It has been a busy year for Dustin Elliott.
Not just because he has 4-year-old twins and his wife teaches high school business full time while finishing her master's degree. And not because of the ranching business he owns and runs on 600 acres in North Platte, Neb.
Elliott is a bull rider, and this year has been one he might never repeat.
The 30-year-old is the first in his sport since 2004 to qualify for the Professional Bull Riders World Finals and the National Finals Rodeo in the same year.
Each circuit is grueling, but combining both is something he doubts he'll try again.
The challenge was something he started to think about two years ago, and his commitment was sealed late last year after talking with his wife and a conversation he had with his father, Wayne, who died in a car crash a few days later in Oregon.
"That talk with my dad provided some serious motivation," said Elliott, who used the 2004 NFR to win the world bull riding championship in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.
"After I won the world championship, you couldn't knock the smile off my dad's face with a bat."
He says he thinks his father would be just as happy with what he has accomplished this year in arenas in each circuit.
In late October at the Thomas & Mack Center, Elliott won the first go-round of the PBR event and finished as the fourth-best World Finals rider by earning $97,333 in five days. He earned $147,559 in 31 PBR events.
He started the NFR on Thursday at the Thomas & Mack ranked 10th of 15 riders with $80,291.
"He loved the NFR," he said of his father, who competed in amateur rodeos in the 1970s. "The PBR Finals are cool, but nothing comes close to the NFR. He would have been real excited for me to qualify for both."
Elliott was hoping to open the 52nd annual NFR the same way he started the PBR event but fell short when he placed out of the money with a 73.0-point ride, well off the pace set by first go-round winner D.J. Domangue of Houma, La. Domangue was scored for 88.5 points on Andrew Rodeo's Black Cat before a crowd of 17,021.
But nine more NFR go-rounds are left beginning with today's at 6:45 p.m., and Elliott's intentions are to take advantage of a limited number of years left in his riding career.
What bothered him most about the year was being away from home so much. He can't recall exactly how many days he spent on the road, but knows he never was home for more than three straight days from May through September.
"That was tough on me and tougher on my wife," Elliott said. "But I'll be 31 (in April), and that's not young in bull riding years."
After he won a PRCA Xtreme Bulls event in San Antonio early this year to earn $18,000, he knew his goal to make it to both championship events at the Thomas & Mack was within reach.
"That money meant I was about one-fourth of the way getting into the NFR, and we had to try for it," Elliott said. "I might try it again next year; it depends on how I start out.
"I only have a few years left to bull ride, and we want to win enough that I can focus on the ranch, substitute teaching some during the long, cold winters and build a new house.
"And I don't plan on missing any of my kids' T-ball games."
Contact reporter Jeff Wolf at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0247. Go to lvrj.com/rodeo for more news.