Riding for a hero

Rodeo to honor firefighter killed on 9/11


They still talk about Tom Foley with a tinge of awe at the elite Rescue 3 in the Bronx.

Foley did it all - from super firefighter making spectacular rope rescues to skydiver to professional rodeo bull rider. He even wound up in hunk-of-the-month spreads in a series of firefighter calendars. People magazine placed him 10th on its list of 100 most eligible bachelors.

That all came to a tragic end Sept. 11 when the 32-year-old Foley and seven of his comrades from Rescue 3 were killed in the collapse of the World Trade Center.

But Foley's memory - and his love of rodeo bull riding - will live on starting today when the Bronx International Championship Rodeo kicks off four days of ridin', ropin' and wranglin' in Crotona Park.

Foley, who took up bull riding and rode in professional rodeo competitions in the region, participated in the rodeo last year, with several members of Rescue 3 there to cheer him on.

Special tribute

On Saturday, at 4 p.m., the rodeo will present a special salute to Foley and the rest of the department's fallen firefighters.

The fact that Foley took up bull riding didn't come as any great surprise to firefighters at Rescue 3, headquartered on W. 176th St. near Washington Ave.

"He was always into the cowboy scene," recalled Capt. Christopher King. "He joked about it, and finally took it up. Tom lived life on the edge. He always had a smile on his face, but he was tough as nails."

"He never looked too banged up from it," Firefighter Cliff Stabner said as he pointed out a photo on the firehouse's dining room bulletin board of Foley taking a backward tumble off a bucking bull. Another photo showed a group of Foley's fellow firefighters holding the Rescue 3 blue banner at a rodeo event.

"He rode professional, upstate and in New Jersey, and a couple of us started to go on the road with him to cheer him on," Stabner recalled. "It took on a whole life of its own."

Northern hospitality

When the rodeo came to Crotona Park last year, Stabner said, Foley brought a bunch of cowboys - who were living in pretty grungy circumstances in their small trailers or pickup trucks - back to the firehouse for showers and a meal.

That started a new tradition in the firehouse. Tomorrow night, the firehouse will play host to the cowboys again - with showers and a spaghetti-and-meatball dinner.

The rodeo, on ballfield 3 at the park, will feature cowboys and cowgirls bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, bull riding, steer wrestling, calf roping, team roping and cowgirls barrel racing.

Proceeds will benefit the nonprofit Sports and Arts in Schools Foundation, one of the city's more successful after-school educational foundations.

Showtimes are 1 p.m. today and tomorrow, 4 p.m. Saturday and 5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $8 at the gate, or $6 in advance by calling (718) 786-7110, extension 167.