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Na­tional Cham­pion

(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.


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