LAS VEGAS – The National Finals Rodeo hasn’t gone the way Kyle Irwin had dreamed.
“It’s been a long week,” said Irwin, a 25-year-old steer wrestler from Robertsdale, Ala. “There are a couple things I could’ve done better, but other than that, I just got beat. The draw has taken its toll on me. But I’m a dreamer. I came in here with every intention of winning every round and the average.”
On Thursday night, Irwin reached the pay window for just the third time through eight rounds of ProRodeo’s grand finale. He grappled his steer to the ground in 4.1 seconds to finish in a tie for sixth place with traveling partner Tyler Waguespack; they each pocketed $2,115.
“These little checks still help,” said Irwin, who attended Western Oklahoma College and Northwestern Oklahoma State University on rodeo scholarships. “They ain’t been the prettiest runs, and the draw’s been kind of tough; I’ve felt like I’ve run some hogs this week. But there are a lot of positives that are coming from it.”
So far, Irwin has earned nearly $34,000 in eight days. That’s a significant week in any occupation, much less one that requires athletes to beat most of the field if they expect to earn any money. Irwin placed second in the opening round, then shared third place with two other cowboys last Saturday.
“I have remained confident through it all,” he said. “I felt like I made a good run last night. Every other night, that steer went right, but last night he went left, so that slowed me down a little bit. This is rodeo, and anything can happy; you just keep your confidence. You got here for a reason, so I know I can do it and know I will do it.”
With two nights left in the 2015 rodeo season, the Alabama cowboy knows he still has an opportunity to cash in. He sits seventh in the average race with an eight-run cumulative time of 58.4 seconds. If he maintains that position, he will cash in an extra $11,423 at the conclusion of the NFR.
But with go-rounds paying more than $26,000 per night, he has no plans of playing it safe.
“We create our opportunities, but I’ve felt like I’ve done my job so far,” Irwin said. “If you really pick apart your runs, there are always things you can do better. For me, everybody’s behind me and supports me. Even your worst round at the NFR is a round at the NFR.
“Plus there’s still (more than) $50,000 up for grabs in the rounds, so why not try to go get it.”
In addition to competing with one of his traveling partners, Irwin and Waguespack are utilizing the help of another member of their hauling posse in Tyler Pearson, a steer wrestler from Louisville, Miss., that just missed the NFR this year. Pearson owns the horse, Sketch, that both cowboys are riding and serves as their hazer.
“Really the only thing missing this year is that Tyler isn’t competing,” Irwin said. “I can’t thank that guy enough. I hope he does one day know what it means to me to have him here. That hazing is so crucial at the NFR, and that horsepower is just important in this sport.
“It’s Wags’ first time, and that kids got all the talent in the world. He got a go-round win, and I’m proud to be here with him. It’s fun to be here with your buddies.”
Even through the struggles he has experienced over the past eight days, Irwin continues to see the bright spots along the way. He has family and friends who support him, whether it’s in Las Vegas, Alabama, Oklahoma or anywhere else along the way.
“My sister brought her little baby boy, and he’s 3 months old,” he said. “Seeing him out here and watching him laughing and giggling is priceless. It’s the little things in life. We’re not promised tomorrow. Sure everybody wants to be on top, but the positivity they bring to it helps me realize my blessing.
“I get to rodeo for a living, and I love it.”