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Leading a double life
by Damian Tromerhauser
Dec 26, 2012 | 3340 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune file photo — TJ McCauley, a senior at Spanish Springs, is currently leading the Cougars to a solid boys basketball season. During the other nine months of the year, he is a nationally-ranked rodeo star based out of Oregon.
Tribune file photo — TJ McCauley, a senior at Spanish Springs, is currently leading the Cougars to a solid boys basketball season. During the other nine months of the year, he is a nationally-ranked rodeo star based out of Oregon.
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Many children spend their childhood years dreaming of becoming a professional athlete. Whether it is on the football field, basketball court or baseball diamond, for some kids the dream of one day making it to the pros stays alive through their high school years. For TJ McCauley, that dream has already come true before he has even donned a cap and gown to celebrate his high school graduation.

In mid-October, just a few weeks after he turned 18, McCauley earned his professional rodeo card in team roping, which in turn made him a fully licensed professional. It was a goal that McCauley had been working toward since he was wearing cowboy boots too big for his toddler feet.

As far back as McCauley can remember, rodeo has been a part of his life. From the time he was in diapers and could walk, he has been riding horses and swinging a rope. Now a rodeo pro and well beyond his diaper days, the life of the rodeo is as big a part of McCauley’s life as ever.

“It’s been a part of my life for a really long time,” McCauley said. “When I was in diapers, I was riding horses.  I was really successful at a really young age, so it kind of showed me my future and what I was going to be able to do. It’s amazing I get to do something that I love and can still make a living at.

“I don’t really know how to put it. It’s something that I’ve loved since I was tiny. I grew up with it being around me and I grew up doing it. It’s just a sport that I love to do. It’s something you live and breathe, and I’ve lived and breathed it since I was in diapers. It has a place in your heart that doesn’t go away.”

Nine months out of the year, the world of rodeo consumes McCauley’s life as he travels to different events throughout the West. For the other three months on the calendar, McCauley likes to step away from the rodeo arena and take some time to himself. That does not mean he is resting up and taking things easy though.

During his three months away from rodeo, McCauley joins the Spanish Springs High School boys basketball team just in time for its season. The sport is kind of a hobby for McCauley in his time off from the rodeo.

“It’s been that way since like third grade. Those three months are my off-months,” he said. “I don’t have rodeo these three months. There’s probably 10 or 15 rodeos I could go to if I wasn’t playing basketball, but I like to think this is my off time. With that time I like to play ball and have fun and try to be a kid a little more.”

While rodeo has always been McCauley’s first love, basketball is a close second.

“I’ve never been really good at it, but I always thought I’ve been okay at it. It’s always been a sport that I’ve always loved,” McCauley said. “Even when we go to the rodeos, I still go find a hoop somewhere with a bunch of the kids and we’ll get pickup games going at the rodeo. It’s always been a sport that I’ve enjoyed playing.

“I’ve been playing with this group of guys at Spanish Springs for two years and it just makes it fun. It makes you want to keep playing and keep coming back. In a way it’s almost like rodeo, just not as big a part of my life. There’s always been a spot in my heart where I want to play basketball.”

Although both sports are on opposite sides of the spectrum, McCauley has excelled at both. McCauley has many rodeo titles and winnings to his name, including the all-around competition at the Elks Youth Rodeo in Sheridan, Wyo. this past August that netted prizes including a one-year lease on a brand new Ford F-250 pickup truck and a three-stall horse trailer. Last year, he and his team roping partner took a $95,060 purse at the Bob Feist Invitational in Reno. Through 10 games on the hardwood, McCauley has helped the Cougars to an 8-2 mark overall and a 4-1 record in High Desert League play as he has averaged 15.9 points and 6.9 rebounds a game.

McCauley said both sports benefit him when he makes the switch from one to the other.

“I was never really good at the mental game in basketball very much. I always tried to out-jump somebody or out-shoot somebody, but this year it’s kind of slowed down for me,” he said. “I’ve always had the mental game pretty much covered in rodeo and it always came easy to me. In basketball you have to depend on four other guys instead of just yourself. So I think from rodeo I’ve learned to be a little more patient with basketball.

“The mindset is night and day different. I had to kind of adapt a little bit to high school basketball a little bit more because I’ve dealt with going as fast you can, all the time, and that’s what team roping is: fastest time wins. So it doesn’t do you any good to just take your time and make sure you’re doing it right. At the free-throw line though, you have to gather your thoughts, calm down and make sure you make it. It’s definitely different. It’s a hard transition, but I think that’s the fun part. That’s what has helps me and makes me what I am today. It’s just sharpened my skills.”

With the basketball season a third of the way done, McCauley will soon be back chasing his dreams as a rodeo cowboy and his ultimate goal of winning 10 gold buckles (world championships). With the amount of success he has had, he may well be on his way, but he isn’t getting ahead of himself.

“You try not to think too much into it,” he said. “It can kind of get out of hand sometimes if you start lifting your head up and seeing what other people think of you. I’ve tried to keep my head down and tried to keep getting better everyday. That’s the goal for me. If you want to be the best, you have to work hard every day. You can’t take any days off, so I try not to lift my head up very often.”
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