Shada Brazile’s first time qualifying for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) in Vegas is more like a family reunion than a world championship contest.
Shada will join her husband, Trevor, who will be competing for his 11th all-around title and 19th total world championship. If he wins it, he will break Guy Allen’s record and hold more world championships than any cowboy in history. Her brothers Tuf and Clif Cooper, also of Decatur, will be vying for a world title in tie-down roping. Tuf is the favorite to claim his third world championship. He’s also ranked second in the all-around chase.
And her cousin, Stetson Vest of Childress, will also be competing in the tie-down where he’s currently ranked 14th in world standings.
“My brothers are so excited,” Shada said, who’s ranked 13th in the world in barrel racing. “I think they are as excited as I am. Every time I see Tuf he says, ‘What’s up NFR barrel racer?’ That’s how he addresses me. He’s so excited. The other day we were practicing in our arena. I was watching him from over on the side. He said, ‘No. You go back there in the alley ’cause that’s where you are going to be watching me from. I want everything real, just how it’s going to be in Vegas.’
“It’s also my cousin Stetson’s first year in the tie-down,” she said. “We were real close growing up so this has been a lot of fun.”
Only rodeo elite qualify for the WNFR. Those ranked in the top 15 of the world standings in their respective events earn the right to compete at rodeo’s biggest stage. It begins Thursday and runs through Dec. 14 and will be aired live at 9 p.m. every night on Great American Country.
Shada thought watching her family compete for so many years at the WNFR would prepare her for her inaugural trip, but nothing can really prepare a competitor for the first time they gallop into the hallowed ground of the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas.
“I’ve been with Trevor and my brothers and my uncles and watched their careers,” Shada said. “I’ve been there for almost every rodeo, and I thought I had an idea of what it was and how to handle the mental pressure.”
A strong start and a first-place finish at the San Antonio Stock Show in February propelled her quickly into the top 15. But Shada began to feel that high-stakes pressure when she found herself slipping in the world rankings late in the year and on the verge of not qualifying.
“I had a bad July,” she said. “I had to win a lot in August and September to get back in it. It was a lot of pressure knowing you have to win.”
The pressure to qualify for finals was more than she expected.
“Even though I’ve been to the National Finals the last 15 years, I’m pretty sure I have no idea what to expect as a competitor.”
After traveling every year to Vegas to support her husband, she now finds herself in the spotlight.
“It’s a little bit overwhelming at the moment,” Shada said. “Normally I go out there and pack just to hang out there and go to the rodeo, and this year I’m a cowgirl out there.
“I’m excited. The preparation has been more intense with my horse, getting him ready and all his equipment ready. Everything has to be spot on with him. It’s been a busy six weeks for sure.”
In the rodeo world it’s not uncommon for professional ropers, bronc riders, bull riders and bulldoggers to form meaningful relationships with barrel racers.
“A lot of professional rodeo guys marry barrel racers,” said Sherry Compton, a spokesperson for Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.
There are several married couples who both have qualified, but it rarely happens in the same year. It’s only happened once in the past decade.
Molly and Turtle Powell of Alpine have qualified for WNFR a combined total of 18 times. Turtle qualified eight times as a header in team roping, while Molly has qualified 10 times as a barrel racer. But 2004 was the last and only time they both qualified the same year.
“There have been quite a few where both have qualified, but it’s pretty special to have them both qualify at the same time,” Compton said.
And this year it’s Shada and Trevor.
“No one is more intense than he is,” Shada said of Trevor. “I’ve learned from watching him. I’ve witnessed his work ethic on a year-in and year-out basis, and I’ve definitely learned to apply that and not let any one thing go missing.”
This year Shada is traveling as more than a supporting wife, sister or niece, but also as an elite competitor in the arena.
“It’s the best of the best,” she said. “I just have to thank God for this moment for our family.”