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Grandma’s last words inspire National Finals Rodeo cowboy

Her name was Peggy Harris, and she could ride a horse around the rodeo barrels like nobody’s business.

She also liked to bake.

She had four children and 13 grandchildren, and she was a breast cancer survivor. But when the virulent disease spread and she was dying of pancreatic cancer in June, the last words she spoke to her grandson Ty Harris, the National Finals Rodeo tie-down roper, were simple and prophetic:

“Go win.”

When Peggy Harris said that, Ty was ranked 47th in the world standings. He’ll begin Monday’s round —Tough Enough to Wear Pink Night, part of the campaign to raise awareness in breast cancer — in sixth place.

The last time Ty Harris tied down a calf on Pink Night at the Thomas &Mack Center, he won the round en route to being named the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s 2019 tie-down roping rookie of the year.

With Grandma, the 1959 and 1960 NFR barrel racer, sitting in the stands.

“There’s nothing I wanted more with her out there on Tough Enough to Wear Pink Night,” said the 23-year-old cowboy and former basketball point guard from the Concho Valley near San Angelo in central Texas. “It was pretty amazing.”

In the pink

To honor his grandma (and countless other cancer victims), Harris will be sporting a black shirt with pink embroidery and his horse pink boots that Ty found at a little feed store in San Angelo when the 10-round NFR reaches its halfway point Monday.

It will be a special, bittersweet night, Harris said. But no more special or bittersweet than his other rodeo days and nights since the family matriarch uttered that two-word imperative about winning.

“I’ll be honest, I feel the same way as I have all year since she passed,” Ty said ahead of placing sixth Sunday and moving up to second in the all-important NFR average. “It’s hard to go near a rodeo and not send her the videos after I ride.”

But in a way, she has been riding with him the entire way.

Harris said in lieu of presents, his grandma would give the older grandkids a $50 check on their birthdays. His was May 28, just days before she died. He took the check and a photo of him and his grandma and clipped them to the sun visor in his truck.

“It was crazy,” he said of his relentless charge up the leaderboard, “but all summer it just felt like she was with me.”

Best seat in the house

Harris, who was a district MVP for the Water Valley High basketball team on the outskirts of San Angelo before deciding to finish his high school studies at home and focus on rodeo, got off to a quick start in his third consecutive NFR by roping his calf in 7.7 seconds to earn second-place money of $21,336 on opening night.

“I feel really good, I feel sharp and I’m right where I want to be,” he said before Sunday’s go-round. “Hopefully things will keep going my way.”

But even if they don’t, he believes his grandma will be looking down on the Thomas &Mack Center arena from the best seat in the house.

“No matter how hard she was cheering for me, she was cheering for everybody else just as much,” Harris said about what he would want others to know about his grandmother, the NFR barrel racer who never baked from the same recipe twice.

“If I was 7.1, she wanted everybody else to be 7.2. She was that kind of person. She wanted everybody to do good.

“She just wanted me to do a little better.”

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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