From Fan to Phenom
Professional Team Roper
By Susie Flenniken
How does a young man, famous in his home country in a sport that requires skill, talent, and constant hard work and practice, who turned professional at the age of 14 years old, has won all the Brazilian titles and just about all the awards and accolades a team roper can in Brazil, keep his passion alive and establish new goals? According to Brazilian born team roper, Lucinei Nunes Nogueira Jr., or "Junior” to all, it's all about keeping his focus on that passion and his faith in God.
CowboysHighway caught up to the humble team roping Phenom while in Redmond, Oregon competing in the ERA Inaugural rodeo this past March. This is a story about how a young man, raised in a loving roping family who live their lives and have raised their children giving glory to God for all things, has found himself accomplishing goals he could only dream of. How he made his way to the United States not only meeting his idols, but ending up roping with them. What follows is a testimony to hard work and an unwavering faith.
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PHOTO COURTESY OF MATT COHEN PHOTO
Junior grew up on a ranch near Sao Paulo, Brazil, where his father and mother were proficient ropers. Both parents headed and Nogueira’s father would teach him to head as well, he would end up heeling only when partnered with his mother, and heels to this day. He explained the first time he actually heeled. He was about 3 or 4 years old, on his pony. His father was in the practice pen heading and decided to stop the steer, a muley which they rope in Brazil and Junior swung his rope and laid the loop out, missing. The next try found the loop in just the right place and the muley stepped in. Junior had officially heeled his first steer. He wouldn’t start competing on the heeling end until much later in his life, when his mother needed a heeler and Junior filled that spot.
Nogueira's father passed away of a heart attack when he was 5 years old. But he continued working hard and dreaming of becoming a team roper in Brazil like his parents. His mother would go on to raise Junior, with the help of his grandfather, to love the sport of team roping while always keeping their faith in God first.
As a young man, he practically wore out VCR tapes and DVD's of the great team ropers such as Allen Bach, Jake Barnes, Clay O'Brien Cooper. He would study their techniques hoping to rope someday nearly as good as those rodeo team roping icons in the United States. When Junior was 6 years old, Allen Bach, (“Mr. Allen” Junior calls him) came to Brazil and put on a roping school. He and his mother attended and Allen helped Junior rope the dummy. Junior would say, besides his father, Allen was his first teacher.
Team roping is popular in Brazil according to Nogueira. But it is a little different because they rope muleys, and will cross Brahma cattle with Holsteins, roping them around the neck. He also enjoys watching soccer, (Brazil is known for their championship soccer teams internationally) but team roping and rodeo has always been his passion.
We've all heard or read the stories about this young 20 something year old team roping phenomenon coming to the United States to watch the greats rope. But Junior never intended to stay. Like all fans, he just wanted to meet the best and study their techniques. The cattle in the United States, horned Corrientes, handle and jump differently. Something Nogueira worked hard at adjusting his roping style for.
The story of how Junior Nogueira has had a whirlwind 3 years team roping and competing in PRCA rodeos and major team roping events in the United States, which has had him accomplishing almost the impossible for a roper new to heeling this type of cattle, rodeoing in the United States and learning a new language, is an inspiration. Qualifying for the National Finals Rodeo his first year, he would go on to win 2014 PRCA Rookie of the Year, a fete never seen before other than Tee Woolman who won the Rookie of the Year along with the Gold Buckle. It just doesn't happen, and Junior will be the first to say that all of his success has been such a blessing, one he gives all the glory to God for. Like how he would meet one of his idols, Jake Barnes, who would invite Junior to live with he and his wife and help him with his roping. Jake would mentor and help him learn what he studied on those DVD and VCR tapes. Plus, so much more, he is forever grateful to Jake.
It was not Junior’s plan to come and stay nor to compete right away, but rather he was blessed to meet Jake and was thankful for the opportunities Barnes provided him. Such as teaching him how to rope a different type of steer, then becoming Jake's roping partner and making the NFR. He continues that these wonderful opportunities are because of his faith in something far bigger than being at the right place at the right time or being lucky to meet his idols. It's his faith in God, “living each day seeking God and his favor,” as he would say, that he has found himself accomplishing fetes he never thought he’d accomplish.
