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Resilient Athletes

When there is no rodeo to go to

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This ongoing photo series examines the ways the coronavirus pandemic has upended and reshaped athletes' lives.


The Colorado State Rodeo Club was getting ready for the second half of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association season when operations were suspended March 18 -- a week before the first of five Central Rocky Mountain Region spring rodeos. The College National Finals, planned for June, were cast in uncertainty. Members of the rodeo team returned to their respective homes, where they have leaned on the rodeo community to help keep their horses in competitive shape.


Nathan Van Deel, a junior who competes in team roping, has been practicing with friend Nick Rice in Fort Collins, Colorado. "You've got to have a pretty significant setup with an arena and horses and cattle," Van Deel says. "In the rodeo community, people have just been really good at collaborating to stay sharp, and usually you know a buddy who has a place you can go rope."
In the two-person calf roping event event, Van Deel's job as the header is to rope the steer's horns, while the heeler goes for the feet. Van Deel hasn't been able to practice with his CSU partner, Jared Sinclair, who lives in Alamosa, Colorado. "It's kind of different just because we spent a lot of the season practicing together every day," Van Deel says. "You just adjust how you can. We have to put it all together once we see each other again."
The CSU women entered the spring semester ranked eighth in the region, but only 505 points separated them from third-place Eastern Wyoming College. An individual can earn up to 180 points in a single event, which meant a jump in the standings wouldn't have been unlikely. The men ranked 10th but were only 375 points from sixth place.
Chandler Ritchey, far left, is a junior barrel racer, who has been able to set up a cloverleaf racing pattern at her home in Brighton, Colorado. She can run her horses, Holly and Stewart, through the patterns, but it hardly simulates the challenge of traveling to a new rodeo every weekend, where conditions vary at every arena. "It's going to be interesting when we all come back," Ritchey says. "The [horses] probably all will be in really great shape, but whether they will be in perfect tune running the pattern will be a question."
Similar to what the NCAA did, NIRA athletes have been granted an extra year of eligibility, but losing the end of the season was still a crushing blow. "This was a really devastating year," team president Shaniece Borgerding, a junior, says. "We have a lot of seniors on our team, and watching this be their last year and then not being able to finish it out strong, that has been so heartbreaking."
Borgerding embraced her role as the team president this season and was eager to step up as a leader. She has continued to maintain contact with her teammates throughout the past month. "I'm not gonna try and cry right now," Borgerding says. "But it's just the fact that I had so much riding on this year and my peers elected me as president because they believed in me and now I don't get to fulfill all the duties of it."
"You work so hard for something," Borgerding says. "At this point, you don't get to see your hard work pay off. It gives people time to work harder."
“But it's just the fact that I had so much riding on this year and my peers elected me as president because they believed in me and now I don't get to fulfill all the duties of it.”
Rileigh Wullbrandt has remained in Colorado even though her family is in California. As conditions worsened in California, Wullbrandt wanted to stay in Colorado so she could be closer to her horse and train. "I like Colorado. I like being here," she says. "It's fun. The weather's nice. And even with the virus, it's still a good place to be stuck."
Wullbrandt, also a junior, competes in mixed-team roping events and has used her time during the shutdown to focus on improvements she planned to work on during the spring semester. The team was just one week away from its first rodeo when operations were suspended, but the hope is that competition can resume in the fall.
Written by Anthony Gulizia

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