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By Alexa Major
(Casper, Wyoming) Tamara Tunink, a 2012 graduate of Fowler High School, claimed the National Championship Breakaway Title at the College National Finals Rodeo held June 14-20 in Casper, Wyoming.
Tunink, a junior agricultural business major, represented Western Texas College of Snyder, Texas, in her first visit to the CNFR. Placing second within the top three to qualify from the Southwest Region, Tunink won the Vernon College rodeo held in October, and gained points at six of the other nine regional rodeos.
Arriving in Casper, Tamara said her plan for the week was simple – catch her three long-go calves as quick as possible. After posting a time of 2.6 in the first round to place eighth, Tunink came back in the second round with a 3.1 to continue following her plan. A stronger calf in the third round caused Tunink to be longer than she had hoped, posting a time of 3.4 seconds.
"The calves got stronger each round," Tunink said. "My second and third calves ran harder and went right. I just made sure to take my first shot on each of them."
Although Tamara didn't have the quick times she was hoping for, her average time of 5.7 on three head was good enough to qualify her for the Short Round tied for second and third place – a viable spot to realistically win a National Championship.
"Going into the Short Round, I felt a little discouraged - like I was behind," Tamara said of her position heading into the final round. "All I did was focus on the start. I couldn't be late and I couldn't be too early, and everything after that would come together."
Come together, indeed. Tunink walked in the box and smiled at fellow competitor Lauren Bane of Tarleton State as she prepared to run her final calf. She said she was pleased with the calf she had drawn and knew everything would work out if she made sure to start at the right time.
The "start" is determined by a rope barrier strung in front of the roping box that ensures the stock an allotted head start. Leaving too early causes the barrier to break, resulting in a ten-second penalty – something Tunink knew she couldn't afford.
As the cowgirl nodded her head and exited the box, it was evident she had seen the start perfectly. Within a short distance from the box, Tamara and her horse Honey Pie came to a stop, with a roped calf in front of them. A run of 2.8 seconds moved Tunink to the lead with two competitors left. These two competitors were the only two who could move Tamara from the first place position.
Kimberlyn Fitch of Idaho State University had tied Tunink in the average, and was the next competitor out. Fitch took a great start, but then disappointingly missed her calf. That left only one competitor – Kirby Crouse of Missouri Valley College - between Tamara and a National Championship Title.
"I was super nervous when Kirby walked into the box," Tunink said. "I was just telling God that I had committed my works to Him, and kept asking Him to let my plans succeed."
Crouse came out of the box and it was apparent that something was not right. Off-balance, the cowgirl and her horse sped by their calf in a disappointing turn of events. As the Missouri Valley sophomore left the arena, one thing was clear – Tamara Tunink was the 2015 College National Finals Breakaway Roping Champion.
"I was in shock," Tunink said. "I couldn't believe it. It was surreal. It didn't hit me until Monday morning lying in bed looking at Facebook. That's truly making it real."
While Tunink's Facebook page was active with congratulatory comments and various videos of her championship run, she is also enjoying the brand new Cactus saddle, Maynard buckle, BEX sunglasses and cap, Cinch gear, and a $1,750 scholarship. She additionally will enjoy roughly $2,100 in award money.
"It was awesome," Tamara said of winning her first National Championship. "This has taken a lot of hard work, practice and dedication. My favorite part, though, was when we ate dinner at Olive Garden the next day and my friend had them sing 'Happy National Championship' to me."
With people such as her parents, Tim and Heidi Tunink, and "second-parents" Mike and Lorie Diodosio to thank for helping her get to this level, Tunink is also thankful for her main partner – Honey Pie.
"She's super obnoxious and has a 'bad attitude' about life," Tunink said of her 11-year-old mare, "but she does her job and I love her to death."
Purchasing Dynamite Chant, "Honey," from Derek and Audra Reeves as a heel horse five years ago, Tunink is responsible for all of the breakaway training on the mare – something that has obviously paid off. It is clear when watching the pair together that they have a bond most horsemen find with only one special horse in their lifetime.
Along with being a tough roper, Tamara is also a woman of great faith, having said that she rodeos by the verse Proverbs 16:3 – "your actions to the LORD, and your plans will succeed." She said this verse helped to diminish the nerves and uneasiness a large competition such as the CNFR would usually cause.
"I didn't have anything to be nervous about – God had told me two weeks earlier that I had nothing to worry about, so I just went out there and roped," Tunink said. God did indeed allow her plans to succeed, and Tunink will continue to rodeo and live by that verse. She said she hopes to finish out the summer rodeoing in the Colorado Professional Rodeo Association, where she will also enter the team roping, and then plans to attend Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, in the fall. While at Tech, Tamara will continue her college rodeo career and chase after an additional National Championship Title for 2016.