First, they did something that no one else could ever claim and then they went and topped it.
Ponoka’s Levi Simpson and his team roping partner Jeremy Buhler from Arrowwood made rodeo history twice at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas — initially as the first ever all-Canadian team roping pair at the event, then they went out and nearly ran the table to become the first all-Canadian team to walk off with the World Championship title.
The pair had just one no-time in the ten go-round event that ran from Dec. 1 to 10, picking up cheques on seven of those runs. That included winning on opening night and splitting the first and second place money on two other nights, one of which was in that crucial final go-round. It was that final cheque that lifted them to top spot in the average and it was that payout of a little more than $67,000 each that pushed them to championship status.
Simpson would wind up with just over $249,000 in earnings for the season while Buhler sat at over $258,000.
“It was really quite the experience,” Simpson said in a phone interview from Las Vegas two days after the win, who still couldn’t comprehend what had happened.
“We just wanted to come down here for our first time and try our thing, hope to do good, have some fun and figure out how things worked. I figured that would help us if we got the chance to come back next year.”
Even the pair’s win on opening night didn’t really give Simpson any feeling that being the champions was possible.
“It really didn’t do much. My goal was to just try and win one gold go-round buckle,” he said.
Although, that first win did give Simpson an idea they might have a shot at winning the average title, in the end they did just that and it helped them walk off as world champs.
“Each night, I’d get back to the hotel afterwards and put it all down to some good runs, taking each night as it comes and figuring the other teams are so good that it might be only a matter of time,” he stated.
“But that good luck just kept getting stacked up and then the last few days, it was holy man this is way more than we expected. We were in the top three or four in the average and I thought we had a chance at finishing in the top three or four overall.”
However, Simpson didn’t know how close they were as he avoided looking at the world standings throughout the event in order to stay focused on each performance. Even entering the final day, he didn’t believe they could be on top.
“Those other teams rope so good, it was going to take all of the stars to line up for us, so I never even considered that it was possible,” he said, adding the title of world champ has yet to sink in.
“It’s still unbelievable. Year after year you battle and to simply fulfill my goal of qualifying this year was what I thought was my biggest accomplishment, so to do what has taken previous champions a long time to do, winning is something I thought was almost out of reach.”
Capturing the ultimate goal in rodeo for Simpson, while a personal triumph that he and Buhler have both worked hard to earn, the fact he can now share it all with his family and friends is something even more precious.
“We both worked really hard all season and I just wanted to say thank you to my family and friends who also sacrificed a lot in order for us to reach our goals,” Simpson said.
Simpson/Buhler NFR results
Round 1 - 1st, 4.4 seconds; Round 2 - 6th place 4.9 seconds; Round 3 - 7th, 9 seconds; Round 4 - 6th split, 9.4 seconds; Round 5 - 1st/2nd split, 4 seconds; Round 6 - 8th, 9.3 seconds; Round 7 - 2nd/3rd split, 4.3 seconds; Round 8 - no time; Round 9 - 4th, 4.6 seconds; Round 10 - 1st/2nd split, 4.3 seconds.