It’s not often that a tipped barrel helps a contestant win.
The five seconds of penalty time it adds is like an eternity in a sport where runs are measured to the hundredth of a second. But for 2005 World Champion Kelly Kaminski, the dropped can in the second round of the Wrangler NFR did more to improve her chances of taking her second-straight title than anyone could have imagined.
It was a tough year for the defending champ. A close friend of Kelly’s was killed in a motorcycle accident in the spring and Kelly herself nearly died from carbon monoxide poisoning while staying in Idaho in the fall. Her horse, Rockem Sockem Go “Rocky,” was kicked by her daughter’s horse and for a time it was thought he might never run again.
Coming into this year’s Finals, the champ had dropped to third in the world after struggling down the stretch. Rumors were circulating that Rocky had started to lose some of his legendary speed, and virtually no one had picked her to repeat; not even Kelly.
“I just went in to make as much money as I possibly could,” she said. “If I could make some good checks here that would be great, but I couldn’t ask for more than one world title.”
To make things even more challenging, Kelly battled flu-like symptoms at the start of this year’s Finals, making it difficult to deal with the spate of public appearance that go along with a Finals qualification, much less run barrels. She took a check in the first round, but the duo just didn’t seem to have the same snap in their stride as they did when they marched to the title last year.
And then came round two’s tipped barrel. As they were rounding the second turn, the normally unflappable Rocky came around the backside of the barrel a touch too sharp and knocked it into the dirt of the Thomas and Mack Arena, eliminating any chance of Kelly taking the average title.
If she had been holding out any hope of defending her championship, it had rested on taking the $40,000 average prize at Finals’ end. The delicate balance she had trying to strike between aggressive runs that would yield round checks and clean runs for the average no longer mattered.
In the end, being free from the pressure of the average race would be the key to Kelly’s second world title. It would be all or nothing in the rounds, and it was time for the reigning champ to go for broke with each and every run.
Rounds three and four yielded two more small checks, but Kelly and Rocky really came alive in round five when they took their first round win. The difference between their first four runs and round five was apparent as Rocky zipped through his turns with the fire of old.
In round six, Kelly posted yet another quick time to take second in the round and pull within $11,000 of then leader, Linda Vick. Her Finals was turning from a nightmare into fairytale, one round at a time.
Round seven was when she finally broke through and took the lead in the world standings, a spot she had not occupied since before the Fourth of July. In her second round win of the Finals, the new leader still was hesitant to think another title could be hers. ‘One round at a time,’ was still her mantra.
Kelly sealed her second-straight championship in round nine, where despite dropping her reins as she rounded the third barrel, Rocky fired his way to their third round win of the Finals.
Round ten’s run was just a formality, but it didn’t stop Kelly from taking a fourth place check to improve to fourth in the average and bring her NFR earnings total to over $107,000.
“I always tell everyone one of my mottos is dream big and believe,” explained Kelly. “I was writing it down one day signing autographs and I thought,’Yeah, remember that. Dream big and believe.’ I’ve been very blessed by God. He’s really allowed me to do things that I personally never thought I’d get to do.”
Sometimes bad things happen for a reason. The tipped barrel in round two could have been the beginning of a terrible Finals for Kelly. Instead, it was the start of something beautiful, and it reminds us all that we can do anything, as long as we have the courage to believe.