Junior Nogueira’s Mental Edge
A thankful mindset guides Brazil's Junior Nogueira to world-number-one status.

Junior Nogueira is leading the PRCA’s team roping heelers in early August 2017 with $107,642.77 won, after winning the all-around world title in 2016 and finishing the season second in the heeling standings. He and Kaleb Driggers are in their first full season together after only ProRodeoing from June to September last year. During the third week of July alone, which nearly surpasses the Fourth-of-July run in money available for team ropers, they roped nine out of nine steers clean, worth $20,754 a man. Their biggest single win of the week came at the Snake River Stampede in Nampa, Idaho, worth $7,101 for the average win and two go-round checks. At present, they lead Lawton, Oklahoma’s Rangers Rodeo with a 4.7-second run.

Nogueira, who came from Brazil in 2014 to rope with Jake Barnes and qualified for two Wrangler National Finals Rodeos with the seven-time world champ, soaked up Barnes’ sage advice and continues to rely on one of rodeo’s winningest headers for perspective on the road. 

Chelsea Shaffer: Growing up, were you hard on yourself about your roping?

Junior Nogueira: Yes, I used to get really, really mad. Now I’m just getting more mature. I’m not saying I don’t get mad, but I really look up to the good Christian guys who take it all in stride.

CS: What was your most frustrating time?

JN: Before the Finals last year, when I hurt myself and I had to change the way I rope. I had zero confidence. We won one round and placed a few others, but my mental game was bad. I was hurt and I was trying to rope. It’s hard because I’ve roped one way my whole life, and then I had to change. My grandpa was sick and died a week and a half before the Finals, and he raised me. I was pretty upset and hurt, and I learned a lot from that.

Photo by Kirt Steinke

CS: What did you learn?

JN: I talked to Jake (Barnes) a lot. He said I had to keep a good outlook. I would get so negative and so sad. I thought I did a bad job, and I wasn’t good enough. Now I’m trying to look the other way. I look at where I come from and everything I went through. I’m trying to not freak out and throw a fit and think it’s the last steer I’ll ever rope in my life. I thought each one was the last one I’d ever get to rope—and that will break your heart. At the end of the day, it all works out good. You’ve got to keep good thoughts and work hard. You have to be a professional. Jake says that if you’re not working hard and putting everything you have in it, then it won’t work the way you want it. If you start messing up, you can just go back and look at how you can fix it and not try to overdo it.

CS: What else has Jake taught you about mental toughness?

JN: Jake taught me to be professional and rope the dummy every day. Jake taught me to be automatic. When I’m upset and sad, I try to stop and look back to the first day I got here and see all the good things God gave to me. He put amazing people in my way. Good friendships I’ve made—great friends. Today, I’m a friend of my heroes. People I couldn’t even talk to before, but now I can just call them—Mr. Clay (Cooper), Kollin (VonAhn), Allen Bach. Whoever. I have the opportunity to talk to whoever I want and think about roping. It’s amazing how far we all went. 

CS: Was your all-around world title bitter-sweet because you and Kaleb were so close to the team roping title and came up short?

JN: I was just trying to make one more good run and see what would happen. When I won it and Kaleb barely got beat, that was hard. I was upset. He worked so hard to get there, and it didn’t work the way we want. I won that gold buckle and everyone is so pumped, but I was upset. At the beginning I didn’t realize it was what it was. I was so close twice, first with JoJo and then with Kaleb. But now, I realize it was one of the greatest gifts to win that buckle. It was the hardest one to get. I learned today too that God wants you to have it in the right time. At the right time when God thinks we deserve to win it, we will. That buckle doesn’t change you. It doesn’t change nothing—Jake always told me that. He said if he’d won seven or 20, it doesn’t change who you are. Kollin said the same thing. People like it, it’s great. I’m not saying I don’t like it–I’m so, so grateful for it. The next year everything starts over and they don’t care who won last year. Jake always said that. At Denver, everyone cares about the new year. I’m just so thankful for the friends I’ve made and the team roping rodeo family God gave me. I’ll carry it in my heart for the rest of my life if someday I quit. I’ll make sure I tell everyone how grateful I was for this family until the end. It was amazing to come from a whole different country when I had no idea how to rodeo and have a great chance and great horse and everybody knows you and you know everybody. It’s an amazing feeling. I’m very, very happy to be part of this. TRJ

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