NFR a learning curve for Irwin

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LAS VEGAS – No matter the circumstances one faces, there always are lessons to be learned.

Steer wrestler Kyle Irwin didn’t have the National Finals Rodeo he had hoped, but he still finds the blessings that come with competing at ProRodeo’s year-end championship for the second straight year.

On Dec. 7, the Robertsdale, Ala., cowboy took part in the Exceptional Rodeo, an event in which NFR contestants help children with disabilities participate in the sport they love. It was there that Irwin looked around and realized all he has.

Kyle Irwin
Kyle Irwin

“To me, those kids aren’t disabled; those kids are a true blessing from the Lord,” said Irwin, who placed in just three of 10 go-rounds in Las Vegas and earned $33,974. “That deal probably helps me more than it does them. (Saturday) night when things didn’t go well, I was able to get on my horse by myself. I have so much to be thankful for.”

He does. Even through the trials and tribulations that come with the NFR, the Alabama cowboy finished the season with $120,574.

“After finishing second in the round that first night, I was sure thinking it was about to get fun,” he said, noting that he earned $88,000 a year ago. “It was still fun. There are people that try their whole life and not make it, and I was fortunate to be there for the second year in a row. Not doing well is part of the job we do.

“You get through those situations and go on, or you whine and cry and it beats you, and you get a job and feel sorry for yourself the rest of your life. That’s not me. These are the choices I make and the life I live, so you have to take the bad with the good.”

There was a lot of good in the 2015 season. Only the top 15 cowboys in the world standings advance to the NFR. One of those on the outside looking in was traveling partner Tyler Pearson of Louisville, Miss., who finished the regular season 18th and just missed qualifying for the finale for the second time in his career. Pearson provided his horse, Sketch, for Irwin to ride and served as the hazer.

“It’s got to be tough to almost make it and still come here to help me and be around his buddies,” Irwin said. “He’s fixing to have a kid in a week. He should’ve been home with his wife. Instead, she and their son called me every night to wish me luck. The sacrifices he makes that get overlooked are incredible.”

It wasn’t all bad for Pearson. While in town, he competed in the Cinch-Boyd Gaming Shootout that took place during three afternoons this past week. Pearson won the steer wrestling title and $11,600. It was a great opportunity for those cowboys who weren’t competing nightly at the Thomas & Mack Center to run for good money.

“Tyler’s a winner, and that Cinch Shootout is amazing for the sport of rodeo,” Irwin said. “Cinch stuck its neck out for me, and I’ll wear Cinch the rest of my days in rodeo and am grateful to do it. Those guys that just barely missed making the NFR deserve to have an opportunity like that.”

While Pearson collected money at The Orleans, Irwin continued to receive powerful lessons a few miles away at the Thomas & Mack, home of ProRodeo’s premier championship.

“I learned to expect the unexpected,” he said. “I came here ready and the same energy I had last year and ready to bounce back into it. I made some good runs, and I had a variety of things going on. I learned to be ready for anything.”

Just 25 years old, Irwin still has many years of quality education in front of him. Each rodeo he wins and every opportunity he misses provides him with the developmental skills he can use in the future.

“I learned a lot about patience this year,” Irwin said. “I want it so bad, and I get so anxious. I heard (five-time world champion) Luke Branquinho say he was patient the other night when he was 3.5 (seconds). I get so worked up trying to win every single time that I don’t allow myself to be patient, but Luke proved you can be patient and still win.”

It was just another lesson learned.


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