Junior Nogueira is on a mission to win a world team roping title. This is his third straight year of entering the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in the catbird seat, as the leader of the heeling pack riding into Vegas.
Junior and Kaleb Driggers hit the ground running on that goal with the 4.2-second run that led to the team roping victory lap on opening night of the 60th annual NFR. But it was obvious at the go-round presentations over at the South Point after the rodeo that there are things in this life that mean much more to Junior than money and fame.
There was the sweetest family huddle going on backstage between Junior, mom Eliziane, sister Ludmila, and girlfriend Jaqueline. Junior just kept kissing his little sister—who was doing the brave-soldier march despite the post-surgical limp from the braces on her legs—on top of the head.
“Ludi didn’t get to come to Las Vegas last year, so I’m just so happy she’s here,” said the 2016 world champion all-around cowboy. “She was in terrible pain, and was having trouble walking. So she had major surgery on her legs in August 2017. They broke both of her legs, and straightened them.”
Junior, 28, and Ludmila, 18, were raised by one very strong single mom in Eliziane when their superstar timed-event cowboy dad, Lucinei Nogueira Sr, died while backing in the box to rope a calf at a rodeo when Junior was just 5. So this perspective of his has basically been brewing all of Junior’s life.
“Winning is not even close compared to my family,” Junior said. “Having my family here means more to me than winning any go-round or gold buckle.
“Roping is what I do for a living, so I need to win. But winning is nothing next to the people I love. Seeing my little sister get out of her pain, get five inches taller, and walking again makes me much happier than money.”