Ellensburg Rodeo Finale

Ellensburg Rodeo flag is carried around the arena during the Ellensburg Rodeo finale Monday.

You learn a lot by talking to rodeo athletes and watching their effort, successes and failures.

While nobody can be dialed in, firing on all cylinders and on cloud nine every day, I’ve found so many athletes in the arena to be goal driven, appreciative of the camaraderie and support of friends and giving thanks for what they have in life.

You’re going to find that all over the place, regardless if it’s in an arena or in some place that has nothing to do with rodeo. In all my interviews with rodeo cowboys or cowgirls — and Monday’s short round was the end of my 20th Ellensburg Rodeo — no one has ever said they’re immune to bad days, bad attitudes and back luck, but the common attribute I see is a constant drive to get better and to stay on top of their game.

That game might change. Trevor Brazile announced his semi-retirement at the end of the season last year. Ty Murray probably hasn’t bucked a bull or a bronc ride in a while to say the least. But I guarantee you they’re putting that drive into something other than rodeo now that rodeo competition is different for them.

In my interviews the past few weeks, here are a few gems I got from cowboys and barrel racers.

“I’m just trying to be a little more body conscious, trying to stretch things that have been injured in the past and exercise. I’ve watched my brother do it for a long time and I’ve always been stubborn and really took that note this year. I was forced into it from injuries early on this year and I saw the results from it.” — Saddle bronc rider Sterling Crawley talking about what’s changed for him this year versus his first few years of rodeo. Identifying a need for a change and putting it into action.

“Rodeo teaches you a lot of life. You don’t always know or able to see what’s in front of you. You’ve just got to make the best decision with the facts you have right there and move forward.” — Bareback rider Tilden Hooper telling me about making very quick decisions when it comes to changing the travel schedule. He started talking about turning out of one rodeo to get to another, but it quickly segued into adapting to what life throws at you.

“It’s been a big struggle this year. Our motto right now is ‘finish strong’ so we’re trying to do that.” — Barrel racer Stevi Hillman on overcoming obstacles from months on the road.

“If you’re going to overthink it you’ve got to overthink the right things. You can’t decide which thoughts come into your head, but you can decide which ones you dwell on.” — Buddy Hawkins II about not fighting with bad thoughts. He hasn’t had the year he’s wanted, but it didn’t stop him from appreciating the average win here with team roping partner Tate Kirchenschlager on Monday.

“I’m hungry for a fourth world title in a row. I know I’m coming from the back of the pack, but I’ve got to stay energized and I’ve got to stay motivated. I enjoyed that six months at home with my wife and my son, but I really enjoy being out here as well, it reminds me how much of a blessing it is to come and do this.” — Bareback rider Tim O’Connell on rehabbing injuries at home, but also realizing what gets his blood going.

“For me it’s just been the attitude you have going to run your steers and thinking you’re going to do a good job. Good steer or bad steer you believe in yourself that you’ll still be able to do it.” — Second year bulldogger Tucker Allen on what he’s learned from traveling with veterans Dakota Eldridge and Clayton Hass.

“I’ve got young blood. I’ve got a young kid, he’s been doing an outstanding job here lately. He ropes smart and ropes like he’s been here for a while now. … We’ve got a dog in the fight. It ain’t very big, but we’ve one in the fight.” — Team roper Erich Rogers on his new partner Paden Bray.

“When you learn to use injuries to your advantage, you come back stronger than when you left and if you don’t you didn’t do your homework and you didn’t take care of your body. I go home and I look at pictures, I watch videos. I get it all up here (he said while tapping his temple) and I’ve never missed a beat. There’s nothing I’m questioning. When I get down in the chute I don’t think about my equipment, I don’t think about my hat staying on, I think about making a perfect ride.” — Kaycee Feild on coming back from career-threatening injuries earlier this year.

Jon Guddat covers rodeo — from the kids to the kids at heart — with a weekly rodeo column in the Daily Record. Contact Jon with story ideas at jonguddat@yahoo.com.

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