The reigning World Champion Team Ropers have had quite the season, and for very different reasons. You probably know by now that 2017 World Champion Header Erich Rogers shipwrecked his knee wrestling a steer at the Timed Event Championship at the Lazy E Arena in March, had it reconstructed, returned at Reno, and just cracked the Top 15 for the first time this year at 14th in the world on the heading side.
But are you aware of the rabbit 2017 World Champion Heeler Cory Petska just pulled out of his hat in July? Did you know that he and Derrick Begay won $50,000 a man in a month, and that Cory’s just come from literally nowhere in this year’s world championship race to be the 10th ranked heeler in the world right now? It’s all true, and then some.
To back up a bit, Rogers and Petska won the world team roping titles together last December after a memorable Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Vegas. They then rang in 2018 as a team, but went different directions after the Turquoise Circuit Finals, Odessa, and Fort Worth (Texas), in the early going of the new year. Tucson (Arizona), in February, was the reigning champs’ last rodeo.
Petska has had a variety pack of partners since. To name a few, he roped with Manny Egusquiza at Houston, Shay Carroll at Austin, Texas, and Tanner Baldwin at the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Kissimmee, Florida. Cory also won about $6,000 with Bubba Buckaloo at Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, in July, and also roped a little back east earlier this year with Mitch Barney.
After rodeoing full throttle for 20 years, Cory had made a conscious decision to take his foot off of the floorboard for a change.
“I’d decided to take the summer off,” said Petska, who’s roped at 14 NFRs, and will turn 39 on September 3. “I’d made up my mind that I was going to go to Wisconsin, and help take care of the family cattle. I’ve rodeoed hard since 1998, I felt like I accomplished my goal last year, and it wasn’t bothering me a bit to basically take a year off.”
He couldn’t stand to sit out the Reno Rodeo or BFI in June, so Cory heeled for Colby Lovell there, like he did at a few other rodeos earlier this season. The fact that Cory scored Cowboy Christmas—the world-famous Fourth of July run—says he was sincere about sitting out this summer.
Begay and Petska joined forces soon thereafter, just in time for the Cowboy State rodeos in Casper and Sheridan, Wyoming. There were no pipe-dream promises about Hail Mary pushes for the NFR. The goal going into their partnership was modest and simple: To win enough to get into Houston and San Antonio in 2019.
“Begay’s a great partner, and I knew he didn’t care about going hard enough to try and make the Finals,” Petska said. “Neither one of us thought we could make the Finals—or was trying to. I wasn’t even in the Top 50 when we started roping. The plan was to just ease around, enjoy it, and try to win enough to keep all our options open for next year.”
Cory and his four-time World Champion Barrel Racer wife, Sherry Cervi, borrowed Sherry’s dad’s (Mel Potter’s) motorhome, and loaded up Begay for a rodeo-style summer vacation. They let the pressures, stresses, strains, and grind that go with gold-buckle dreams fly out the windows of that bus, and gave themselves a break. Anyone who tries to tell you he could have predicted what happened next is likely kin to Pinocchio. Not possible.
“We won $50,000 in four weeks, and I went from 50th to 10th in a month,” Cory said. “Begay was nowhere in the standings when we started, and he’s 19th now.
“We won $6,000 at Casper (Wyoming), $5,000 at Cheyenne (Wyoming), $8,000 at Spanish Fork (Utah), and if I had to pick a highlight, it’d be the last week of July. We went to four rodeos, and won Heber City (Utah) and Idaho Falls (Idaho), second at Great Falls (Montana), and second at Strathmore (Alberta).”
Funny part is that they weren’t entered anymore after that week, because they’d reached their goal of having enough won to get into Houston and San Antonio.
“I was headed home after that week to help take care of the cattle,” Petska said. “That had been the plan from the get-go. Sherry and I were headed back to Wisconsin. But then I saw I was 13th in the world, and Begay was only $8,000 out of the Top 15. So we went back to entering.”
