If you grew up in the world of rodeo, chances are you've spent some time daydreaming about those iconic yellow chutes a the Thomas and Mack arena in Las Vegas. But what if your event is not one that is currently offered at the National Finals Rodeo?
Well, if you ask breakaway roper Jackie Crawford, she might say you should just go ahead and dream anyway.
This is her story, originally posted on her Jackie Hobbs-Crawford fan page.
"It hasn't happened yet, but a girl can sure dream..." - Story by Jackie Crawford
It’s December 9th, 2021 and I haven’t been excited about a grand entry since I was a little girl. However, this was not your average grand entry! This was the first time I ever looked up at that crowd from the arena floor as a contestant at the Thomas and Mack. I can’t even describe the surreal feeling of following my state’s flag in that arena! My heart is about to explode and I can’t hardly hold back the happy tears. I’ve got to get it together!
Now we are back in the tent doing our last check of my tack: brand new white boots hang on my stirrups and the final three ropes I decided on are piled perfectly in my rope can. Man, does T-Boy look good! This is a very special December so I had to keep him extra slick and shiny. He has to look good under those Vegas lights.
The nerves are building inside me.
I get to share my excitement with some of my guy friends back there. You see, I know some of the guys love seeing us there and some don’t. And that’s okay with me, everyone is entitled to their opinion. I just have to keep doing what I do because I love it and cheer on even the ones I know don’t like us there. To me, that’s the only way to handle it. I have so much respect for the guys and what they do in order to make it to that level.
It’s a chilly night in Vegas, which I’m happy about because I don’t think I am ever going to take this jacket off. I never knew some leather and cloth could mean so much! The bareback riding is almost over so it’s time to head down that long carpet around the side of the Mack.
On that long walk around it gets quiet for a minute, and I can’t help but let my mind think back… How did I get here? Why am I one of the lucky ones who was given this opportunity? Why did God put a “pointless” passion in my heart? Why have so many people been on my team and pushing me, even though they never knew it might would go here? Why have I wanted to outwork anyone and everyone for something that had no end game? No big reward? No recognition? No spotlight? Why is it that I get to be the one that gets to experience the pinnacle when there are so many before me that deserve it and wanted it?
I can’t wrap my head around these answers, but the one thing I can come to terms with is the fact that I am not going to take it for granted. I will always be so in debt to every person who helped me along the way. I am going to do the best job I can to represent our sport in this moment so that I do the ones before me proud and hope to inspire and set the precedent for the ones after me. After all, that’s all I can control.
We round the backside of the building and the garage door opens up and we are in the tunnel. The atmosphere hits me like a semi-truck right in the chest, almost like you want to let out the biggest scream ever but you have to act like you’ve been there before. My nerves are everywhere!
The steer wrestling is almost over and the team ropers are starting to line up on both sides of the lanes. Calf ropers are starting to pile in and mix with the breakaway ropers. I can hear the Priefert panels shake every time someone leaves the box. Even though this is one of the fastest run rodeos on earth, it seems like it is taking forever tonight! I just want to run my calf already so I can take a regular breath!
The saddle bronc riding is almost over. I better swing my ropes one last time, it’s time to pick just one. I’m towards the end, so I get my rope tied on and hand T-Boy off so I can get to the box and watch the start. I pass by those black curtains and the brightness hits my eyes. The arena looks even smaller tonight than in the cattle run-throughs.
Here it is…the first breakaway roper to ever run one in the Thomas and Mack! I feel like I’m going to throw up! Joe B [Beaver] is one person over from me and I can hear him commentating to all the people at home and my mind wonders what he is going to say. I’ve got to get ahold of my breathing or I am going to pass out.
The girls are making great runs and the Thomas and Mack fans are going nuts! They are about halfway through and it’s a decently tough round for the first night. The calves are strong, but good. I know I’ve got a good one drawn.
One girl away from me now and now I’m dialed in and breathing. I’ve got my heart rate better but I’ve never been against this much emotion. I’m in uncharted waters with my nerves, but I know I can get it under control.
"Screw it, let’s do it!"
I ride through that little gate and my song comes on. I can feel T-Boy tighten and I know his eyes got big. We’ve never seen this before, but he’s a gamer so I know he will be on. I swing my rope one last time and give him a smooch so he knows it's going to be fast.
I’m backed in the corner and I can’t hear any specific sounds except noise. Everything looks good, I nod my head and let the muscle memory take over for a whole 2.1 seconds.
I’ve just won the first round of the NFR in the inaugural year of breakaway roping!!! I can’t even hold it back, I go nuts! I don’t know if I want to raise the roof like Fred, sign my hat like Cody, or fall off like Junior! I just know that I don’t care how much this extra victory lap is going to cost me in fines, I’m freaking taking it!
As I hit the end of my victory lap, I catch a glimpse of a group of little girls holding a sign that has my name on it and it all comes down on me at once. I get out the back of that arena and the flood gates open up, every part of my body is shaking, and I can’t even hold those tears back anymore.
Because at this moment in time, I don’t care about anything else except the fact that we did it! We made it! And I will forever be grateful to the people who stuck their necks out and gave us a chance!