CHEYENNE, Wyo. – Rodeoing is in Mary Walker’s blood.
Her husband, Byron, won the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association championship in 1981. Her son, Reagon, was a four-time high school state champion and PRCA cowboy before his death in April 2011.
The Ennis cowgirl has always been a barrel racer but she didn’t rodeo as much as others in the business. She was sidelined with a major injury just a few months back and her career was in question.
Instead of slowing down, Walker picked up the pace. It appears that choice has paid off.
Competing at the world’s largest outdoor rodeo, the barrel racer stole the show and ran away with a huge paycheck and the 116th Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo belt buckle.
“The best. There’s all your favorite rodeos and I’ve been with my husband here, my son competed here before he passed away. It’s just an amazing rodeo. It’s the daddy,” Walker said referring to Cheyenne’s nickname as the “Daddy of ’em All.”
During her first go-round run, Walker posted a time of 17.29 seconds to win the round. On Sunday, she battled 12 other barrel racers for the CFD title.
After watching nine other runs, Walker hit the dirt and flew into another gear. She and her horse, Percolating (that was the name he was registered with but Walker calls him Latté), almost knocked over the second barrel but it settled back down and didn’t result in a five-second penalty.
Thanks to that little help from gravity, Walker finished the race in 17.27 seconds, the fastest run of more than 120 barrel racers over nine days of competition. In all, Walker won $12,262 for those times.
“My horse, he’s just getting better and better and better. My first run here, I was just ecstatic,” Walker said. “When he came back (Sunday), I hit the second barrel and thought, ‘Oh, don’t go down.’ And it went back up and I knew I had it then.”
Coming into the week, Walker was sitting fourth in the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association money standings with just over $62,000 earned this year.
Before Cheyenne, Walker won the rodeo in Nampa, Idaho and Elko, Nev. She also finished second in Deadwood, S.D., earlier in the week.
Her success this year has put her in contention for a world title. But there was a time when Walker didn’t know if she would rodeo again.
Along with her son’s death, Walker was severely injured during a barrel racing accident in Crosby on June 9, 2011. Latté fell on top of her making a turn on the third barrel during a rodeo crushing her pelvis, fracturing two vertebrae and breaking two toes.
After surgery, she had eight plates and 11 pins in her pelvis, spent four months in a wheelchair and another three months in rehab.
Walker says there were definite doubts to continuing her career.
Her comeback alone is a worth noting. Her success is what makes it special.
Walker had only run once in Cheyenne before this year. She’s never made the National Rodeo Finals to compete for a world title.
This year, she’ll get that honor, proving perseverance can pay off.
“When they released me out of rehab Christmas day, my first rodeo was Odessa. I placed in Odessa. Went to Fort Worth and didn’t do very good, still didn’t have my strength back,” Walker said.
“(I worked to) get my strength back, just keep going and going and going. It’s been wonderful.”
Alex Riley is the former sports editor for the Midlothian Mirror, now residing in Wyoming where he is a sports writer for the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.