SULPHUR, La. – Rodeo is more than a job to Casey Martin; it’s a way of life.
“I’ve been rodeoing since I can remember,” said Martin, a steer wrestler from Sulphur who is heading to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the fifth time in his career when ProRodeo’s championship begins Thursday, Dec. 2, in Las Vegas.
“I love the competition, the drive to do better and beat the animal. It’s about being the fastest on that steer than anybody else. To be the fastest on that steer is the way I live day to day. Every time you nod your head, it’s a new challenge, a new fear and a new setup. That’s how you get the money.”
The Louisiana cowboy earned a little more than $65,000 through the 2015 regular season, finishing the campaign in 14th place. Only the top 15 on the money list in each event advance to the NFR, which features the largest purse in the game.
That’s important for the top players in the sport that matches talents of human and animal athletes. Unlike other professional sports, there are no guaranteed contracts for the cowboys and cowgirls. Not only do they cover their own expenses, but they also must pay a fee in order to compete.
“It means a lot to go back to the NFR, because it shows you’re at the top of your game,” he said. “To go to the NFR one time is a pretty big deal, but to go five times in a row is a big accomplishment.”
Yes, it is. Once he arrives in Sin City, Martin knows that’s where he must capitalize. In his four previous trips, he’s finished the year in the top 10 in the final world standings – in his last three NFR qualifications, he has finished among the top four: he was second in 2012, fourth in 2013 and third a year ago.
“Being able to finish like that, competing against the best in the world, is a big accomplishment,” said Martin, who lives in Sulphur with his wife, Shawna, and their six children: Reese, Sydna, Therese, Waylon, Woodrow and Slaydon; they are expecting a seventh child next July. “To compete at the NFR boosts your self-esteem, knowing you can be there and should be there.”
It’s also the way he feeds his family and has diapers for the babies, and he has a chance to cash in big in Vegas. Go-round winners will earn more than $26,000 each of the 10 nights; the contestant with the best 10-round cumulative time or score at the conclusion of the finale will add a check worth $67,269 for winning the NFR average championship.
His first step, though, was earning the qualification. He won just four event titles through the course of the regular season, so most of his earnings came by finishing among the leaders throughout the year.
“I didn’t win near as many as I have the last few years,” said Martin, who earned a degree in agricultural science from McNeese State University in Lake Charles, La., where competed on a rodeo scholarship. “I think the key this year was just being consistent. I had a couple of little dry spells, but none was too long. Being consistent week in and week out is pretty important.”
He traveled throughout the year with fellow bulldogger Bray Armes, a three-time NFR qualifier from Pilot Point, Texas. In fact, Martin will ride Armes’ horse, Ote, during this year’s finale while also utilizing Armes as his hazer – in steer wrestling, competitors are allowed a hazer to ride alongside the steer to keep the animal in position for a solid run.
“Your traveling partners are very important,” Martin said. “You need to be able to be with somebody to help take care of things and put up with you and keep you motivated. Bray is someone who’s positive, and that’s important.
“It’s hard enough to travel with somebody when you’re going through cold spells, so you’ve got to have someone who can stay positive. If you can’t have fun and enjoy it and be positive on the road, you’re probably not going to win much.”
He’s won plenty over his 14-year career. It all goes back to a childhood in which he had the opportunities to compete.
“My older brothers and older sisters started rodeoing, so I fell into it that way,” he said. “We grew up around horses and cows. Grandpa kept us with horses all the time. We’re the first generation of our family in rodeoing.
“My brothers got into high school rodeo, and I was fortunate to be younger, so that’s all I knew. I went to my first team roping jackpot when I was 8 years old. I roped a lot, and it all led to the bulldogging.”
Martin comes from a big family. He’s one of nine children born and raised in Sulphur. He married Shawna 11 years ago, and they began building their own family. All six of their children are under the age of 10. When he’s on the road competing and helping make a living, Shawna takes care of everything at home.
“She stays positive and lets me go,” he said. “She supports me 100 percent of what I do and what I love to do. She knew nothing about rodeo when we first started dating.”
She knows about it now. With Casey being one of the elite steer wrestlers in ProRodeo, she realizes his job will keep him away from their southern Louisiana home for weeks, even months, at a time.
Now the whole family will be with him in Las Vegas during the 10-day championship. He hopes to collect a few round wins and introduce his clan to the fans who make their way to the Montana Silversmiths Go-Round Buckle Celebration, which takes place nightly at the South Point.
“Just winning the go-round is pretty amazing,” said Martin, who has two round victories in his four previous trips to the NFR. “The victory lap is really exciting, then you get to go to the South Point and take your family on stage with everybody. It’s an amazing thing to me.”
The NFR is an amazing experience. Being in the field with only the very best competitors from the 2015 season is quite an accomplishment, but now it’s Martin’s time to shine.
“You don’t get to run at that kind of money very often in your life, and there’s a whole lot of money to be won,” he said. “It’s going to help everyone in rodeo to have a chance to win that kind of money.”
Now it’s his turn to make it pay off.