They weren't dreams either, Junior would tell us. He could never have dreamt actually team roping in the United States and ending up with Jake Barnes at the National Finals Rodeo and other major team roping events. Not dreams, but wonderful opportunities where doors were opened by God, working hard to listen and learn from Barnes as well as others. Learning to rope a different type of steer, adjusting his loop accordingly, and finding himself in the heeler box, waiting for Jake Barnes to nod for the steer. He tells us that is when it became like a dream, “I look over there in the header box and think to myself, that is Jake Barnes! I am at the National Finals Rodeo! Thank you so much God!”
Junior Nogueira was already an accomplished heeler in his home country of Brazil. He was winning every award, championship a roper could. He was in no way arrogant when at age 14, he decided to turn pro. It's this humble, thankful to God belief that has kept Junior's feet firmly on the ground and kept him working hard to move forward. When asked if he feels he was raised for this purpose, to be the best heeler in Brazil, he quickly answers that, “what has happened to me in these last three years is completely in God’s hands, you know, that’s how I got here, I’m here I think for a reason, it’s not for myself, He’s my dream and I just dedicate 100% I have to Him. Without Him I can do nothing. It’s just crazy, you know, I made the finals my first year here. A lot of people will say, oh you’re a Christian huh? But it is true, he is my life. People can see what He has done in three years in my life.” Junior continues to tell how things really took off for him, “Jake and I began roping and winning some team ropings and rodeos and then Jake says let’s try for you to make Rookie of the Year! I ended up making the finals, but barely. I was $11,000 short and Jake was $11,000 ahead of me. But God is so good I ended up making $13,000 and made the finals, my first year and we almost won the average.”
Jessie continues by adding she likes all disciplines in the performance horse world. She states that the breeding has come so far, there will always be the random, off bred horse that comes in and kicks your butt. But she likes to minimize the risk by starting with something that is bred to do it. With the crazy, busy lifestyle she has, the luxury of time isn't there, she needs to know that every hour she spends on her horses is going to be beneficial in the long run. That means starting her horses as colts that are bred to be barrel horses and then spending 12 months getting broke them before they are even started on barrels. This also makes for a well-bred, well trained barrel prospect ready for the sale pen or futurity event.
I asked Jessie how in the world does she manage all of her family's events and travel as well as her own events. She said she's become shockingly good at time organization (without the use of Pinterest!), planning ahead, and has great parents that pitch in as grandparents when needed. I can attest to the fact her parents are the most supportive, fun parents a daughter could have.
In the true spirit of a successful competitor giving praise for their success to those they love, Jessie states that without her parents and grandparents' deep rodeo roots and her husband, Jake's, talent and work ethic, her barrel career wouldn't be anything. "I owe so much of the success to my family," she says, and to her daughters inspiring Jessie to keep them in great horses, because the joy she feels in her heart when she get's to see them ride "my good horse" is, as she says, "that ultimate win."
The Telford family is a unique combination of loving what they do, working hard at it, and teaching their daughters that hard work and understanding the time it takes to train a good horse and to be able to compete is all worth it. Add the fact that their two daughters witness their parents' work ethic and talent, they'll no doubt grow up with a continuing passion for horses. It's obvious the entire family love the sport and love the horses they train. Cheering each other on only adds to the intense love of the sport. It's a joy to watch the girl's videos with dad, Jake rooting them on as their mom is down in the arena helping them. Another generation of ranch raised children learning by example. The hours spent going down the highway has definitely paid off for the Telfords and CowboysHighway wishes them continued success and safe travels!
His first year rodeoing with Jake, Junior says he had absolutely no clue where to go or how to get there. “I didn’t know English very well and couldn’t communicate, I would ride in the box and watch Jake, when he would go, I would go too!” But Jake helped him and his faith kept him pushing to learn all he could, to be "the very best I can be while giving all the glory to God, because what does all this mean, the buckles, the money, the pickups and trailers if you do not know God? I want my story to be about how my faith gave me a talent and continues to give me the strength and passion to do well, to listen to the criticisms and to learn more."
Junior understands that, although his time here has been like the greatest dream for a team roper, and that never intending to stay, but just wanting to meet his idols and watch them rope. That none of these opened doors or opportunities have just happened, he understands that God has made it possible first and foremost. Like going to a soccer game and watching the stars of the sport play soccer. Then suddenly you are meeting them and they are teaching you! Now he hopes to win a gold buckle some day and go home to Brazil to put on roping schools like “Mr. Allen” (Allen Bach) did.
