SILT — Sydney Surin doesn’t think about what she’s accomplished when she’s competing in the barrel racing chutes. Instead, she just focuses on the task at hand.
“I guess I’ve been going against a bunch of pros and other girls I’ve never even heard of before,” the 14-year-old Glenwood Springs High School freshman said. “But the way I’m looking at it, I’m not going against them. I’m racing against the clock.”
There’s been plenty of opportunities for Surin to be distracted in the past month. She’s earned them, however, with big performances at the Mile High Western Slope Final in Eagle over Labor Day weekend and a slot race at the Larimer County Fairgrounds near the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland the weekend of Sept. 28.
And that performance in Loveland earned her an opportunity that many seasoned barrel racers would drool for. It qualified her for the semifinals of the RFD-TV American one-day rodeo, an inaugural event which will divide $2 million in prize money among the top finishers in a rodeo field that includes some of the world’s best in the sport.
In short, when she competes in the semifinals in Mesquite, Texas, from Feb. 21-23, she’ll be competing against a field of people who have seen lots of time on the national Pro Rodeo Cowboy Association circuit and who, in most cases, have also competed in the National Finals Rodeo.
Does that scare her?
Not one bit.
“I actually feel very honored to be racing against them,” Surin said. “The fact that a 14-year-old gets to go against a 30-year-old who has been doing this their whole life is incredible, because this is the only sport where a kid can actually run with a pro.”
Surin will be one of 50 qualifiers from across the country who will take place in the qualifying event in Mesquite. The top 10 from that rodeo will advance to the American, which is scheduled for March 2, 2014, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Qualifiers in each of the seven events — bareback riding, bronc riding, team roping, tie-down roping, barrel racing, steer wrestling and bull riding — will have a chance to claim a first-place prize of $100,000. Second-place finishers earn $25,000. If one of the competitors who advanced from any of the five qualifiers around the nation and then a semifinal held at Resistol Arena in Mesquite win their event at The American, then he or she will have a chance to claim as much as $1 million.
The rodeo events will be sanctioned by national outlets like the PBR and the Batter Barrel Racers, among others. RFD-TV, on its website, estimates that 75,000 people will attend the event at the stadium formerly known as Cowboys Stadium.
Surin may likely be the youngest competitor in the national field. At 14, she can only compete on the state rodeo circuit, because PRCA competitors must be at least 18 years old.
She was discovered when she was competing in Eagle. Surin had won each barrel-race event with her horse, Zans Baby Chick, with each of her times falling below the 16-second mark. Surin and her parents, Dan and Vivian, were approached afterward with an offer for Sydney to compete in that qualifying slot barrel race in Loveland.
She accepted the invitation, and her ninth-place finish — her best time of the weekend was 16.409 seconds — earned her the top 10 finish she needed to qualify. That was from a field of 465 competitors, which came from as far as New Mexico, California, Montana, South Dakota and Texas.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she said, smiling.
Surin won’t be the only Silt cowgirl who reached the semifinal qualifier. Ronnie Will, riding her horse, Super Devotion, netted a third-place time of 16.304 seconds, earning a trip to Mesquite and a cash prize of $1,425. Another barrel racer from Garfield County, CJ Vondette of Rifle, competed but was unable to qualify after a 25th-place finish.
Granted, this will be the biggest stage that Surin will have competed on. Thinking ahead, she’s already doing her best to treat it like any other race.
“Like my dad always says, a horse is a horse and a race is a race,” Surin said. “That’s what my mindset has always been, and it’s going to stay that way.”