Levi Lord of Sturgis, South Dakota, will make his heeling debut at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo next month. Lord—who’s 24 and currently lives in Stephenville, Texas, with his girlfriend, Baileigh Baker—will heel for Alabama’s Nelson Wyatt, who also is a Finals freshman.
Q: You grew up Sturgis, South Dakota, home of the world-famous Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Do you ride motorcycles, too?
A: I don’t, but my mom (Kelly Lytle) does a little bit. We were usually gone during the Motorcycle Rally growing up, because it’s in the middle of the summer. But it’s definitely hectic around there that week.
Q: What was life like growing up in Sturgis with your big brother, Eli?
A: Eli and I both played basketball and football. If we weren’t at a game, we were roping. It was nice to always have someone to practice with, and we made each other better. Eli has two good bulldogging horses and mainly steer wrestles now, but he team ropes really well, too. Eli always headed for me growing up, and he headed for me when we won San Angelo together my rookie year in 2015. Right now, Eli mostly just team ropes at the circuit rode-os and as a fill-in partner.
Q: If you heel better than Eli, what does he do better than you?
A: He definitely steer wrestles better than I do (Eli finished 20th in the 2020 world steer wrestling standings). I never did really crave it, like Eli and Dad (J.B.) do. But Eli did—somehow, some way—win a truck and living quarters trailer heeling at the Wrangler Team Roping Championships’ Northern States Invitational a few years ago. They gave a truck in the #7 roping, which would be like the #11 today, and they gave a trailer in the #5 incentive roping, which would be like the #9 today. That’s more than I’ve won in one day, and I won Houston (RodeoHouston in 2017 with Zac Small). I’ve probably got Eli in career earnings, but he’s our family’s high money winner on any one day. I’ve joked with him since it happened that it’s like the angels sent that truck and trailer to him, because being a heeler is not his claim to fame.
Q: You finished 19th in the world last year roping with Nelson. Being that close can either light a fire in you or devastate you. How did it affect you personally?
A: I think it lit a fire under us, because we didn’t rope together the whole year. We didn’t start until the summertime, and it felt like if we could have roped all year we would have made it. So we were really looking forward to a whole season together in 2020.
Q: Tell us something about Nelson we wouldn’t know from just reading the results.
A: We spend a lot of time together, and we play a lot of golf. That’s what we do more than anything else out here when we aren’t roping.
Q: What do you consider the highlight of your team’s regular season?
A: We’ve had quite a few fast runs. I think our highlight was being 3.6 at Spanish Fork (Utah). We broke the 3.7-second arena record that was set in the 1980s by Tee Woolman and Bobby Harris.
Q: How many years have you rodeoed hard, and why is this the year you made it over the NFR hump?
A: Rodeoing full time—winter to Pendleton—this is my third year. I got my card when I turned 18, but I mostly circuit rodeoed in the Badlands with my dad, for the first few years.
Q: As the son of a circuit cowboy kingpin—including winning three Badlands Circuit team roping titles together—did you grow up planning to be a professional rodeo cowboy?
A: I definitely grew up knowing I wanted to do this. By the time I hit high school, I knew I wanted to rope for a living and started taking my roping pretty seriously.
Q: Was there a moment or one run in particular when you knew you had your first Finals made?
A: I didn’t really get that feeling until it was over, because it was still mathematically possible for people to catch us. I was 12th with two weeks to go in the regular season, but all the money was so tight that I was only $5,000 from fifth and also $5,000 from 15th. In the end, Nelson and I were both very happy to finish 11th.
Q: Now that you and Nelson got this deal closed, what are you looking forward to most about roping at your first Finals?
A: It’s just something every rodeo kid has dreamed about. I can’t really put into words what it’ll be like to walk up there and get my first back number. For my parents to get something out of all the hours and money they’ve put into it will maybe solidify that the sacrifice was worth it. I think it’ll make my family proud to see me achieve a big goal. To be one of the best 15 guys at what you do in any given year is something not many guys get to experience in any sport.