There was a two-week lapse in their rodeo attendance for that twist to kick in and their names to start showing back up on the entries list. They unintentionally slowed their own roll and put it on pause for a couple of weeks between that last rodeo in Strathmore on August 4, and their first one back in Billings, Montana, on August 17.
“Now we’re full throttle between here and Pendleton (Oregon, in mid-September),” Petska said. “And after Pendleton, we’re headed back to Wisconsin. We’re going to go as hard as we can for now. After having the dream summer we’ve had, it would be amazing to get to rope with Begay at the NFR. So we’re trying to get him in.”
We all know by now that you can partner people up on paper all day long, yet never quite know which pairing will result in dream-team status until they make a few real-deal rodeo runs. Begay and Petska—who call Seba Dalkai and Marana, Arizona, home, respectively—have run a lot of steers together, having been second partners since 2009. So the fact that they sync up so successfully is no surprise. Still, what they’ve done here lately is beyond the wildest of optimistic expectations.
“It’s been one big highlight,” Cory said. “We’ve been averaging $8,000 or $9,000 a week. If you would have tried telling me when I started this year that I’d make the NFR, I’d have laughed at you. It’s so tough out here, and you typically have to rodeo your butt off all year long to make the Finals. It’s been fun. Begay is lighthearted, and is pretty much the same guy, whether he’s doing good or bad. It’s been fun shaking things up a little, and doing something different.”
Begay can relate. He had pulled up, and stepped away from rodeo’s hamster wheel.
“Seems like we always look at rodeo the same way,” said Begay, who just turned 35 on August 15, and is a seven-year NFR veteran. “Same ideas. Same thoughts. Same routine. It’s crazy how I’ve been going at this for so long, always the same old way. Now I’m looking at things a bit differently, and it changes things up.
“The first day Petska called me about roping, I told him no. The second day he called, I told him I’d think about it. On the third day, I said yes. Sure glad I did. We’ve always roped quite a bit around the house, but we never rodeoed together as a full-time rodeo team before. Cory’s the rankest. I’ve been saying that the last three years. Champ (Clay O’Brien Cooper) is the greatest of all time. Cory is the rankest.”
After traveling together this summer, Begay says Cory is capable of rodeoing blindfolded and with one hand tied behind his back, if ever it comes to that.
“He started so early, and he’s been at it a long time,” Begay said. “Cory could enter and go to every rodeo all season without looking at an entry book or a map. That’s how long he’s been doing it. He’s all business. He’s a day or two ahead on everything, right down to where we’re going to eat, and where we’re going to park. I don’t have to worry about anything. All I have to do is get in and go.”
Yes, all aboard Mel’s Magic Bus. Vegas or Bust.
“I had no intentions of rodeoing, but when there’s an opportunity like this, you have to take it,” Begay said. “We’ve had so much fun, and now we’re going to see just how many more rodeos we can get to. We’re entered up. My main job right now is to get Cory in (to the NFR). Then we’ll see if I have a chance.
“Before I started roping with Cory, I had $3,200 won for the year, and was 158th in the world. How was my July? I had the rankest partner. We got to travel with Sherry Cervi, who’s a greater horseman than most guys. We were in the coolest RV, and we had Dustin Debusk at the wheel, who’s hands down the best driver of all time (and Jim Ross Cooper’s main man for many years). It doesn’t get any better than having those people on your team.”
Cory figured that out about his wife a long time ago, and to his credit never has taken her personal and professional greatness for granted. His latest move in proving it? Cory bought Sherry’s Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association permit, and entered them in the team roping at the August 10-11 rodeo in—appropriately—Ladysmith, Wisconsin. It paid six moneys, and they were one hole out. Just how cool is that?
“I think I’ve had 10 partners this summer, and I’ve never won so much in a month. Roping at that rodeo with her was really cool,” Cory said. “This summer seems like one huge highlight, but that was extra fun and extra special for me.”