Good luck trying not to like steer wrestler Straws Milan if you ever get the chance to meet him.
I mean, really, try not to like the guy. You can’t do it.
I expected the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo’s lone Canadian contestant to have a long face after another fruitless round that left him as just one of three participants without a check through eight rounds. I anticipated a tough interview and for him to be at least a wee bit ornery when he came to see me in the Wrangler NFR press room after his 9.9-second run on Canadian Night.
But the 250-pounder from Cochrane, Alberta, was nothing close to a sourpuss. You would have thought the first-time qualifier had won $50,000 and was the average leader heading into Round 9.
Maybe his personable and friendly disposition was the result of a Wrangler NFR rookie just being happy to have the chance to compete in Las Vegas. Maybe it was because he’s had the chance to carry the Canadian flag in the grand entry every night.
Maybe it was because he’s just a good guy.
I think it is a combination of all of the above, and I was happy to meet the 27-year-old bulldogger. I asked Milan about the burden of being the lone Canadian in this year’s Wrangler NFR field and the joy of carrying the Canadian flag into the Thomas & Mack Center each night during the opening festivities.
“It’s definitely an honor, and you want to do well to represent your country,” said Milan, whose brothers, Baillie and Tanner, are also PRCA cowboys. “There’s a little bit of pressure, I guess. The first night (carrying the flag) was awesome. It’s my first time here, and getting to carry the flag tonight on Canada Night was pretty awesome, too.”
Milan has had a nightmarish Finals thus far, with a no-time, two runs of more than 10 seconds and a 4.7-second run as his fastest of the event. He made no excuses about what has transpired, chalking his woes up to them just being a part of rodeo.
“At the start of it, I was late every time I went and wasn’t getting a good start,” said Milan, who is riding Wade Sumpter’s horse Two Guns at the Wrangler NFR. “I’ve started to get them now and have started to draw a little better, too. It hasn’t been terrible, but there are definitely some better (steers) in there than what I’ve had.”
Seven-time Finals bulldogger K.C. Jones gave Milan a nice pep talk earlier this week.
“He said, ‘Don’t get down on yourself. There’s a reason you’re here. You’re one of the best in the world,’” said Milan, who followed his father, Murry, into steer wrestling.
Milan put together a great 2013 regular season, winning big-time rodeos at Fort Worth, Texas, and Cody, Wyo., and entering the Finals 12th in the PRCA standings. It was an eye-opening campaign that has given him confidence going forward.
“This year, I concentrated a lot more on coming to rodeos down here (in the United States) and spending a lot of time at these rodeos,” Milan said. “It’s been a big boost, for sure, and I feel like I belong.”
Just having the chance to compete at the Wrangler NFR has been a thrill for Milan.
“It’s unbelievable and a dream come true,” Milan said. “It was a lot of hard work, but this beats everything. This is where everybody wants to be in December.
“It hasn’t been going well, but I know there are 200 other guys who wish they were here. So, I’m just really happy to be here. I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else.”
Despite his troubles, Milan still has high hopes for the final two rounds.
“Hopefully, I can win the next two rounds and get out of here with some money,” he said.
With his positive attitude and an easy smile he offers quite freely, and considering he is living a dream competing in his first Wrangler NFR, I feel confident in saying Milan has already won.