Kelly Jones pairs team roping with a career as a private pilot to make her lifelong dreams come true.
Rodeo was a way of life for Kelly Jones while growing up on her family’s Sonora, Texas ranch, but in the rough country of southwest Texas, so was flying.
“Interestingly enough, I was that little Tom boy growing up–I loved horses and airplanes,” she remembered. “Unlike most normal little girls that had pictures of boys in their locker, I had pictures of airplanes and horses.”
Jones’ cousin and uncle had a Piper Cub they used to gather cattle with because their ranch had such rough country, and her grandfather on her mom’s side took her to air shows and talked to her about airplanes.
She was an all-around cowgirl growing up, competing in all the events--except team roping.
“It was kind of funny because Dad said that girls couldn’t rope against the boys, so I really didn’t team rope until I was in college,” Jones said of her time at Odessa College on a full-ride.
Her first big win was in 2001 at the USTRC’s Cinch National Finals of Team Roping.
“When I sent home two buckles and $13,000 in cash, I was like, ‘Yeah Dad, I think girls can rope against the boys, huh?’ Now he is my sister’s and my biggest fan. He loves when we call in and have big wins, he’s just proud as a peach. I think the whole stereotype from back then where girls didn’t rope against boys is changing, kind of like flying. We’re seeing more and more girl pilots these days. It’s a revolution of women realizing they don’t have to be in the kitchen, they can be in the arena, and they can be in the cockpit of the airplane.”
And her list of accomplishments in the arena include placings at some of the most prestigious ropings in the country, including the Wildfire Cowgirls Only, the Windy Ryon, and the Reno Rodeo Invitational.
“But out of all those, my favorite win ever was winning the 2005 Sutton County Roping during the Sonora Pro Rodeo with my so-called Godfather, Mack Altizer, and having my dad in the roping box with me. I think out of all my wins, that’s been the most cherished one,” Jones said.
As much as Jones loved team roping, though, she had to put it on the backburner when she realized she needed to her wings. When Jones was in her early thirties, she had a sales and marketing job for Equibrand and noticed that her cubicle was getting filled with pictures of airplanes.
“I made the decision one day that I was going to start taking flying lessons. I wanted to be a corporate pilot. I’ve always been that girl that if I see something and want something, I pin my ears and go after it…I received my private pilot rating in 2014. Here we are in 2018, and I’m typed in two jets. Whenever someone asks me, ‘How did you get where you’re at so fast?’ I say, ‘It was just dumb luck and keeping the goal in mind and pursuing everyday to get where I’m at’.”
Building a career that allows her to live her dreams and rope wasn’t easy—and it took some help from her anonymous backer to force her to face some hard realities.
“I had this gentleman that walked into my office one day when I was managing a flight school in Granbury, and he looked at me during our conversation and he said, ‘When are you going to put your rope down and grow up?’”
He told her she had her private pilot’s license, but she needed to put team roping on the back burner to get her flight career to the next level. As much as Jones’ liked going to ropings and rodeos, his words drove her, and in 2015 she added instrument, commercial, and multi-engine ratings to her resume, ultimately getting her first jet.
“When I’m staring out the window of this beautiful jet and we’re going places like the Bahamas or California, all the blood, sweat, and tears that I did to get here–I washed airplanes in 100-degree heat, and I would be laying under a greasy Cessna 172 just thinking, ‘Dear baby Jesus, it’s got to get better than this.’ It was so worth it to get to this point now.”
Now, with her career as a pilot taking off with RVR Aviation, there aren’t any boundaries for Jones–whether it’s roping or flying–because she’s a girl. She wants to be an influence for girls to know that they can be strong and independent.
“You may not have the strength that a guy does, but you can compete and have morals and standards and a competitive level, just like a guy, if not better than the boys,” Jones said.