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Ten-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo team roper Charly Crawford declared last December’s 2020 NFR his “Last Dance.” He’d burned up the rodeo road long enough, and with the impending expansion of his family felt it was time to shift gears and priorities, which translated into team roping semiretirement. Crawford’s life has been a rodeo-slanted “Dancing With the Stars” sequel, starting with his cowgirl rock-star wife, Jackie, who just delivered a beautiful baby girl they named Journey in March. This week, two-time Girl Dad Charly is joining forces with the only #8-rated girl roper in the history of the sport, Whitney DeSalvo, to take on the all-star cowboy cast at the May 6-8 World Champions Rodeo Alliance’s $545,000 Rodeo Corpus Christi.

“Whitney had called a couple times, and planted the seed about roping together at Corpus,” said Charly, who makes his home in Stephenville, Texas (which is a five-and-a-half-hour drive to Corpus), with Jackie; daughter Kaydence, 16; son Creed, 4; and baby Journey. “I’ve been roping with Douglas Rich and Billie Jack Saebens at the few places I’ve been in early 2021, but roping with them at Corpus wasn’t in the cards. So I called Whitney back, and said, ‘Are you ready to win that mother?’ It was straight-up celebration on the other end of the line, and she said, ‘Hell yes.’ I knew right then this was going to be fun.

“I’ve known Whitney since she was a teenager, and I watched her roping the dummy from three coils back. She’s unbelievably talented, and she’s always working to grow her talent—her roping and her horsemanship. Whitney has so much drive. I’ve loved roping my whole career with people who roped great, and just needed a chance. Now how fricking cool is this? It’s time to let the world know what this girl can do.”

Crawford and DeSalvo haven’t been able to practice together for Corpus, because he’s been trying to heal up from a little mishap that broke his ring finger and tore the tendon away from the bone on the middle finger on his left hand. Crawford had to cut off his wedding ring with bolt cutters.

“You should see the other guy,” he smiled, just before making one last stop at a doctor’s office to be sure he didn’t need surgery on that hand before heading to Corpus. “The plan is to brace it up, rope the dummy a little bit and wing it.”

Jackie & Charly Crawford with Whitney Desalvo

Whitney’s built her roping reputation with a very high heeling catch-rate percentage. In anticipation of the fast track that awaits in Corpus Christi—their first rodeo ever together—she’s been heeling at some amateur rodeos, where she’s forced to throw fast.

“Being able to heel a lot of steers by two feet is what’s gotten me to where I am today,” said Whitney of Wilmar, Arkansas, who roped at the WCRA’s inaugural Women’s Rodeo World Championship last November in Fort Worth, but this week takes her first shot at WCRA open ropers. “This year, I’m mainly focused on setting myself up to heel steers fast.

“It might be far-fetched, but I would like to be a pretty dominant open roper by the end of my career, whether it’s a jackpotter or even trying to make the NFR. I don’t know if it’s possible, but a lot of people have said if ever a girl could do it, it might be me. If I don’t feel 100 percent confident in my abilities and have all my ducks in a row, I won’t do it. But it’s in the back of my mind, for sure.”

Crawford will ride his bay ace and NFR 2020 horse, Sailor. DeSalvo will be pulling pipes aboard her 6-year-old blue roan, Little Snort, that she bought from Paul Eaves last September. Because Eaves and fellow reigning World Champion Team Roper Colby Lovell won the Stampede at the E last summer in Guthrie, Oklahoma, they’re eligible for the WCRA Triple Crown of Rodeo—a $1 million bonus to any athlete who wins three straight WCRA majors. Working for guys like Eaves and NFR heeler Shay Carroll did wonders for DeSalvo’s roping, as did hanging out at the Crawfords’ place back when Whitney was all about breakaway roping.

“I was going to Jackie for breakaway lessons back when she and Charly were dating,” Whitney said. “I stayed there a week at a time off and on through high school.”

Mrs. Crawford is, of course, a living legend in our sport. She’s a 20-time Women’s Professional Rodeo Association world champion, including all-around, calf roping, breakaway roping and heading gold buckles, and was last December’s WPRA World Champion Breakaway Roper the first time breakaway roping was included at PRCA rodeos and the Wrangler National Finals Breakaway Roping was held in conjunction with the NFR. And make no mistake, when Jackie won the WCRA’s $1 million Windy City Roundup in Chicago in January of 2019, that $50,000 check was the first ever cut that big to a breakaway roper. Extra cool was her getting that done in her native “Prairie State” Illinois, and that $50,000 win set the breakaway roping frenzy we’re seeing now on fire.

Charly and Creed are outnumbered in their household, but Charly’s made a great Girl Dad and is Jackie’s #1 cheerleader.

“Being a Girl Dad is quite an experience,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot about bangs, nail polish and spray tans. I’ve heard a lot of heelers’ excuses for why we were late leaving for a roping, but being the dad of a teenage daughter is the first time a spray tan ever made me late, so that’s a new one.”

All eyes will be on Team Crawford and DeSalvo when they run their first steer Thursday night at American Bank Center in downtown Corpus Christi (the team roping qualifying rounds are Tuesday and Wednesday, but they nominated their way into the progressive-round performances). Rodeo Corpus Christi champions will be named Sunday, which in this case is appropriately Mother’s Day.

“I feel like it’s almost a relief that I’m roping with Charly, because we’re such good friends,” Whitney said. “My goal the last year or two has been to expand from all-girl events to open events, and here we are. There are only so many girl ropings, and a lot of them are capped. So I need to strike out and do more. I’m so excited to get to rope at this rodeo, and especially with Charly. He might be semiretired, but he’s roping as good as he ever has.”

“I’m not one for talking trash, but I wouldn’t count us out just because I’m roping with a girl,” Charly grinned. “Whitney can handle her rope with the best in the world. I loved my rodeo career, but it was hard to get me in the rig toward the end. I love my family, and I love being home. Home used to be where the rig stopped. Now I have a real home. The WCRA makes sense for me, because I can still rope on a big stage in semiretirement, see my buddies and compete, but without the constant pants-on-fire chase. If I can kick their butt with a girl heeler, that’ll make it even more fun.”

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