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Meet the Member Grady Kirkes
story by Lindsay King
Though rodeo is in Grady Kirkes’ blood, he recognizes the blessing he’s been given to travel all over New Mexico, and the U.S., to rope calves. The 18-year-old is the youngest of Ross and Creta Kirkes after his two older sisters Jessie, 26, and Shelby, 24. “My dad is my coach. He helped my sister win an all-around title at high school nationals so I guess his tactics are proven,” said the high school senior. “My dad is a dang good coach, he knows how to break things down for me. It is amazing how his mind works.” His affinity for calf roping is rooted so deep that he has never actually considered pursuing another event in rodeo. “It’s unfair for me to say it’s a harder event than the others because I haven’t really tried anything else, but I truly think it is. Calf ropers are a dying breed, there just are not as many of us doing it anymore.” Grady cites the difficulty, and expense, of finding the right horse for the event as a major contributor to the decline.
The third-generation cowboy grew up on the corner of his neighborhood roping calves with his friends. It’s his lifestyle. It’s also a life his mom stepped into. “My mom didn’t grow up around rodeo like my dad did. But she has been around it long enough, and got my sisters through it, to know what is right and wrong in the calf roping. She is super encouraging, she believes in me more than I do probably,” he said, quickly adding that his parents are his biggest fans.
Living in Carlsbad makes for long drives across New Mexico, this is easily Grady’s least favorite part of competing in the NMHSRA. “The stock are really good and that always makes it fun for a calf roper. A lot of people might think not many good calf ropers come from here but Roy Cooper, Glen Franklyn, Jimmie Cooper and many other world champions and NFR qualifiers came from New Mexico.” It’s these high caliber calf ropers that Grady credits with upping the ante for calf ropers in high school in the state. “The top guys from New Mexico can hang with the top guys from anywhere. Lucky for me, you are only as good as your competition.” Of course, superb green chili wherever he competes is another perk of living and roping in New Mexico for Grady.
Finishing in the top five calf ropers at state finals for the past three years is both humbling and frustrating. However, he did finally make it to nationals last year. “Talk about the crying hole, fifth place at state finals is it. Though I did finally get to experience nationals. It did not go well for me, but I did rope decent in the jackpots up there.” Though each of his accomplishments in rodeo makes Grady proud, there is one moment standing out from the rest. It happened two years ago when Grady was in a match roping against his long-time rodeo friend Bryce Derrer. “We have gone at it all over the place together, sometimes he wins and sometimes I do. But this match roping was the best I have ever seen and it was fun to be part of.” It came down to the final calf, Grady needed to lay down a wicked-fast time of 7.8. He was 7.9. “I was proud that I could make such a good run when the pressure was really on. It’s still a little annoying that it only came down to a tenth of a second, but that’s just roping.” His next big goal is to qualify for the American, but also to simply make the best run he can on every calf. “If I have a calf I can be seven on, then I want to do that. Basically, I just want draw lopers and go fast. But winning the American would be pretty neat, I could go to a lot of jackpots on a million bucks.”