Tonganoxie As the sun sets on the McGraw farm just outside Tonganoxie, the lights of a homemade rodeo arena shine. Dust from the hooves of horses hangs in midair while a steer stands ready in the chute. Travis McGraw sits on horseback awaiting the release. The chute opens, their target runs and the team roping pair of McGraw and Troy Gorrell do what they've trained to do. Gorrell ropes the head; McGraw ropes the feet.
In one way or another, rodeo is an all-day, every-day activity for Angela and Travis McGraw. This weekend, their fellow Tonganoxie residents get the chance to see the fruits of their labor at The Shrine Rodeo.
"The competition is the thrill of it," Angela said. "It's kind of like Bungee jumping. Some people like to do that because it's 'Wow.' That's kind of how rodeo is for us."
For Angela, barrel racing is a life-long passion. She began working with horses at age 3 with her mother and grandmother. Over that time, she's developed a feel for horses that borders on telepathic. Now, she competes on the professional and amateur levels and is the barrel racing director of the United Rodeo Association.
Angela will spend this weekend competing in two events, The Shrine Rodeo and the National Barrel Racing Association's Kansas State Championship.
This weekend's hectic schedule is just one example of how the McGraw's spend their summer weekends on the road and in the rodeo.
"It takes a lot of time," Angela said. "It takes a lot of effort, and it takes a lot of time to get your horse in tip-top shape."
Rodeo's hold on the McGraws' free time also takes hold of their wallets. As fuel prices increase, the price of making the trip to rodeos gets higher and higher. That, coupled with an increase in feed prices, makes rodeo an increasingly expensive past time.
"It's no different than someone going to work," Travis said. "You're going to go to work, and you're going to get paid a certain amount. But all your expenses of going to and from work have doubled right now. It's the same for us except inflated because we have more of a cost with feed."
The McGraws bring in some money on the rodeo circuit, but rodeo provides other things for their family that can't be measured in nickels and dimes. Their young son Trevor travels with them, and gets the experience of growing up in the family atmosphere of rodeo competition, Gorrell said. He, too, was raised in the rodeo arena.
"I've been brought up through rodeo since I was a little kid," Gorrell said. "My parents went. I had a sister that rodeoed as well, and if it wasn't for rodeo, there's no telling what I'd be into."
Travis and Gorrell, who also compete at the professional and amateur levels, will attempt to give Trevor a good show Saturday night when they get their chance to compete. Their ability to trust one another and get over adversity together helps them work well together, Travis said.
Win or lose, this weekend marks the beginning of another rodeo summer for the McGraws, and they wouldn't have it any other way.