When Caleb Smidt married Brenna Byler six years ago, he couldn’t have imagined the journey that their lives would take or the impact that his wife’s family would have on his life.
Of course, there were the typical plans for their future. Those plans included family members from both sides of the union. The plans didn’t include loss on both sides that would change them forever. But the result is a union that is filled with faith, love and commitment that goes beyond the typical wedding vows. It has all been heavily tested in the past year.
At last year’s NFR, the stands were filled with family members cheering for Caleb, the 2015 world champion tie-down roper, and steer wrestler Rowdy Parrott. On October 17th, 2015 Rowdy married Lynette Byler, Brenna Smidt’s sister.
So, the Byler family was here cheering for Caleb and Rowdy. That family included their wives, their in-laws and brother-in-law, Will Byler and his fiancée Bailee Ackerman. Caleb’s family was also represented including his father, Randy, who had been fighting cancer for two years.
Randy Smidt knew that last year’s NFR would be his last in the Thomas and Mack Center. At the time, Caleb did not. They didn’t want the news to have an impact on his competition in Las Vegas so after the NFR they told Caleb of his dad’s prognosis. On January 20th of 2018, Randy Smidt left this earth.
“He wouldn’t miss it if he could get out of bed,” Caleb said of his dad being here last year. “He loved roping and getting to come here was always a big deal for him.”
Randy’s love of roping was something that he passed on to Caleb and his brother, Aaron. With the passing of his father, who had been one of his biggest fans and part of Caleb’s support system, he depended on his wife’s family even more.
Hours of practice saw Caleb’s father-in-law, Bill Byler, turning out calves, working the arena, spending time helping his son-in-law with anything he could. Bill has been important to Caleb since he and Brenna got married, but that relationship deepened with the loss of Caleb’s father.
His 2018 season got off to a slow start. It wasn’t until February 20th that he was inside the top 20 in the world standings. When he left for the summer rodeos, Brenna and their two-year-old son, Cru Tatum, loaded up and went with him. Colorado was good to him in July. He won the Greeley Independence Stampede and the Rooftop Rodeo in Estes Park. Then in August, he won the Dodge City (Kansas) Roundup. He moved up to ninth in the world standings and finished the regular season in eighth place to get here.
Caleb did much of that winning without his trusty horse Pockets. That big bay has been Caleb’s go-to mount for most of the past five years. Pockets had an abscess in his foot, so Caleb took his shoes off and turned him out. He got a break from the road and some well-deserved pasture time.
When Caleb came home at the end of the regular season, Brenna was pregnant with their second child, Pockets was fat and happy and the family was anticipating the wedding of Brenna’s brother Will.
Will was a student at Sam Houston State University and was part of their rodeo team. He qualified for the College National Finals Rodeo in 2017 in the steer wrestling. On November 4th, he married the love of his life Bailee Ackerman. It was by all accounts a fairytale wedding and a union that was founded in a faith in God that surpassed all things on this earth.
The fairytale on earth ended when Will and Bailee were killed along with their pilot in a helicopter crash on their wedding night. The fairytale in heaven was just beginning and that has kept this family going.
Bailee was selected as one of the flag girls for this year’s NFR. Will would have been in the stands watching his new bride ride around the Thomas and Mack Arena and cheering for his brother-in-law. Their friends and family believe that they are angels among us.
That came into evidence on November 12th when Brenna went into labor two weeks early. Myla Pearle arrived healthy and that turned into a blessing. Her arrival gave her extra time to be ready for the NFR. Brenna, Cru and Myla arrived in Las Vegas in time to get picked up from the airport and get ready to watch Caleb rope in the first round.
Caleb was the eighth tie-down roper to compete. With Pockets feeling good, his family and friends in the stands and angels surrounding them, Caleb stopped the clock in 7.6 seconds. He had to wait through the next seven ropers to see where he would place. He finished at the top of the leaderboard for the first round and got to take the victory lap.
“I was just thinking that Bailee was supposed to be there leading me around the arena,” he said. “That victory lap was a bit of a blur, but it felt really good to get that first round behind me.”
After the media interviews, phone calls and texts, reuniting with family, it was time to go to the South Point Hotel and Casino for the go-round buckle presentation. With the whole family on stage, Caleb took the microphone and gave the buckle to his father-in-law.
“This family has been through so much,” he said. “When I won the round, I was hoping that I could bring them some happiness. They are amazing.”
The Byler family and the Smidts have chosen not to focus on their losses. They have put one foot in front of the other since the tragedy and found joy in every possible place. Most importantly they have found peace in knowing that Will and Bailee’s faith in God has them together in heaven where they were called to a higher purpose and that Randy was there to welcome them with open arms.
For the next nine nights in the Thomas and Mack Center, there will be signs in the stands for Caleb “Holy Smidt” and more importantly for Will and Bailee and the family “God is Still Good.” It’s not just a hashtag for social media or a sign for recognition. It is a strong belief and a testament to the faith and love that this family exhibits not just through tragedy, but on a daily basis.