St. Paul rodeo team wins national title
Heading into the final week of the Professional Wild Horse Racers Association's 2018 season, David Gregory's team already had the national championship secured. A 1996 North Marion High School graduate and current St. Paul resident, Gregory and his teammates Dakota and Ricky Lyons entered the WSRRA National Finals event in Winnemucca, Nev., with $17,000 in winnings, more than double that of their nearest rival.
Gregory's team could have failed to place and still walked out of the arena as the overwhelming champion. But that's not how his team won its first ever national championship. They wanted to finish 2018 on top.
"We had (the championship), but we wanted to win the actual rodeo itself," Gregory said.
And so they did.
Gregory's team took home first place at the event, marking the fifth time this year the David Gregory Team took first place, and the 13th time the team recorded a top six finish. Gregory's team won a $2,703 payout at the finals, beating out rodeo legend Jason Smith's runner-up team to bring their final season total to $19,704.
It was the cherry on top of an unforgettable season for the trio.
"It's one of the best accomplishments in sports I've ever had," said Gregory, who set the former high school discus record when he was at North Marion and went on to compete in the collegiate national championships in the discus and hammer events for Western Oregon University.
"This tops them all," Gregory said. "Just because of where we started. Our first year, we couldn't even get a horse saddled. Six years later, we're on top. It's just a lot of drive and a lot of hard work, and it pays off. This is proof that if you work hard, you're going to win."
While Gregory has been a part of the wild horse racing circuit for more than half a decade, teammates Dakota Lyons, 23, and his father Ricky Lyons have been together for less than three seasons.
A three-time national qualifier in the senior colt racing division of wild horse racing as a high schooler in Pendleton, Dakota Lyons joined the PWHRA in 2012 and qualified for the national finals in 2014 along with his father.
Dakota Lyons soon joined Gregory's team along with former teammate Philip Wurdinger and was a perfect fit as the team's rider.
"It helps that Dakota comes from a bull-riding background," Gregory said. "That helped Dakota get on and learn how to do things the right way. Saddle fast, read the horses a little bit better."
When Wurdinger split off to form his own team that left an opening for a new mugger, which Ricky Lyons filled.
"It was just good to have Ricky come in because he has so much experience, he's been doing it for 20-some years."
Ricky Lyons has been a member of the PWHRA for more than 20 years and has qualified for the National Finals Rodeo more than a dozen times.
Together, the trio had a great deal of success, finishing second to Smith in the final standings in 2017. It was the closest to a national championship any of them had gotten, but it wasn't easy. Ricky Lyons missed significant time during the season due to a broken foot, and Dakota Lyons suffered a broken leg after getting kicked by a horse, although that didn't stop him from riding in the finals.
"At the end of the season, Ricky was hinting at retirement," Gregory said. "I was like, 'We just got second. Are you sure you want to retire? Come on back.'"
"He thought about it for maybe five minutes and said 'Alright, let's do it. If we don't win it this year, I'm retired.'"
The team picked up its first win of the season at the Ranch Hand Rodeo in Winnemucca, Nev., and added five more runner-up finishes leading up to Fourth of July weekend. The team packed in as many competitions as possible, and the winnings kept pouring in.
"It was like a rodeo every weekend or two rodeos every weekend from June all the way up to September," Gregory said. "It just seemed that every run we made this year was like perfect timing. You couldn't ask for anything better the way things turned out. It was pretty amazing."
It was particularly meaningful for Ricky Lyons, who retired from competition at the height of success. And after a grueling season, Gregory and Dakota Lyons are looking forward to a little rest and relaxation of their own.
"I think it's a big relief for (Ricky)," Gregory said. "He's been at it for so long wanting to win, and Dakota wanting to help his dad win, and it finally happened."
Gregory and Dakota Lyons expect to dial back their competition for the coming season. Dakota Lyon's wife is a professional barrel racer and he is expecting to follow her in 2019. Meanwhile, Gregory is getting married in August and expects to help support his fiancé's competitive interests as well.
"We all might slow down a little bit, but right now we're just still living the high," Gregory said.