Today’s the day Hali Williams backs in the box at her first National Finals Breakaway Roping. I walked up to a familiar sight last night here at the South Point in Las Vegas, when the Top 15 breakaway ropers were running the calves through. There she was—Jennifer Williams, who would pick the titles of Speed’s wife, and Hali and Gabe’s mom over any accolades of her own—standing for the duration to do work in the primo spot with a video camera in her hands and a smile on her face. Wonder Woman Williams—who could probably darn near rival Rich Skelton for team-player contributions during the “To Get Rich, You Gotta Have Speed” dynasty era—was in the house.
Watching little Hali Bug rope those necks with authority on her four-legged favorite Redlight was a sight to see. Momma Jen’s spitting image is all grown up now—she’ll turn 20 next week, on December 14—but it took me back to the day I watched Daddy Speed pace the tunnels of the Thomas & Mack Center, up and down to walk, then sit on the cold concrete floor like a collicking horse—while Jennifer was back home in Texas and surely doing the same with the labor pains that came with delivering their first born.
Jennifer scored that year’s 2003 NFR, and stayed home in Texas. She was due on her own December 31st birthday, but thought it best to stick closer to her doctor than Speed just to be safe. She was listening to the livestream of Round 9 when her water broke. After a very long labor—for both Jennifer in Texas, and Speed in Las Vegas—Hali Wren Williams arrived at 1:03 a.m. the morning of Round 10. It was Speed’s 36th birthday, and the day he and Rich won their seventh of eighth gold buckles. With his now two girls in Texas, Speed never skipped Cowboy Town so fast.
Hali’s tight with both of her parents, but her relationship with Speed puts capital letters on the term Daddy’s Girl. I ran into Speed after they ran the calves through last night. He said it took darn near 20 years, but he finally had his first dust-up with his daughter. The disagreement was out of care and concern for a serious injury to her right foot suffered on October 7 while unloading a horse out of the trailer. But make no mistake—this was the meeting of two very strong-willed minds. Hali is a dead ringer for her mom on the outside, and has her father’s fierce fire on the inside.
Speed said there was a tear in her achilles tendon, which was partially torn away from the bone; a hairline fracture on the side of her foot that hits the stirrup when she kicks; and she had a case of turf toe, like football players get, in her three middle toes. I’ve been through countless cases of cowboy evaluations with Justin Sports Medicine’s Dr. Tandy Freeman in my career, in which he shoots people straight about whether pressing on is a matter of enduring pain or an actual threat to further injury.
The day Daddy Speed determined that running more than a couple calves was not a risk worth taking and could jeopardize her ability to even rope at her first Finals, he shut down Hali’s practice session and sent her to the house. Mind you, baby girl has hung on his every word all the days of her life. But on this day, if looks could kill, those baby blues would have gunned Daddy down right there in his tracks.
He tiptoed into their nightly round of gin rummy that evening, not knowing what to expect after finally finding baby girl’s boiling point. She’d cooled off by then—likely tearing a page out of her momma’s playbook on patience and wisdom—and had time to realize Speed was just looking out for her best interest and was probably right.
Team Hali rides today. Together. Always together. As it should be. Win, lose or draw.