Camel jockey: 'I will not chicken out'

Appeal file photo by Brad Horn Nevada Appeal features editor Teri Vance races her camel during the media race in Virginia City last year.

Appeal file photo by Brad Horn Nevada Appeal features editor Teri Vance races her camel during the media race in Virginia City last year.

I got a phone call last week from Jim Reisner of the Virginia City Register. But he didn't call to talk about newspapers. It was something of much greater significance: The camel races.

We competed against each other last year in the media-grudge match, and he called this year to stoke the rivalry.

There's no better way to prove your superiority than bouncing around 7 feet in the air aboard a 1,500-pound beast of burden that grunts and projectile vomits.

I can't wait.

After accepting Jim's challenge, I called my nemesis - Mike McGinnis of the Tahoe Variety Show. Mike stripped me of my camel-champ title last year, something I'm determined will not happen again.

Mike called back and began, "I had every intention of showing up and defending my title ..." But then he continued to explain how his cameraman was out of town and how he'd had pneumonia twice this year.

All I heard was, "I'm chickening out."

There's no room for weakness when it comes to racing camels.

Speaking of weakness, I extended the challenge to journalists from THAT Reno newspaper as well.

Sheila Gardner, chief of the Carson/Douglas Bureau, said she'd gone this far in her life never riding a camel and never intended to.

Again, all I heard was, "I'm chickening out."

I sent an e-mail to sports writer, Guy Clifton. He responded, "I hate to burst your bubble, my friend, but I am a writer - not a rider - a writer. You will have to think of another way to have me killed."

I read, "I'm chickening out."

The camel races were born on a slow news day in 1957, when Bob Richards, the editor of Virginia City's Territorial Enterprise, invented a story about camel races which were to take place on Labor Day that year.

Through a series of follow-up stories, he reported a cancellation on some pretext. He continued the fake-out tradition over the next two years. Then in 1960, the races really happened.

It has since grown to an international championship in which jockeys from around the world compete, alternating locations between Virginia City and Australia.

In 2002, I rode in my first camel races, as part of the annual media-grudge match. But it was less like riding and more like hanging on for dear life. From the starting gate to the finish line, I screamed in hysterical laughter, like you do when you're swinging upside down on a carnival ride of questionable construction.

But Saddam knew what he was doing and carried me to victory. I returned last year, a much more able jockey, but was ousted by the Tahoe Variety Show.

And in this season of campaign promises that may or may not be fulfilled, know one thing, gentle reader: I will not chicken out.


What: Camel Jockey Party

When: 6-9 p.m. tonight

Where: "The Alley" behind Cactus Jack's, Old Globe and the Carson Horseshoe Club

What: The 45th annual Virginia City International Camel Races

When: Friday through Sunday

Where: Rodeo grounds in Virginia City

Information and tickets: Call 847-0311 or go to



Hump: Its hump is a mound of fatty tissue from which the animal draws energy when food is hard to find. When a camel uses its hump fat for sustenance, the mound becomes flabby and shrinks. If a camel draws too much fat, the small remaining lump will flop from its upright position and hang down the camel's side. The camel carries fat nowhere else on its body, explaining why its muscular frame feels like a felt-covered log.

Cargo: A camel can carry as much as 990 pounds, but a usual and more comfortable cargo weight is 330 pounds.

Speed: Normal walking speed is 3 mph. A working camel will typically cover 25 miles a day. Racing camels can reach 12 mph at the gallop.

Height: A full-grown adult camel stands 6 feet at the shoulder and 7 feet at the hump.

Weight: A camel can weigh up to 1,542 pounds.

Life span: The normal life span of a camel is 40 years, although a working camel retires from active duty at 25.

Contact Teri Vance at or at 881-1272.


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