The story of Bridger Chambers’ ride to the Wrangler National Rodeo Finals is one we all should be paying attention to.
Whether you are young or old, or somewhere in between, the world-class steer wrestler offers a lesson about following your dreams.
“If my kids can take anything from this, I hope they know this is possible,” Chambers said Saturday, a day before he and his brother, Boone, load up his horse and drive 14 hours to every rodeo cowboy’s dream. “If you put yourself in good position, you can do it.”
Beginning Thursday night, Chambers will be competing on the biggest stage possible for rodeo cowboys. It is like he is playing in the Super Bowl or World Series, only there is a lot less glory, no teammates to lean on, and no guaranteed contracts.
He called competing in the NFR, where Chambers will be introduced in the grand entry every night of competition at the Thomas & Mack Center, “surreal” and “hard to believe.”
A Stevensville native who now lives in Butte, Chambers could have easily been content to settle into his comfortable adult life, and nobody would have blamed him one bit.
His stories of playing college basketball at Montana Western would have never gotten old.
After all, Chambers, who rodeoed at the University of Montana before transferring to Western to participate in two sports, is the first person to play in the NAIA National Basketball Tournament and compete in the College National Finals Rodeo in the same year.
Chambers, who made the rounds on the rodeo circuit from time to time, married former Butte High and Western star athlete Kristen Tuttle, and the couple is raising four children, who will likely end up being Butte High Bulldogs. He has a successful business in which he travels the state to lead drug dogs on searches of prisons, schools and businesses.
At 29, though, Chambers decided the he just had to give his dream one more shot.
He was going to go all in for one chance at steer wrestling at the NFR.
He knew it would take almost all of his time. When he is not driving from one rodeo to another, he is driving back and forth from Butte to Dillon to train.
He knew it would be rough on his family. He knew it would take him away from his wife and young children. He knew it would be ridiculously hard on so many levels.
He did it anyway.
Dreams do not just magically come true. This is not the lottery.
Chambers and some of his pals drove around the country to compete in as many rodeos as they could. To qualify for the NFR, Chambers needed to finish in the Top 15 in the steer wrestling money list.
To do that, Chambers couldn’t miss a rodeo, even if it meant driving overnight to get there.
On brutal stretch this past summer saw Chambers and his crew head to Reno, Nevada, to compete in a rodeo on a Friday. When the rodeo ended, they drove to Belt, Montana, to rodeo on Saturday.
On Sunday, they were entered in a rodeo in Innisfail, Alberta, which is north of Calgary.
The rodeo season also took Chambers to Florida, Texas and California — and he drove to them — as he earned $81,175.35. That ranks him No. 8 on the money list. Helena’s Ty Erickson is No. 4 with $89,661.75, and Curtis Cassidy of Donalda, Alberta, is No. 1 at $106,009.32.
Reigning world champion Tyler Pearson of Louisville, Missouri, is No. 2 at $97,625.32.
Don’t let that number fool you. That is gross earnings, not net.
How much of that money did Chambers spend traveling the country to earn his shot at the big time?
“All of it,” Chambers said. “Everybody sees that big number, but they don’t see what you spend to get it.”
Very few competitors get rich from the rodeo. Cowboys and cowgirls are lucky if the break even during the rodeo circuit.
“Everybody tries to go broke getting there,” Chambers said of the race to the NFR. “Now it’s time to make some money.”
As his family gets ready to fly to Las Vegas to watch Chambers compete with the best cowboys in the world, though, all that time and work was worth it.
The dream is not complete, but Chambers finds comfort knowing he is one of the best in the world in his sport.
“I’m going to soak up every minute of it, from the time I take off to the crappy drive home,” Chambers said of the NFR experience. “I’m stoked. It’s here. It’s time to take care of business.”
Now that he gets to compete on rodeo’s biggest stage, Chambers is not simply happy to be there. You better believe the son of former Stevensville basketball coach Keith Chambers is there to win.
“My goal is to swing for the fences,” Bridger Chambers said. “I prepared myself the best I can. I’ve had some great people help me along the way.”
The cowboys don’t enter the rodeo on equal footing. The money earned heading in plays into the final standings. After 10 nights of go-rounds, which pay about $27,000 each, the highest money maker will take home the world championship belt buckle.
“Tyler Peterson won last year, and was about $50,000 down heading to Vegas,” Chambers said. “Everyone has a chance.”
The CBS Sports Network will carry much of the NFR, starting each night at 8 p.m. Fans can also watch the NFR online.
Tune in. Watch the action with your children, and tell them the story of Bridger Chambers. Tell them what it took for him to get there.
Butte has a way of claiming the rights to successful people, whether it is Keith “The Dean of Mean” Jardine, state champion handball players or sons and daughters of Mining City natives making names for themselves in other cities.
“That’ alright,” Chambers said with a laugh. “I live in Butte. There’s good people there. I married a Butte girl.”
Chambers is definitely one worth claiming, though the people of Stevensville and the Bitterroot Valley certainly would object to that claim.
Whether you call him a Stevensville cowboy, a Butte cowboy or just a cowboy, though, it does not matter. What is important is the example Chambers is setting.
Just like when Colt Anderson played in the NFL, or when Rob Johnson caught in the big leagues, or when brothers Bryon and Brad Wilson ski in the Olympics, Chambers is a man on the big stage because he anted up and followed his dreams.
“If you work for it,” Chambers said, “it can happen for you.”
— Bill Foley writes a column that appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74. Check out his NFL picks on Thursdays.