Travis Graves is a five-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo heeler. He roped with Turtle Powell at his first Finals in 2008; Clay Tryan from 2010-12; and Kaleb Driggers at NFR ’13. He’s heeling for 19-time Champ of the World Trevor Brazile in 2014. Graves, his wife, Tamika, and their year-old son, Tee, live in Jay, Okla.
Kendra Santos: You just roped at your fifth NFR. What are some of the lessons learned from that experience, as far as surviving and thriving that 10-day marathon?
Travis Graves: I’ve learned how important it is to catch every steer. You need to take advantage of every opportunity at that rodeo—and every rodeo.
KS: Clay O’Brien Cooper and Walt Woodard are your idols. Why?
TG: Walt helped me a lot when I was a young kid. I stayed at his house one summer out in California. He did roping schools at my house when I was a kid. Travis (Woodard) and I are the same age. I like Clay’s personality. He’s quiet. No drama. He’s the same, good or bad, no matter what. There are no big ups or downs with Clay, and that’s hard to do in this business.
KS: What was the best part about roping with Kaleb Driggers this last year?
TG: Kaleb’s a lot of fun. He’s young (24), laid back and he ropes outstanding. We had a lot of success, and he’s fun to be around. Kaleb laughs a lot.
KS: You're roping with Trevor Brazile in 2014. How did that come about?
TG: When Kaleb and Patrick (Smith) decided to rope, I called Trevor. And he said yes.
KS: What are you looking forward to most about the new partnership?
TG: Trevor’s world class. He’s the professional of all professionals. I’ve been to his place, and it’s unbelievable how perfect everything is and how he practices. It’s no wonder he’s as good as he is. Trevor’s all business.
KS: How do you feel about sharing him with two other events?
TG: It’s going to be different, because I’ve never done it before. Trevor told me team roping comes first. It’s got to be that way, because I have a family to feed, too.
KS: Trevor is the Cowboy King—the best ever, according to the record books. Are you prepared to answer to both TG and “Trevor’s partner?”
TG: Yes. It’ll be weird to ride into the box and it’ll all be about Trevor and all his records, then, “Oh, and he’s roping with Travis Graves.” The good news is I don’t care about that.
KS: Name one most-memorable run in your career.
TG: Kaleb and I set the arena record at the (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) rodeo in Coleman, Texas in 2013. We were 4.3. When we made the run we knew it was first. That doesn’t happen very often these days, because so many guys can beat you at any given time.
KS: Name the one person in this world who’s had the most influence on your career and/or life.
TG: My parents (Ronnie and Teresa) and my wife. My dad taught me how to rope, and my parents hauled me to all the rodeos. They did everything to get me here, because it was what I wanted to do and was always my goal. Tamika’s my rock. She’s there all year long, through the good, the bad, the sick, the long nights. She’s there for it all. I couldn’t do without her.
KS: Is roping for a living what you’d hoped and dreamed it would be?
TG: Yes. It’s everything I dreamed about. Roping at the Thomas & Mack is everything you can imagine. The fans are so loyal, and they know the sport so well. When you’re signing autographs it’s amazing how many people know you. And I think the sport’s going to keep getting better. I knew when I was 5 or 6 years old that this was exactly what I wanted to do. I still feel that way.