I asked Junior, with all that has happened in this short amount of time, and with a fan base that includes people of all ages, especially young men and women, and kids who love to rope, does he feel he is a role model and if so, what message does he want to send to all who aspire to do well in team roping or whatever rodeo event they choose. He answered, "I think, I’m still learning, and will continue to learn. My message would be that the ups and downs that come with learning, that your purpose should be, I think the main thing, would be God. To put all your stuff, your faith and goals in God first, because you have to work hard too, we can’t say please God help me catch this steer. God doesn’t tell us here it is, He expects us to work hard too and have that balance of hard work and faith. Not to think you are better than someone else. I don’t feel that is good at all, that no matter how good I may become or what I win, I am the same as you, we are equal.”
Nogueira continues, "I also know I'm still here in the United States for a reason, every missed loop or bad steer is God teaching me that there is something to learn from this too. I want people to know I give all my successes to God, but mostly, that His teachings have taught me to be humble in all things and to never become arrogant. All the fans are wonderful. How I'm treated is so wonderful and I am very thankful to America for welcoming me here and maybe I will meet another young person who I can share what I have learned with and help them. You know, I tell everyone, if you really want something and want to do it well, you just have to really believe it and work very hard, every day, no matter what age you are or what obstacles you may face. My father, who passed away when I was 5, I can remember him telling me I must work hard and practice. My mother and grandfather continue to support and push me to follow this passion that God has given me."
Traveling to all the rodeos and team ropings is a task he takes on himself. Many team ropers have drivers to assist with the driving duties on the long trips between rodeos. But Junior drives himself, every mile in a country he's still not totally familiar with, but is learning. He apologizes for his English, which is amazingly good, but he continues to take classes to learn the language the best he can. He wears his map out finding his way from rodeo to rodeo, team roping to team roping. A map and oreo cookies? Yes, he loves oreo cookies, but just like texting and driving he laughingly agrees that it's just too dangerous to eat oreo cookies and milk while driving. He does get homesick, but fortunately in this age of technology, the smartphones and FaceTime make it possible to speak to and see his mother and little sister back in Brazil who support him 100%.
In regards to how he feels before he ropes, he feels a certain amount of nervousness is beneficial, and he tries to harness the adrenaline. Taking one steer at a time, roping the best he can. He doesn’t fill his mind with how much money is at stake, or whether this steer will win him the saddle, the trailer or the pickup. He concentrates and channels his adrenaline on catching what’s in front of him, and that is where we leave Junior with this final question. What are his future plans, dreams or goals? He admits, “I want to win the gold buckle, the world championship. Jake says it will change you, you may win it, but the next day it all starts over again and everyone is talking about who will win it this year? But I do think about it and I’ve come close. It will be God’s will and my hard work if I do. But I will always work hard to do so. As my grandfather tells me, you have two eyes, one to look forward and one to look back, to remember where you come from. Remember that and look forward to what you can become and to give glory to God. Rodeo is the best sport ever! I’m a rodeo fan first, I watch the other competitors and I watch the rodeos. It makes me appreciative of where I’m at. I will tell everyone that nobody else can tell you that you cannot do something you are passionate about. Don’t get that negative thought that you can’t do something you really want to. We all have different talents. Some of us can rope, some of us can run, some can play basketball, we all have a talent. But we are the same. God has given me the faith to go after things, at first I think is too difficult, like learning English. I decided to take classes and now I can speak some English! [I will say his English is excellent!] we can do anything, even if it’s hard. Keep doing the right thing too. If today is the last day I get to team rope, I will forever be grateful for the opportunities given to me here and for the people and my friends in rodeo and especially the fans who are so nice. Thank you all so much and especially, thank God for my life.”
JUNIOR & ROPING PARTNER
PHOTO COURTESY OF ERA RODEO 2016
Thank YOU Junior Nogueira for taking the time to visit with us. Your story is truly amazing and inspiring and we wish you continued success and safe travels. A side note, Junior and his team roping partner at the ERA rodeo, Kaleb Driggers, ended up winning the team roping the second evening performance in Redmond, roping their steer in 4.04 seconds for a sold out packed performance. We wish him many more memorable wins.