At the tender age of six, Swaize Lee rode a horse for the first time on her family’s farm in Brownfield. Fifteen years later, she is now a decorated rodeo champion representing Texas Tech’s Rodeo team.
Lee has been competing for the team for the past year. At the Ranger College Rodeo competition in Sweetwater, she swept up three of the competition’s most distinguished awards.
She won first place in the breakaway challenge beating her fastest personal time, placed in the short go competition — an event in which the top 10 fastest times compete — and placed third in the overall competition.
Lee’s accomplishments extend further. In high school, she was a state finalist at the Texas High School Rodeo Competition. She also placed ninth at the World Series of Team Roping competition.
Katherine Barrington, a sophomore industrial engineering major from New Home, is also a barrel racer and breakaway roper for the Tech Rodeo Team. Barrington said she and Lee had competed in rodeo throughout high school and she was ecstatic to find out Lee would be competing at the college level because of her stellar roping skills.
“When she came to Tech, there has been a definite difference in our ability to get points as a team, because we have someone that can compete in three events.” Barrington said. “I don’t think there are any other girls that compete in three events that I can think of.”
Kimberly Luco, a sophomore agricultural economics major from Decatur and vice president and breakaway roper for the team, said Lee’s winnings in Sweetwater greatly impacted the team’s chance of competing for the national championship in Casper, Wyoming.
“She always shows up to help and always has a really good attitude, always willing to let people come up to her house to practice,” Luco said. “She is always really willing and friendly to everybody.”
Lee credits her accomplishments and passion for rodeo to her dad’s introduction of the sport to her at the age of six. She said at first, she was more interested in riding the horses her grandparents gifted her as fast as possible.
“All I wanted to do was go fast, and my dad was like, ‘Swaize, you can’t just ride these horses as fast as you can everywhere, like you’ve got to do something productive with it,’” she said. “So he was like ‘OK, do you want to start rodeoing?’ and I was like, ‘I don’t even know what that is, but sure.’”
Thus began the start of many playdates and lessons on roping and the rodeo, she said. Since then, she has been training hard almost every day and competing with her two horses, Missy and Speedy.
Aside from her passion for rodeo, Lee is also a sophomore history major with the goal of one day teaching high school history and attending graduate school. She currently takes 17 credit hours alongside practicing and competing with her team five weekends a semester.
Balancing it all is difficult, she said.
“It’s hard because I usually try to do all of my homework for that week before I leave for the rodeo, and then you’re rodeoing all day long everyday Thursday through Saturday,” she said. “There is hardly any time to take a breather.”
Sometimes when her homework is incomplete, Lee said she has to find the closest McDonald’s with internet to complete it.
Apart from the pressure of a rigorous academic schedule, Lee said the rodeo comes with its own stressors.
“The toughest part about rodeo is the ups and downs, it’s a roller coaster ride through and through. Anything can happen,” she said. “My horse can get hurt, or I could just draw a really bad calf or steer, and the ground could be bad or anything and my horse falls down. It’s just the little things you can’t control. The mental game I guess is the toughest thing.”
Lee, however, put a positive spin on the mental game.
“At the same time, that’s the most rewarding, when you can say, ‘Ok, that part’s behind me. I can still go and win this next event,’” she said.
Although rodeo is a male-dominated sport, Lee said her teammates’ support raises her confidence as a woman competing in the sport.
“I just recently started team roping (co-ed competition) like five years ago, and so that’s been really neat to see how guys treat girls, and for the most part, they’re really supportive and they’re like you know, ‘You rope really good’ or ‘You rope like a dude,’” she said. “That’s kind of the feedback I’ve gotten.”
While her experience has been positive in the sport, Lee said she understands it is still hard for women to participate.
“I do know that sometimes if you’re a girl that ropes good, the guys don’t like that, because they don’t want you to out rope them in their own sport,” she said.
While she is still only competing at the college level currently, Lee said she foresees a future in rodeo.
“I guess I would like to at some point get my pro card and maybe eventually hit some pro rodeos and try to make my rookie year like really good,” she said. “I just have to save some money and get some horses lined up.”