Seeking opportunity, a cowgirl hits the road

Jackie Crawford was six months pregnant when she won the breakaway roping title at the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association National Finals in December 2020. Calf ropers in the sport generally tuck in their shirts to reveal their prize belt buckles, but when Crawford rode, she let her shirt hang loose over her belly for comfort.

>> Alisha Haridasani GuptaThe New York Times
Published : 3 Jan 2022, 08:50 AM
Updated : 3 Jan 2022, 08:50 AM

In an interview with Wrangler, the event’s sponsor, after her victory, Crawford mentioned the unborn baby girl she had already named Journey.

“This is one amazing journey that I’m getting to be on, and little Journey getting to be on it too,” she said. “She was giving me some kicks today, so she was excited.”

Two months after giving birth in March , Crawford, 39, went back out on the road for a full season of rodeo competitions with baby Journey and her 4-year-old son, Creed, in tow. Her husband, retired roper Charly Crawford, stayed at home in Stephenville, Texas, with daughter Kaydence.

Rodeo athletes typically spend the summer racking up prize money at local events to qualify for the National Finals Rodeo at the end of the year in Las Vegas, a competition among the top 15 athletes from each discipline in what is considered the Super Bowl of the rodeo world.

Women have limited opportunities in the sport. Breakaway roping — in which riders throw a breakaway lasso around a calf released from a chute — and barrel racing are the only individual events open to them. In fact, the 2020 season was the first since 1959 in which the PRCA — which sanctions local rodeo competitions — included breakaway roping in its annual finals, though as a separate ticketed event. Until then, just one of its seven events, barrel racing, included women competing by themselves.

And the financial rewards for women are often small. By the end of the 2021 season in September, for example, Crawford had earned $36,200 at PRCA rodeos, which got her back into the finals. By comparison, bull riders, all of whom are men, would have earned at least $100,000 on their way to qualifying.

But the fact that breakaway roping is now being included in the National Finals Rodeo and other rodeos indicates that the perception of it as a niche event within the rodeo world is changing.

And Crawford, though she did not repeat as champion in 2021, finishing sixth, is determined to ride the wave.

“This season was long and financially really hard but we made some great memories,” she said. “And I felt good about being able to win a world championship, take a few months off, come back and still make the NFR — that was a big accomplishment for me.”

“But we’re going to keep pressing until the PRCA will put us in everywhere as a standard event with equal money.”

Last year, The New York Times caught up with Crawford at a few stops along her journey, including a rodeo event in Alvarado, Texas. In a hectic life on the road, Crawford found peace astride a horse. The pressures and stresses melted as she waited for her moment in the arena. Her mind calmed. Her nerves steadied. And then, with the nod of her head, the calf was released and she set forth, kicking up dust behind her.

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Editor-in-Chief and Publisher