The Pace of Pro Rodeo (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

Well I’ve been going for four days now on six hours sleep and am in the airport waiting to board another flight tonight so that I rope in the morning. It’s been pretty much full throttle like this since leaving Reno in June.

Last year I passed up seven or eight rodeos that were hard to get to. At the time I thought if I was going to win the world, it would be because of what happened at the Dallas Tour Finale or National Finals and it would either happen or it wouldn’t.

When it was all said and done, I missed winning the world championship by $2,000. I learned something from that. Last year I averaged winning from $1,400 to $2,000 per rodeo, which means that mathematically I would have won it if I hadn’t passed up those rodeos. After that I made a promise to myself to that I would not let any rodeos go by and I would make my seventy-five. That’s what I think about every time I feel like turning out.

Going like this is hard and when I do get a chance to sleep, I’m usually so exhausted that I can’t. I take lots of Advil and drink a lot of caffeine. Still, I’m more determined now than ever because coming that close last year was like giving a lion a taste of blood. I could literally get in the truck and drive to Canada if I had to.

One thing I couldn’t live with would be to hold myself back by protecting myself. I want to know that I did all I could do. Right now that means going and rodeoing hard. I’ll rest on December 15th, but not until then. Whether rodeoing or practicing for the Tour Finale or National Finals, I’m all out.

I’ve taken the same approach with my horses. After Reno I decided I wasn’t going to save Topper for the finals like I usually do. I’ve ridden him at all the Tour rodeos and have won first or second on him every time and it’s paid off. One of my goals has been to win the $25,000 bonus for having the most combined Tour points. Right now I’m leading that race by over 20 points because of that decision.

This pace is exhausting and you don’t feel good a lot of the time. But, for a few minutes before you rope, you tell yourself that you’re not tired, hungry or sleepy. And it’s not a lie – you really aren’t. You have to put yourself at the top of your game because you really don’t have any choice.

I don’t acknowledge being tired because it’s so exciting to be in this race. It’s inspiring to watch everyone, their horses and the determination as they step it up a notch. There aren’t many sports where athletes improve with age, but Mike Johnson is better now than he’s ever been in his career.

There’s also the race of guys trying to make the finals. I think everyone should have to rope under that kind of pressure at least once. Having the finals made means you still have some options, but the guys trying to make them are not only forced into going, but they have to win. It can be really inspiring to watch this unfold and I believe these situations and how you react to them reveals your true character and mental toughness.

Over the next few months I’ll go to the Finales in Omaha, Dallas and then the National Finals. Somewhere during that time my wife and I are going to have another little boy. Whenever Jennifer and Stone, my son, get to be with me on the road is just the ultimate for me. Having them with me is almost like cheating the system.

Things might be a little tough right now but when I stop and think about the victims of Katrina who have lost their loved ones, their homes and virtually everything they own, it tends to change my perspective. In the grand scheme of things, I’m blessed and my heart and prayers go out to those people.