Eleven time world champion in barrel racing Charmayne James competes in the ERA Premier Tour at Tingley Coliseum on Friday.
(Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal.)
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Rodeo may rust a bit, but it never dies.
So while Charmayne James, barrel racing’s first million dollar cowgirl and one of New Mexico’s most accomplished professional athletes, was retired from professional rodeo for the better part of the past decade, it wasn’t exactly like she forgot what she was doing.
“No, it never really leaves you,” said James, 45, who grew up in Clayton.
The 11-time world champion got back on the saddle in March, joining the ERA Premier Tour this season.
ERA Premier Tour, Tingley Coliseum, 6 p.m. meet and greet (fans and athletes); 7:30 p.m. competition begins (7 events)
Her return to the sport brought with it this week a return to New Mexico, where she took eighth place in the barrel racing competition Friday night at Tingley Coliseum with a time of 14.45. She and all the ERA cowboys and cowgirls will be back for another ride tonight, including bull riding, steer wrestling, ream roping and other traditional rodeo events.
Lisa Lockhart of Oelrichs, S.D., won Friday’s barrel racing event with a time of 14.09. Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi (14.20) was second, while 10-year-old sensation Chayni Champberlain of Stephenville, Texas, tied with Sarah Rose McDonald of Brunswick, Ga., for third (14.27).
But it was James, the most decorated rider in the history of the sport who spent much of the day teaching clinics for young girls at the New Mexico State Fairgrounds, who got the event’s loudest ovation from the New Mexico crowd.
James’ legend grew from the small northeast New Mexico town of Clayton, where at the age of 12, she and her father bought a horse named Scamper. By the age of 13, James and Scamper turned pro and by the age of 14, the duo won the first of 10-consecutive WPRA World Barrel Racing Championships at the National Finals Rodeo between 1984 and 1993.
She won another world title in 2002 on a horse named Cruiser.
“It was all because of Scamper, the horse I won 10 of them on,” James said of her decorated career. “Well, everyone said it was the horse, so I wanted to prove I could ride and do good enough, so I trained another horse, won another world championship and retired.”
It certainly wasn’t all just the horse. James qualified for a record 19 consecutive National Finals Rodeos and was the sports first woman to total more than $1 million in career earnings.
Now, she’s riding Grasshoppper, a horse she raised and trained at her home in Boerne, Texas. But she certainly hasn’t forgotten her New Mexico roots.
“I just think that New Mexico has very humble people – very grounded people,” James said. “I come from a hard-working background – ranching industry. So when I think of New Mexico, that’s what I think of. That’s what I know. … And the people in Clayton were so supportive of me throughout my career. They really helped shape me somewhat to who I am.”
James helps adds the “legend” cred to the upstart ERA Premier Tour that her husband, Tony Garritano, holds the title of CEO and president.
ERA dubs itself as a “League of Champions” tour that was “created with rodeo fans in mind.”
It is a 15-event tour from March 25 through Oct. 8 that sets up a Nov. 9-13 World Championship event in Dallas. The tour has partnered with Fox Sports and each event is broadcast, though not live, on the FS2 cable network.
“It’s really about creating a product within the market that wasn’t there,” said Garritano. “The ERA provides that product. It’s about showing the best guys in the world on one stage throughout one regular-season tour that’s on television, nationally, from the beginning of a season to the end.”
James said the ERA’s format is less rigorous than a traditional rodeo on the animals, cowboys and cowgirls involved, which allowed her to return to the sport without giving up her lifestyle as a mom and businesswoman.
Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that she’s still having fun.
“I really just love doing this,” James said.