The Amazing Mary Walker

When the grand entry begins Dec. 6 for Round 1 of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo at the Thomas & Mack Center, you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone happier or more emotional about the event than barrel racer Mary Walker.

There will be several contestants there competing in their first Wrangler NFRs, but Walker is different. For her, that first ride into the bright lights at the “Super Bowl of Rodeo” will be the culmination of more than 30 years of toiling, of living through a crippling heartbreak and of recovering from a life-changing injury.

There likely will be tears streaming down her face and in the eyes of those in the crowd who know and love her. Because Mary Walker, at 53, will be competing in her first Finals just more than a year after suffering through two of the most tragic events of her life.

Barrel racer Mary Walker is a lock to make her first appearance at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo this December after a nightmarish year in 2011.

On April 23, 2011, the PRCA Gold Card member was faced with every parent’s No. 1 horror – the loss of a child. Her beloved son, Reagon, died in an auto accident at the age of 21, leaving her and husband, 1981 World Champion Steer Wrestler Byron Walker, reeling and mourning.

“You don’t ever think that’ll happen to you, and then when it does happen, it’s just horrible,” Mary Walker said. “It’s the worst nightmare a parent could ever have. If it wasn’t for family and friends, I don’t know if we would have made it through.”

If that wasn’t devastating enough, less than two months later, Walker suffered the worst injury of her long career. While riding her new bay horse Latte, the horse slipped as the two were going around the final barrel at a rodeo in Crosby, Texas, on June 10 and fell hard – on her.

Walker broke her pelvis, her hip in three places, two vertebrae and a pair of toes in the fall and underwent surgery in Houston the next day. Doctors used eight plates and 11 pins to stabilize her hip, and Walker faced a long and daunting rehabilitation process.

In a two-month period, both her heart and body had been broken.

Rather than lie down and wither away, Walker chose to fight and to work to heal both her heart and body. She went through three months of grueling rehab and was confined to a wheelchair for four months.

To say it was a rough time would be the understatement of understatements.

“There were several low points,” she said. “When I had my surgery, they took me off all my rheumatoid arthritis medication. They hadn’t put me back on it, and I had a major setback with my arthritis. At that time, I couldn’t move and Byron was lifting me up and down into a wheelchair, into the bed and everywhere.

“There were times I thought, ‘I’m never going to be able to ride again. I’m never going to be able to be a person again.’ You have all those thoughts that run through your head, but you have to talk yourself out of it. You have to say, ‘Hey, I could be worse.’”

Walker leaned on the broad shoulders of Byron, who is a world champion husband in addition to being a world champion bulldogger.

“I don’t know how I made it through it, and I don’t know how (Byron) made it through it,” Walker said. “We took it day by day, and I guess that’s all you can do. We still do. Some days are better than others, and some are not good. You’ve got to just keep yourself picked up.”

Her strong network of family and friends, Dr. Kyle Dickson and a dedicated rehab team also helped Walker get through the ordeal.

“I did know I’d be able to walk again, but if I was going to ride again was up to me. My doctor encouraged me. He said, ‘You’re fixed, but you just have to have faith that you’ll be fine. It’s up to what’s between your ears how you’ll come out of it.’”

Walker completed her rehab – which was specifically designed with the goal of getting her back on a horse in the forefront – in December and set her sights on 2012. While nervous about getting back to competition, Walker got back on the horse – literally – that she’d fallen with the June before.

“The horse kind of encouraged me,” she said. “It was like he was saying, ‘Here I am just standing out here. Are you just going to let me stand here, or are you going to get back on and ride?’”

And ride, she did.

Latte and Walker began clicking, and by mid-May she had a feeling the duo was capable of something great this year.

“I went to Guymon and placed on my first run, and then I came back and won the second round and second in the average,” Walker said. “I said then, ‘You know, I can run with these girls. I have a nice enough horse, and we’ve got to get out there and try and see if it works.’ Gosh, it has!”

Walker watched in amazement and wonder as her name kept climbing up the WPRA ranks week by week.

“I’ve just been creeping and creeping up the ladder,” she said. “You’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, I think I can get into the Top 15.’ Then I went to 13th, then to ninth, then to seventh. I won Nampa and won Cheyenne, and the next thing I know, I’m in fourth.

“I look at it every day, because I can’t believe I’m in fourth. And I’m still going. My horse is good and sound and feels good, so I’ll keep going.”

Mary Walker did something her husband, 1981 World Champion Steer Wrestler Byron Walker, was unable to do: win Cheyenne. (Photo courtesy of Fred McClanahan Jr.)

Ahh, Cheyenne.

Despite all his exploits, Byron Walker never won “The Daddy of ‘em All,” finishing second in Cheyenne six times. His wife and her 8-year-old horse decided the family had gone long enough without a title at the famed Wyoming rodeo.

Walker and Latte won the first round by two-tenths of a second and claimed the average by six-tenths of a second after winning the final run in 17.20 seconds. Her final-round run almost ended in disaster after Latte tipped the second barrel. The white cylinder teetered nearly halfway down, then resettled itself back in standing position and Walker was the champion and $16,185 richer.

“It was wild,” she said. “After my first run, I knew he’d be good (there) and that he’d be better on his second run. When they called out that time, I just burst into tears. I was like, ‘I just won Cheyenne!’

“What a year! I still get goose bumps and chills just thinking about it and how awesome it was. No words can explain it. It was just awesome.”

Mary Walker celebrated her Cheyenne victory with her husband Byron (second from right) and gave him — a six-time runner up at “The Daddy of ’em All” — the buckle. (Photo courtesy of Dan Hubbell)

Walker firmly believes she wasn’t riding Latte by herself that sunny day in Cheyenne.

