alberta Rockies Gay Rodeo Associations.
After serving as IGRA President, Brian became the founding President of the "Gay Lesbian Rodeo Heritage Foundation" a separate Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual, and Transgender (GLBT) 501 (c) 3 charitable organization that seeks to reach out to and guide interested cowboys and cowgirls to the sport and family of gay rodeo.
In 2011, after almost 15 years of competition and at the "rumored age" of 57, Brian's combined points from rodeos throughout the year qualified him in first place for an invitation to compete in four events for the 2011 World Gay Rodeo Finals. Brian's combined rodeo points also placed him in the top 20 in three additional World Gay Rodeo Final events. At the 2012 World Gay Rodeo Finals, Brian won the 2012 Season Steer Wrestling, Steer Deco, Goat Dressing and ALL Around Cowboy Championships.
In 2012 the year of his induction into the Hall of Fame, Brian became the only men's five-time International Chute Dogging Champion in the history of IGRA, winning both the WGRF rodeo championship buckle and the 2012 season World Chute Dogging Championship. Brian was also recognized as the 2012 IGRA Season "All Around Cowboy." A year later, in 2013 Brian won the chute dogging finals again, for a total of 6 times. In 2014 Brian set a new world record (2.68 seconds) in the IGRA event to win the gold medal at the Gay Games.
Outside of the rodeo arena, Brian is a masters prepared RN and Trauma Nurse Specialist. In 1979, he became one of the first pre-hospital flight nurses in Arizona and flew rescue and lifesaving missions for 10 years, before becoming the director of Emergency Services at St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix. Since the start of the HIV pandemic, Brian has worked in the community as a health care leader in the fight against HIV and AIDS.
Brian lives in Phoenix, Arizona and Santa Fe, New Mexico along with his husband, Dr. Don Altman; two horses, Chip and Rascal; and his best canine pal, Jax.