AT HOME WITH
| Jake Barnes | Clay O’Brien Cooper | my other gig | connections |
(At home with)
National Champion, 26, grew up in Buffalo, Texas, on his family’s ranch. The Champions have run Champion Rodeo Company since 1969, and National has been a part of it since he was old enough to walk and swing a trick rope to entertain crowds at United Professional Rodeo Association events across Texas. But this August, he was called to swing his rope under far more grave circumstances when he and 16 other cowboys joined forces ahorseback to rescue people’s cattle—and their livelihood—in Texas’ Hurricane Harvey floods.
Q: How did you get involved in the rescues?
A: A girl who used to live up here put up a post on Facebook needing help with rescues, and my wife tagged me in it. Cody Mizell put us all together to go down to Liberty County. I was there Tuesday morning, Aug. 29, to Friday night, Sept. 1.
Q: How did you go about the rescues?
A: We tried to stay on county roads— something that had a hard bottom on it because we were unfamiliar with the territory. We would get to the person’s place—my goal was to judge the depth of the water by where the cattle were. We’d try to drive the cattle out the same way we came in because we knew it was the safest way. Sometimes the cattle wanted to do it their way so we would have to do some persuading. We’d have to get the calves up in our saddles to keep from drowning. Sometimes the cattle were on porches. Sometimes, we’d rope them and snub them up on the airboats—they were in over their heads. We saw horses and cattle up to their chests and their backs and they were bloody—their feet and skin had gotten so soft it was deteriorating. We had to go into a lean-to afoot one time to catch one, then we drove him out to where it was deep enough to where they could float. We were just trying to keep everything safe. We had to assess every situation as its own challenge.
Q: That sounds like it could have gotten a little ranchy.
A: When you’re on an air boat trying to rope something—it gets pretty ranchy. I’ll tell you, the wildest thing happened on the railroad track the first day. There was a cleanup crew coming up the track while we were trying to get cattle through. When that crew was coming— it was a small engine train with a bull dozer blade on the front of it. The lights and the sirens were coming on—that was nerve-wracking. You kind of freak out when something’s coming at you like that.
Q: +DYH \RX EHHQ LQ ÁRRGLQJ OLNH this before?
A: We went through this in Brenham when the Brazos flooded—the only difference is that we knew the country in Brenham. We were very familiar with it because we day worked there. This coun- try down here, where you don’t know— you see a sign that says “Bridge May Ice When Cold” and you don’t really know where the bridge is. You see the current running but you have no idea where the road ends and the river begins. I kept a life jacket on at all times. You want to do everything you can for what you’re trying to save. You don’t know if you or your horse will come out of it—we tried to be super cautious. I can say that everything we went after besides one set of cattle, we got everything out.
Q: What horses could you count on to help you?
A: I had an 8-year-old grey horse, Darrell, that I pick up on, and one of my sister’s barrel horses, a sorrel we call Lacey. She’s 8 too. I snubbed several cattle out on that sorrel horse.
Q: What will stick with you long after the waters have receded?
A: One thing that hit me pretty hard—I go to church and I’m a Christian and I’m saved and all that. But I keep my bible on the dash of my truck. We were with another boy who was staying with us, and we had drove up to this spot that was really deep. We needed to get across it. Several trucks with a lift got across it, but my truck sits lower. It’s just a regular four-wheel-drive Dodge. I was outside assessing the situation, and I got back in there and we made our mind up not to go. But then Regan opened that Bible, and the scripture said to put yourself in a mirror image of what you’re doing. God was trying to tell us that if we were on that side, we’d want somebody to come to us, and He’d take care of the rest. That hit home to me. God, He’s played a major role in my life for many years. I don’t do as good by Him as I should. I’m a firm believer in everything happens for
a reason, and when they told me what they had opened the Bible and read—I knew if I’d have been on the other side I’d have wanted somebody to get to me.
Q: Your wife was there with you, wasn't she?
A: Nicole’s my best friend, so I wanted her to be there with me just in case anything did happen. She’s so handy. They run about 500 head of angus cattle in Canada, and she calves them out in the winter. She trains her own horses. She bogged that water out with us. When we got to a place where there were cattle stranded, we’d have her stay on the land where we had the corrals. We’d snub them up and get them in the pens, and she’d keep the bystanders from messing stuff up.
Q: You get to rope a little in your spare time, don't you?
A: I just got back into team roping. I roped in high school quite a bit. I went to college and just rodeoed in college. I roped calves and steers and bull dogged in college at Sam Houston State in Huntsville. Then this year my neighbor started going to some team ropings, so I tagged along. I have been to one US (TRC) roping in my entire life and two World Series. I mostly go to little backyard ropings. But I really like what the World Series has going on, and it makes it worth your while to go. Shannon Rodell and I paid our fees to Vegas (after winning second in the #10 WSTR Qualifier in Stephenville, Texas, this July). I’ve never been to Vegas, so I’m going to go check it out.
Q: When do you get to practice?
A: In the evenings, I try to. My neighbor, he has lights and we rope with him quite a bit. I go through spells— there will be a month that I rope every day and a month I don’t rope at all. We do a lot of roping every day working. It helps me stay sharp. Just because I’m not doing it in the arena doesn’t mean I’m not getting to practice.
Q: 2N ,·YH JRW WR DVN Where did your name— National - come from?
A: My family has rodeoed for years, and it started out as a joke. It stuck. My sister’s name is Ima Derby Champion. They call me National—I go by Nate on Facebook because Facebook told me my name wasn’t real and I had to create a whole new profile because of it. But I do go by National, just not on Facebook.
“WHEN THEY TOLD ME WHAT THEY HAD OPENED THE BIBLE AND READ—I KNEW IF I'D HAVE BEEN ON THE OTHER SIDE I'D HAVE WANTED SOMEDAY TO GET ME." – NATIONAL CHAMPION