“When the second barrel got tipped and went halfway down, but came back up, I said, ‘Thank you Reagon. Thank you,’” Walker said. “(Reagon) hated it, but I used to make him run barrels so he could get all-around points, and he finally said, ‘Mom, I’m not running barrels anymore.’

“So, we laughed, because we said he had to run barrels with me (in Cheyenne). He hates every minute of it, but he’s sitting right there and taking care of me.”

With more than $93,000 in earnings and a top-five ranking, Walker is a lock for this year’s Finals. December just can’t get here fast enough.

“I just can’t wait to get there to that arena and ride in that grand entry,” she said. “People say that, when you ride in that grand entry, then you know you’re there.”

And she won’t be alone.

30 thoughts on “The Amazing Mary Walker

  1. You are Amazing….You are so Blessed with an Amazing Husband a Wonderful Guardian Angel in your son….and let’s certainly not forget Latte….God Bless U and Your Crew..and Google Luck….I will be watching and rooting for you….

  2. You are Amazing….You are so Blessed with an Amazing Husband a Wonderful Guardian Angel in your son….and let’s certainly not forget Latte….God Bless U and Your Crew..and Good Luck….I will be watching and rooting for you….

  3. My best friend Reijan Pickens ( World Champion Womens Bullrider) an numerious of championships in Barrel Racing history herself from Kiowa Oklahoma was the breeder of Latte. She called me up an said : Shirl are you ready to go to the NFR, I said Heck yea, Welp that Baby horse that once was mine made it! She was so excited for Latte an Mary, been rough for them these past years, but Faith an God is getting them there. We can’t wait to see ya”ll not only fulfill ya”lls dream but ours too!

  4. People like Mary make us all realize that all things are possible with faith, hope,and courage. This story that is unfolding, must be made into a Movie. I feel you will be the 2012 World Champion Barrel Racer. Give God the reins and all things are possible! Renee Cook-Riggers

  5. What an incredible story and inspiration you are…and now, after 2 rounds, AND, 2 wins…AMAZING!!! I was rooting for you b/c you are near my age and it is just great to have a more mature barrel racer at the NFR, but after reading your story, not only will I be rooting for you, I will be praying for you!! God has you in his hands…Enjoy the Ride!!

  6. This is a wonderful story–I get so emotional; Mary really “cowgirl-ed up”–Bless her heart, and her husband is a true hero to encourage her–that is LOVE. And what a treat to find this blog on WP! I invite you to visit me at Caddo Veil, if you like poetry. God bless you–love, Caddo

  7. You are certainly an inspiration to all! God is with you and it is clear that dreams can come true! Thank you for sharing your story with everyone,you are a very brave person !!Stay strong!!!

  8. We are all cheering for you up here in Canada, Mary & Latte! You are both amazing. Your story – all you’ve lost and battled through is such a great inspiration. Keep it going!

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  10. Your story brought tears to my eyes… I also broke my hip and pelvis in a horse accident. I have 16 permanent pins and plates in my hip to this day. The recovery was hard, and not knowing if you’ll ride again is even harder. I am so very blessed that I could continue in my lifestyle and blessed as a new mom. I cannot imagine your pain in losing your son, but he is with you every run. You are such an inspiration and we will be praying and rooting fo you every night!!

  11. Love your story! A true story of faith, hope and courage. It is those life changing events that truley molds us. Cheering for you and Latte from Tyler, Texas.

  12. Where have I been? Just read your story!! Wow! Amazing that God was able to take your heart ache and turn it into an amazing ride. What ever clouds you face today, ask Jesus, the light of the world to help you look behind the cloud to see His glory and His plans for you. ( Billy Graham) Good Luck!

  13. Miss Mary….I met you up in Flaggstaff, Az. You were on your way to Prescott Rodeo and I was doing my “kids camp”. You and your husband came in the middle of the night and borrowed one of my stalls. Remember me….I have the Oakey Dokey Dale gelding. You were wonderful to visit with and very humble….when I saw your interview at the NFR…I almost fell out of my chair…..OMG…that is HER!! I remember you telling me about having your pro card since 83 but never been to NFR. Girl…..look at you now!! Winning the world….who wouldve thunk it….LOL……I have ridden every round with you… happy….could not have happened to a more deserving lady. Really enjoyed your insight on the “Dokes”…I sure love mine….we just one a saddle the other day. 😉

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  15. Everybody talks about how tuff cowboys are ! Well I say, how about this cowgirl !!! Mary’s story will inspire so many people and all because she got back at it and made it to the world stage for cowboys and cowgirls !!! Way to go Mary !! NEVER EVER GIVE UP !!!!!!

  16. Hi Mary! My husband and I just watched you win the championship at 2012 Wrangler National Finals!!! Congratulations! What a ride…we watched and listened to you being interviewed and googled your bio. You are such an inspiration and encouragement to both of us! Stay close to God through Christ always…blessings your way!

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  18. Mary walker you are amazing!! i want to suceed in life just like you did! i am a beginner barrel racer but i have confidence just like you do!! you are my roll model i am your biggest fan!! my biggest dream/wish is to meet you (:

  19. God bless you Mary Walker! What an inspiration you are to so many people! Congratulations and keep up the good work! You are in our thoughts and prayers and we will continue to cheer you on! Yes remember when you ride your precious angel will be by your side helping you shine!! Go girl! Ride cowgirl ride! Thanks for keeping the faith and for being such an inspiration to us all!!

  20. Mary you are a wonderful person.I am sorry for the loss of your son.I also lost my son in a car wreck, he was just 23.You will never get over it,I hope God blesses you as he has me.You never get over it but God will make it a little easier each day.I will send my prayers.I love watching you ride.

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