This summer was recent Turlock High School graduate Lane Wheeler’s last chance to compete at the National High School Finals Rodeo, so when he arrived in Gillette, Wyoming, for the week-long event, he didn’t take a single second for granted.
“It was really special, especially being my senior year. It was my last chance to make it,” said Wheeler, who travelled to the competition on July 16 with his parents, brother, grandmother and the man who taught him everything he knows, his grandfather.
Wheeler has become a roping extraordinaire over the years thanks to his grandpa, who raises horses and began teaching the 18-year-old the tricks of the trade when he was a young boy.
“I was always around it, and as I got older he got me more and more involved,” said Wheeler. “He helps me with everything, to making sure the horses are working good to helping me practice as much as possible.”
Wheeler competes in the Team Roping and Tie-Down Roping events of the rodeo, and in order to qualify for NHSFR, he had to first compete at the District then State level. Wheeler and his Team Roping partner, Rylee George of Oakdale, tied for first place at the District 5 High School Rodeo in April, and he placed second in Tie-Down Roping as an individual. From there, he went on to place fourth in both events at the State Finals in June, which was good enough to earn him a spot at NHSFR.
“It made all of the practicing worth it,” said Wheeler, who spent countless hours roping at his grandpa’s ranch in Turlock, as well as at a family friend’s arena, in order to prepare for the competition.
At NHSFR, Wheeler didn’t compete as well as he had hoped he would. In Team Roping, the pair of horseback riders attempt to rope the horns and legs of a steer in the fastest possible time. He and George placed 24th overall in the event, where he said the first round went well. The second round of Team Roping was more difficult, however.
“We caught the first one, but the second steer was a little tough and we took too long to make it back,” he said.
He was met with similar misfortune in the Tie-Down Roping event, where he was tasked with catching a calf and tying its legs together. He didn’t end up placing, he said. But despite the loss, the rodeo experience was a winning one.
“It was really fun, and just making it that far was a good experience,” said Wheeler. “Being able to bring my grandparents and parents to watch made it worth it because they were looking forward to travelling to Wyoming and were so excited about it.”
Wheeler’s father and brother were able to go on a fishing trip while in the Cowboy State, and when he wasn’t competing, Wheeler participated in several “jackpots,” which are essentially practice rodeos.
“The rodeo has given me a hobby and something to do, and I’ve been able to stay busy and meet a lot of good people because of it,” he said. “I want to thank my parents and my family for the experience.”
Even though his high school rodeo days are over, Wheeler isn’t hopping out of the saddle just yet. He plans to attend classes at Modesto Junior College and will compete in rodeos as an independent while working toward an associate’s degree. Next weekend, he will compete in Santa Rosa at his first PRCA ProRodeo.
“Once I transfer to a state school, there’s a possibility I could go to a school where I can be on a rodeo team, but for now I wanted to stay close to home,” said Wheeler.
As for how he plans to prepare for his upcoming competition?
“I’m just going to practice even more.”