A Chadron State graduate and a member of the college’s rodeo team in the early 2000s is riding high in the sport.
Sarah Morrissey of Ephrata, Wash. (located in the middle of the state), finished among the top five in the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association’s breakaway roping standings in 2018. And, she’s also one of the eight qualifiers to compete at the first Windy City Roundup in Chicago on Friday, Jan. 11.
The Roundup is receiving lots of hoopla. It is being billed as the biggest rodeo Chicago has hosted in years.
Altogether, a million dollars will be awarded at the Roundup, which is being sponsored by the new World Champions Rodeo Alliance in collaboration with the Professional Bull Riders.
Each event winner will receive $50,000, the runner-up $25,000 and so on.
Now 38, Morrissey is elated to be among the breakaway finalists. A native of Merritt, British Columbia, a community of about 8,000, Morrissey describes herself as “a town kid who loved horses.”
Even though her parents weren’t “horse people,” they saw how much she wanted one, and bought one for her when she was 8 years old.
“My dad’s cousin had a ranch nearby where we kept the horse and I learned to ride,” Morrissey recalled during a telephone conversation last week.
Before long, she was competing in Little Britches rodeos and then high school rodeos. She qualified for the Canadian and National High School Rodeo Finals all four years. As a senior in 1998 she won the Canadian breakaway roping championship and was fourth in goat tying.
Morrissey initially enrolled at Idaho State University, but after one year switched to Chadron State, where she majored in biology and joined the rodeo team. She credits Terie Dawson, then a member of the CSC admissions staff, with bringing her to Chadron State.
“I inquired about the college and she offered me an International Student Scholarship that paid my tuition. Then, Darrell Marshall, the rodeo coach, gave me a scholarship that pretty well paid for my books,” Morrissey recalled.
“I had an awesome time at Chadron State. When I arrived, I received a page full of names and telephone numbers that I could call if I needed help. The whole community was so amazing to me. It was an easy place to live and everything went well.”
There was sadness in Morrissey’s voice as she recalled one phase of her days in Chadron over the phone. The final two years, she lived with Larry and Kay Merrill, and she knew that Larry died just before Christmas.
Her rodeo career Chadron had some highlights. The first year in 1999-2000, she won breakaway roping go-rounds at the Northeastern Junior College rodeo in Sterling, Colo., in 2.8 and 3.8 seconds. A year later, she did the same thing at the Colorado State rodeo in Fort Collins in 2.9 and 2.6 seconds.
She also placed at several other rodeos and as a junior and a senior, she was among the 10 breakaway qualifiers from the Central Rocky Mountain Region to qualify for the Three-Region Shootout in Bozeman, Mont.
Besides rodeoing, Sarah achieved another major goal at Chadron State. She graduated in the spring of 2004 with a 3.60 grade point average and was accepted into pharmacy school at the University of Wyoming. Four years later, she graduated with a Doctor of Pharmacy Degree and, as she puts it, now uses her paycheck to help support her rodeo passion.
“After I graduated from Chadron State, I took a 10-year hiatus from rodeoing while I earned my pharmacy degree and got established in my profession. I found a job in Washington. In 2011, I bought a couple of horses and started roping again.”
Morrissey now works three 10-hour days during the week for Riteaid Pharmacy in Ephrata and rodeos on weekends. The first three years she seldom ventured more than 180 miles to a rodeo, but as she’s become more successful she’s been traveling farther and farther to compete.
She now owns just one horse, Oreo, an 11-year-old white gelding. He was barely broke to ride when she purchased him, but he’s now one of the best in the business.
“He’s longer and taller than most of the horses the other girls use, but we’ve learned to make it work,” she said.
Morrissey also noted that she’s competing at the right time. More professional rodeos are adding breakaway roping to their agendas and she cashed in on the expansion this past year.
She won the event at several major rodeos in the Northwest such as the High Desert Stampede in Redmond, Ore., and the Moses Lake, Coulee City and Othello rodeos in Washington. Those victories helped her become the reserve champion in the 2018 Columbia Circuit standings and qualify for the Windy City Roundup.
The Chicago adventure will be Morrissey’s first major competition of the New Year. She’s also qualified for the RFD American Rodeo at the 80,000 seat AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Feb. 25 and will be roping at other huge rodeos in Texas throughout February.
“I plan to fly from Spokane to some place in Texas every weekend in February,” she said. “I’ll be roping on the weekends, flying home to work for three days and then head back to Texas to rope again.”
Morrissey thinks breakaway roping will gain in popularity as it gets more exposure.
“If the announcer is excited about it and gets the crowd’s attention they really get into it,” Sarah said. “It’s fast and a lot of fun.”
The crowd better be alert. Breakaway roping doesn’t take long. Each performance is over in a few seconds.
“We do things pretty fast,” she noted. “I usually take one or two swings (with the rope) and let it go. There are a lot of variables. Every arena is different and the calves are unpredictable. Sometimes I catch them in two seconds; other times I have won in about three seconds. It’s a really humbling sport. A lot depends on the cattle and the set up.”
Morrissey said her fastest time so far has been 1.8 seconds, but she broke the barrier. A goal for 2019 is “to catch a calf that fast and not break the barrier.”
The last time Morrissey roped was just before Christmas in Las Vegas. Since it’s a long ways from Washington State to Chicago, she sent Oreo to Texas with another breakaway roper who also is qualified for the Windy City Roundup.
“She’ll bring him to Chicago and then take him back to Texas so I can use him down there in February,” she said.
She admitted she misses not having Oreo around and to practice with, but she’s trying to stay sharp by roping a dummy calf before and after work and during her days off.