Rodeo Wife Lindsay Branquinho checks in about the 2011 NFR
Photo credit to www.megfish.com
At long last I have gotten myself back on track and am returning to OTRR once again. I hate to think about how long it took me to get this post written, but looking on the bright side I guess that means that there is plenty for me to update on! In fact I hardly know where to begin….
First and foremost (since it’s not really breaking news anymore, but extremely exciting non the less) Luke won his third world championship in 2011. Hooray!! It was a long year with a lot of ups and downs (fortunately a lot more ups than downs) and, as always, it all came down to the wire out in Vegas at the WNFR. WAY down to the wire. Like the 10th round!
All total we end up being out there a full two weeks. And two weeks in Vegas begins to feel like two months pretty quick! Luke keeps a pretty packed schedule the whole time; between meetings, multiple daily autograph signings, horses, various other obligations, and heading to the rodeo about 3 hours before performance time, there isn’t much left over. He kind of has a routine, where he tries to get all the things he has to do out of the way early in the day so he has time to eat and maybe rest before heading out. We try to sneak in some time with him when we can, and stay out of his hair when we need to. Needless to say, our Vegas experience has changed drastically after having kids. It’s a lot of late nights and big days and certainly takes its toll on everyone. It’s tiring for me, so I can only imagine what it feels like to a 1 1/2 & 3 year old! But at the same time is such an incredible experience and so ridiculously exciting that you can’t complain. It doesn’t matter how many years Luke makes the finals, that first performance has an electric feel to it that is hard to explain. Cade absolutely LOVES watching the rodeo. He would sit through every minute of every single performance and never complain. Jameson…. not so much! In fact I should probably apologize to the people that sat in front of us for all the toys and popcorn and baby boots they took to the back of the head that week! I often think about all the months and miles spent just trying to make it there, and am always thankful to be back again.
Luke ended up having a really great finals; placing in 9 of the 10 rounds, and winning 2 rounds. The only round he really had trouble in was the 8th… and don’t think that didn’t almost give me a heart attack! It was the perfect reminder, in what had been a pretty calm and uneventful week, that things can go from great to really bad in a split second. Not that I needed the reminder, thank you very much! Luckily, despite a rather shakey run where he struggled to get his steer caught and thrown (and made his longest run of the week by far at 6.8) he stayed solid in the average which is absolutely paramount. It made the race all that much tighter heading into the last two rounds though and had me sweating bullets. It was no longer about just being consistent, it was also about winning good in the rounds. Luke came back the next night (round 9) and split the round win with a 3.6 run; exactly what he had needed to do. For me that was probably one of the most exciting nights of the week.
I have to say that one of the things that has always amazed me about Luke, since we first met, is his ability to handle and perform under pressure. I won’t lie, I am not one of those people! I can guarantee that 100% of the time I am more nervous watching than Luke is competing. I think this is also one of the qualities that makes him so successful. He is consistently calm, collected, confident, and prepared. I think for people looking to be competitive in this industry that being mentally tough, is just as important as physical practice. Having been on that side of things myself at one time, my mental game was one thing I struggled with most and probably held me back in a lot of situations. I am not saying that Luke never struggles or fights his head but he maintains perspective, and doesn’t get caught up in it for long. These qualities are even more important in a high pressure situation like the finals obviously.
Going into the 10th round it was a race that was basically narrowed to 3 guys; Luke, Shawn Greenfield, and Jason Miller. Both of which are really outstanding bulldoggers, and Jason is one of Luke’s closest friends. In fact every guy in the top 15 is the best of the best and are there because of their talent and ability to win. Luke got to go last since he was sitting first going into that final round … trust me it never took so long to watch 14 guys bulldog! All three guys had a very legitimate shot at winning the average which plays a huge part in winning a world tittle. Both Jason and Shawn ended up breaking the barrier that last night, which left me a little stunned. Things like that happen every day in rodeo, and to every cowboy out there, but you never wish or anticipate for it to happen. I have to admit for a minute I panicked a little wondering what Luke would do now that the pressure he performs so well under was, well, gone. All he had to do was make a clean run; the same thing he does day in and day out at home. He could afford to take a safe start and not rush his run, which is an unheard of luxury at the NFR! It took two lifetimes for him to nod his head and when he did and I saw the start he took I thought for a split second “oh my gosh… what happens if all 3 of them break out!!” (after 8 years of marriage, you would think I would know that playing it safe isn’t really Luke’s thing!). He didn’t make his fastest run of the week but placed in that last go-round, and won his second WNFR average tittle as well as securing his third World tittle that night. We were absolutely over the moon, and I am so so proud of him and all he has accomplished. Oh, and Jameson slept through the entire thing.
I have to absolutely give credit to every other guy there; they are immensely talented and deserve all the success they have found. Everyone of those guys works hard and sacrifices a lot to be able to compete at that level. Many of them have families that they have to spend a lot of time away from, and those families also work really hard to support these cowboys out chasing their dreams. I respect and admire each and everyone of them. I never feel like Luke deserves it any more than anyone else, each one of them works hard and pays their dues.
I also have to mention that Luke gives a huge amount of credit to Gunner, the horse he rode there, for a lot of his success. Gunner is owned by Jesse Peterson, and Luke has an incredible track record on him (he also rode him to his first world tittle in 2004). There were other great horses at the finals of course, but Gunner is pretty special and amazes me with his athleticism & consistency. We are very lucky to have him in our lives. All of these things are perfect examples of something that I believe, which is you do not make it to the top in rodeo by yourself; it takes support, help, guidance, encouragement, and generosity of countless people. We certainly have many, many people to thank; not only for these things, but also just for sharing such great memories and all the enthusiasm and joy others have showed Luke for his accomplishments. To have guys that you compete against all year long, show genuine happiness at your success is a really special thing, and makes me proud to have people like that to call friends.
As for 2012, things have stared out pretty slow. Luke has only been to 3 rodeos so far and hasn’t won a whole bunch. He has spent more time home this year thus far than I think he ever has half way through February. You know I could really get used to this! I can’t adequately express how much I appreciate the extra miles he racks up making special trips home. To see the way the boys faces light up when they see him walk in incomparable. He puts just as much effort into being an exceptional father and husband as he does a bulldogger, and that makes me really proud. I think that as the boys get a bit older we are both finding that it makes it harder for him to be gone like he has in past. It presents new sacrifices and challenges for each of us and all we can really do is take it day by day. I for one, am very excited to see where 2012 takes us!