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This little video about Texas barrel racer Mary Walker tells only part of the story that is making her the sentimental crowd favorite going into the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas this week.
As the video relates, Mary recovered from a terrible third-barrel fall that left her with two fractured vertebrae, a broken hip, two broken toes and a crushed pelvis. She spent four months in a wheelchair.
Thanks to the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund (JCCF), she received the medical care she needed. (The JCCF is a project of Justin Boots.)
This came soon after the death of her son, cutting horse champion and rising PRCA star Reagon Walker, in a highway accident while hauling his horse to a cutting event.
So 2012 was a comeback year for her in more ways than one. But did anyone expect that her horse Perculatin (a.k.a. "Latte") would be named AQHA Barrel Racing Horse of the Year? Her rise in the standings meant that this year was not just a comeback for Mary, but a personal best, as well.
"Latte" is a 2004 bay gelding by Dash For Perks-Curiocity Corners by Silver Lucky Buck. He was bred by Reita Reijan Pickens of Kiowa, Oklahoma. Mary says she likes his long stride; the horse looks like a Thoroughbred at full speed, and seems to defy both gravity and biomechanics when he downshifts and rounds a barrel.
Mary and Latte headed to Vegas ranked #3 on the Top 15...and yet she is technically a "rookie" at the NFR. Las Vegas is familiar territory; her husband is former world champion steer wrestler Byron Walker.
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But here's another great PS to her story: she is a veteran rider, 53 years old, and she has been a pro since 1983. That's one long haul to Vegas!
Every rider in the Top 15 has a great story. As always, the barrel racing will be a standout event at the NFR.
Mary Walker's story is one for us all to hold close to our hearts. She gives credit for her comeback to the spirit of her late son, Reagon; she says she feels his presence. "He rides with me, he's on my shoulder, he protects me, and I know he's going to take care of me," Walker said.
The Reagon Walker Foundation has created a barrel racing calendar for 2013, with photos by PRCA photographer Molly Morrow. It will be sold all over the trade shows at the NFR. It is appropriately called "The Road to Vegas". Calendar Number One (each one is numbered) is signed by the top 15 barrel racers for 2012 at the NFR; it will be auctioned in Las Vegas to launch the calendar and to benefit the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund.
Maybe you don't normally keep an eye on the NFR scores. But if you're not a regular rodeo fan, look to the 15 women going for the barrel racing title for some excitement, good stories and amazing horses. And if you need an emotional connection, just visit Mary's web site and look at the photos of her in her wheelchair, or in her hospital bed.
To order a calendar: please mail a check for $20.00 to 1401 Crisp, Ennis, Tx 75119, made payable to Reagon Walker Foundation, which provides scholarships to rodeo contestants.
The Jurga Report thanks PRCA photographer Molly Morrow for her fantastic photographs! Check out her amazing rodeo photography at www.mollymorrow.com.