story by Teri Edwards Katie Leibold was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, where she lived for the first 22 of her 26 years. She […]
Featured Athlete: Nollie Launius
Written by: Lily Weinacht< Back to Articles
Every day, Nollie Launius makes strides toward his dream of becoming a professional roper. The 10-year-old cowboy from Nashville, Arkansas, is already a dual-event champion in the Southern Junior Rodeo Association, competing in team roping, breakaway roping, and goat tying.
He’s traveling the rodeo trail with a prosthetic leg, born with one bone in his left leg instead of two, a birth defect called fibular hemimelia. While Nollie has had a prosthetic leg from the knee down since he was four and a half months old, with the exception of a slower dismount in the goat tying, his competition knows no limitations. “The biggest trouble we have with it is that his leg doesn’t move, so keeping it in the stirrup is a big challenge,” says Bill Launius, Nollie’s dad. “His prosthetic doctor came up with a wrench we could use to turn his foot so it stays in the stirrup, but then when he’s done, his foot is turned the wrong way,” he adds with a laugh. “We did get some stirrups that are curved, but most of the time, he rides with one foot in the stirrup and one foot out.” Nollie also has zippers put in his boots so he can easily slip them on.
As Nollie grows, so does his prosthetic foot—he’s on his 14th replacement, but saves his smaller prosthetics, particularly ones that have been signed. “Wade Sundell the bronc rider signed my leg, and we met Kory Koontz at a rodeo, and he didn’t have anything to sign it with, but he took a picture with us,” says Nollie. “Shawn Harris and Jimmy Driggers help Nollie a lot at the rodeos with team roping,” Bill adds. “There have been lots of people helping him because he has such a passion for it and he works so hard.”
“I want to do it every day,” says Nollie. “I want to be a professional roper, and I like to watch Kaleb Driggers.” Nollie won two saddles of his five saddles in the SJRA this year for breakaway roping and team roping, the same events he won last year as well. His favorite event is team roping. “I head, and I’ve been roping since I could walk. I’m learning handling steers and horsemanship, and I rope with my dad a lot. My mom (Michelle Launius) and dad come help me with practice—they turn out steers and they’ll pull the dummy for me,” says Nollie. His 8-year-old brother, Henry, enjoys riding and roping, and he competes in junior rodeos as well. They also have an older brother and sister, Casey and Cassidy, who are twins.
Family is one of Nollie’s main motivators in rodeo, from his parents to his grandfathers. His great-grandfather Clay Godfrey was Nollie’s biggest fan, faithfully cheering him on until his passing in April. He helped Nollie get started with roping dummies and finding two of his main horses, while Nollie’s grandfather Thomas Launius shoes all his horses and cares for them daily. “I have Blazer—I use him for heading—and I have Doc, and I use her for breakaway and goat tying,” Nollie explains. “I have a horse Zero that I use for heeling. My mare Chavez is my favorite because she’s a Paint and she’s my favorite colors, red and white. I pull bulls and broncs on her too.”
Nollie and his dad enjoy helping pick up broncs and bulls at Riding for the Brand youth rodeos around the area, while Nollie also loves to work cattle for friends. Whatever the job, he saddles up his horses with a 5 Star Equine pad, which he and his dad started using several years ago. Nollie purchased his 5 Star pad with the first rodeo check he ever won, and plans to buy another when his entry fees are squared up. “It protects my horses’ backs because I ride a lot,” says Nollie, who’s hoping to join their Rising Stars program in the future.
If he’s not roping, Nollie is at the very least thinking about it, or studying team roping videos. He pulls himself away from the arena long enough to attend Nashville Elementary, where he just started fifth grade and enjoys math. Then it’s back home to his horses, while he also enjoys deer hunting and playing basketball with his siblings.
“I want to go to the NFR, and I probably will junior high rodeo soon,” Nollie finishes. He extends his thanks to his sponsors, Trinity Ropes, and Horton’s Orthotics and Prosthetics, and says, “Thanks to the one who paid it all and gave me this ability and talent, my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”