Christmas is just around the corner, but “Cowboy Christmas” has come to a close. “Cowboy Christmas” is another name for the biggest rodeo of the year, the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR) held annually in December over 10 rounds in 10 days in Las Vegas. Going to college in South Dakota, I quickly realized how important the NFR was. There were nightly viewing parties and more. Since graduating, I’ve kept up the tradition of watching the NFR. The NFR features the bareback riding, steer wrestling, team roping, saddle bronc riding, tie-down roping, barrel racing and bull riding competitions.
The top 15 competitors in each event at the end of the season move on to the National Finals Rodeo. Rodeo usually isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Minnesota. But Milan’s J.D. Struxness and Granite Falls’ Tanner Aus are working to change that.
Struxness competes in the steer wrestling competition and Aus is a bareback rider. Both cowboys qualified for the NFR this year. For Aus, this was his fourth time qualifying for the big dance and for Struxness, this was his third time qualifying. Both cowboys were interviewed this past week by the “Las Vegas Review Journal” and it was an interesting article. In the article, Aus discussed being a Minnesota cowboy.
He said, “I don’t know how J.D. feels, but sometimes I feel responsible for representing my state — but representing it in a good way. To win a world title is a big-time goal. Being from Minnesota, it would be great to bring that back to our home state.”
Struxness added, “Not a whole lot of cowboys come from Minnesota … but if you’ve got talent and hard work, it don’t matter where you’re from, you can succeed.” During the NFR, the Minnesota fans hold up “Minnesota Proud” banners and it’s one of my favorite parts of watching both Aus and Struxness.
Minnesota’s lone NFR entrants succeeded at representing our state well. In the bareback bronc riding event, Aus was in the money most rounds. He even won Round 3 with a score of 90 riding a bronc named “Full Baggage.” At the end of the 10 days, Aus will come home with $91,865 and pushed his season earnings to $173,460.
It was the second-best NFR and season he’s ever had. In addition, Aus sold “Viva Aus Vegas” T-shirts before he left. At the NFR, he was able to donate $5,000 from the T-shirt sales to the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund. That is an organization that helps provide financial assistance to professional rodeo athletes. In the steer wrestling event, Struxness was in the conversation to possibly win the championship. It was looking promising in the ninth round. He pinned his steer down in 3.3 seconds BUT in heartbreaking fashion, he broke the barrier. That happens if the rider leaves the box too soon — failing to give the animal enough of a head start ‚ he is assessed a 10-second penalty.
He didn’t end up winning it all, but he was in the money for most of the rounds. At the end of the NFR, Struxness ended up winning over $107,000 for the 10 rounds of competition. Struxness also had the responsibility for carrying the Minnesota flag nightly at the start of every rodeo. It’s a lot of fun to be able to cheer for local cowboys on the big stage.
They definitely made Minnesota proud.