Cinch cowgirl shares her passion with the next generation
Children’s dreams tend to take on their own roads, serving as pathways to accomplishing their passions whether the kids know it or not.
Backyard football games turn into organized contests. Over time, a handful of youngsters will realize their dreams of being Super Bowl champions. For Cinch barrel racer Sherry Cervi, her childhood memories of Martha Josey’s youth races enabled her to develop her love affair with horses and riding them fast. It’s a big part of why she’s a 19-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier and a four-time world champion.
She’s offering that as another avenue for young girls who aspire to be the next big name in barrel racing through the Sherry Cervi Youth Championships, a showcase of four events each yearthat give young ladies a competitive edge in a sport she loves.
“My memories of going to Martha Josey’s youth race is what started it,” Cervi said. “Martha inspired me to give back to kids. What she’s done for kids and adults over the years is amazing. She’s given so many people their starts. Kids are our future. It’s something I’m passionate about.”
The first of four Cervi events happened in January in Tucson, Arizona, near her hometown of Marana, and featured 400 entries. That’s the limit to help with the event’s production, in which the world champion is very involved.
“We have great volunteers, and with 400 entries, it makes for a long day already,” she said. “If we didn’t limit it, I’d be putting a lot of stress on our team and all those volunteers. I want it to be something where you can run barrels, and the kids still have time to hang out with other kids and get to know one another.
“I met kids when I was younger that I still know. Their goals should be to meet three new friends and stay in contact with them through the years.”
The youth championships began in 2008, with Cervi working with a good friend, Shane Parsons, who owns an arena in Ceres, California. She wanted to produce a youth barrel race on the West Coast, because there weren’t many at the time. The whole concept has continued to blossom.
“What started out as a little event has become really big,” Cervi said. “The sponsors are awesome, and I have a great team behind me. This is my passion, and they’ve all sacrificed and made it their passion, too.
“We give away 10 saddles at each race. We also give scholarships and have a lot of cool prizes. Our goal is kids can come with their families, and it’s a great experience for them and they leave with great memories.”
The races of a lifetime
Sherry Cervi was born to do this: The training, the racing, the working with children. She is the youngest of two daughters raised by Mel and Wendy Potter, who own a horse ranch in Marana and a farm in Bancroft, Wisconsin.
Even now, with her parents aging, Cervi and her husband, 2017 world champion heeler Cory Petska, divide their time between Arizona, their place near Stephenville, Texas, and the family farm in Wisconsin. They still train horses and compete, though their competition schedule has been reduced over time.
“Our schedules vary,” she said. “The last couple of years, we spent more time in Wisconsin. My dad’s up there in age, and Cory and I try to help out as much as we can. I’ve got some young horses coming, and I still want to make the NFR. My parents are older, and I really want to spend as much time with them as I can.”
Still, if the opportunity allows it, look for Cervi to press for a return to the grandest stage in rodeo. She and James share the record with the most NFR qualifications in WPRA history, and Cervi is the only WPRA member to cross $3 million in ProRodeo earnings.
Of course, she purchased her card when she was just 12 years old, a sign of the times. Not long after, the age for admittance into the WPRA was raised to 18.
Cervi was 19 years old when she qualified for the NFR for the first time in 1994. A year later, aboard Sir Double Delight, she won the first of four gold buckles. She and Troubles ruled the roost
Four years later, while riding Jet Royal Speed, a big bay she called Hawk, Cervi added her second world championship. It proved a few things: her first title was no fluke, she was a whale of a horsewoman and she knew what it took to raise and train great horses. That never stopped. She’s had a stable full of amazing horses over her career.
A decade or so later, a second-generation Mel Potter-raised mare, MP Meter My Hay, proved to be a little, yellow lightning bolt of energy. Stingray guided Cervi to both the 2010 and 2013 gold buckles, and the legacy just continued to build.
Can she add to it?
“Because I know what it takes and the sacrifices you have to make, I have to be committed 100 percent,” Cervi said. “It’s not that I’m not committed, but life continues and things come along that take your attention. Before now, it was all about rodeo. All we thought about was getting to the next rodeo. Age and life responsibilities makes it to where rodeo is somethings not first.
“When the time’s right, I do want to be back (at the NFR). I love competing, but there are other things I need to take care of. Being in Wisconsin is where I needed to be and where I wanted to be. When that’s not the case, then we’ll see what happens.”
Through all the accolades, Cervi continues to be the same humble and caring person she was before she ever rode speedy horses to fame. She strives to be better at her horsemanship than she was before because, “I feel like I have a lot to learn and still want to be the very best rider for my horse.” That sentence envelopes the passion she has for the job she does, and it stands as a principle she can carry from piece of her busy life to another.
She is one of the winningest and most recognized barrel racers in rodeo history. She has accomplishments anybody would be proud to own, but one sticks out to her.
“Being in the cowgirl hall of fame,” she said of her 2018 induction into the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame. “That’s a pretty special award. You look at the women that are in there and what they’ve done and how they’ve impacted the Western industry, the fact that my name is in there with them is pretty humbling.”
Cervi is a class act who was raised to be a champion. Her love affair with her equine partners has never ceased, and she’s ridden hundreds of them; the best had something in common.
“Their hearts and the fact that they loved their jobs,” Cervi said.
That also describes Sherry Cervi, who is still at home doing the job she loves.