It's a life Ken and Paula grew up with, and a tradition they're passing along to their three sons. During the summer months, the Norell family is on the road nearly every weekend - sometimes in a couple of different directions. The weekend of July 3-4 found Paula and Jace in Craig for a Little Britches event, while Ken and the boys headed to Collbran, Steamboat Springs and Meeker for Colorado Professional Rodeo Association (CPRA) team roping.
Jace, a fifth grader at Lincoln Elementary School, paired up with Denton Norell, the son of Ken's cousin, for the team roping competition. With three generations of tough competitors, it's no surprise the Norell name is well-known in the rodeo circuit.
"It's something we enjoy doing with our family," Paula said. "Ken and I love it so much because we take off on a Friday and we're with the kids until Sunday. We know where they're at and what they're doing and we're doing it together."
Wherever they're headed, they pull a trailer which can carry several horses and still accommodate sleeping quarters for the family. Before they bed down for the night, Paula cleans out the muck from the back end of the trailer, but the smell of horses permeates the air. "It's not offensive to us at all," Paula said.
Despite their competitive nature, education comes first for the two older boys, who both graduated from Delta High School. Clay is studying environmental engineering at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas. His college rodeo team numbers about a hundred, but he's only one who is successfully combining rigorous engineering courses with a full roping schedule.
"It's a great outlet for him," Paula says. "He's said if it wasn't for his rodeoing and his horses, he's not sure he'd be sane."
Payton, one of the valedictorians of Delta's 2009 graduating class, plans to study business at Howard College in Big Spring, Texas, while kicking up the dust in the rodeo arena.
In June, Payton and his partner, Blair Jones of Monte Vista, won the state team roping title. They're headed to the international youth finals rodeo in Shawnee, Okla., the weekend of July 11-12, then straight from there to Farmington, N.M., for the national high school finals rodeo.
In most communities, the high school rodeo team is not affiliated with one school. Such is the case on the Western Slope, where about 20 young cowboys from Montrose, Grand Junction, Delta, Ridgway and Ouray comprise the Tri-County Rodeo Team. They compete over four weekends in the fall and eight weekends in the spring, with the state finals in June. This year the Norells loaded up their horses and headed to Lamar for the finals, where an exciting event was made even more tense when an approaching tornado forced everyone to evacuate the arena. Paula wasn't leaving without her horses, though. They took time to load the horses into the trailer before looking for safer surroundings.
Paula is just as committed to watching the national youth finals rodeo in Oklahoma, though it means shuttling between Jace's All Star baseball games in one state and team roping competition in another.
While the Norells have a passion for rodeoing, they've shown a talent for other athletics as well.
"Both the boys loved basketball and played other sports in high school, but this is a sport that they work really hard for," Paula said. "They've learned the more work you put into it, the more success you have at it." They've focused their efforts on team and calf roping, although both Clay and Payton have tried other events. "Payton, in particular, hung out behind the chutes when he was younger. But he took a pretty good spill once or twice and it took most of the bull riding out of him. "Besides, he's just not built like a bull rider - he's too tall and lanky."
The boys have only been recently joined by Ken, who's kept busy in the past with his own trucking business. Then he was seriously injured in a truck accident and spent a considerable amount of time recuperating. Now he trades hay, sometimes runs cattle, and saddles up his horse to compete in team roping.
"It's been fun for them to get to rope together," Paula said. Ken and Payton make up one team; Clay pairs up with Rob Kinney, who grew up around Olathe.
"It works really well for Ken and Clay and Payton, because somebody is going to win a check somewhere. After pooling their winnings to cover costs and entry fees, the three figure they're about $1,000 ahead.
"If you go as a single down the road by yourself, I think it's a little more difficult," Paula said. "If you have a dry spell, there's no one else to pull you out." Rather than compete herself, Paula focuses on getting the colts started. The elder ranchers on both sides of the family also supply horses. "It takes the whole family to keep it working - rodeoing involves lots of horses and lots of miles down the road."
It also takes some sacrifices on the boys' part. While it's a lot more fun to be out roping, Ken and Paula have stressed that their education must come first. After they've earned their college degrees, then they can try their hands at the professional rodeo circuit, if they wish.
As Ken has pointed out, the best way to be a successful roper is to have a six-digit income to support it. If you can afford the best horses, it's a lot easier to be successful than if you're scraping nickels and dimes together to get to the next event.
"They're competitive, so it's not necessarily an easy choice to make," Paula said. "I just hope their sacrifices pay off."blog comments powered by Disqus