In a sport full of pretty unique characters, Bridger Chambers certainly stands out.
First off, at 6 feet 5 inches, he’s one of the tallest cowboys on the PRCA circuit. And yes, he played basketball too. In fact, he’s believed to be the only athlete to compete in the NAIA national championship basketball tournament and the College National Finals Rodeo in the same year, as a senior at the University of Montana Western in 2012.
Second, he spent a year as a special education teacher after graduating from Montana Western.
Third, he and his dad Keith have run a drug dog business together for the past five years.
“The dogs search for contraband. They can detect any illicit drug,” Bridger said, specifically citing illegal drugs, prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications. “Our biggest clients are schools. We’re just trying to keep that stuff off campuses.”
So throughout the year – mostly from September to May, since schools are the main customer – dad and son will make upwards of 500 visits all across the state of Montana and beyond.
“Montana’s a big state, so there’s a lot of driving involved,” Bridger said. “We drive all over the state, into the western Dakotas and into Wyoming a little bit. The business is just the two of us.”
Obviously, there’s a huge time commitment, too. As such, Bridger has never really been able to rodeo all that hard since getting his PRCA card in 2013. That’s kept the lanky steer wrestler from having a legitimate shot at qualifying for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
Until this year.
“My dad understood this has always been a dream of mine. Thankfully, he was OK with letting me chase that dream,” Bridger said, noting his dad actually came to him to suggest the idea. “He doubled up at work and took more of my side of it. I can’t thank him enough. For him to be able to step back and allow me to chase it, that says a lot about him.”
And it paid off. Chambers finished eighth in the regular-season standings with $81,178 in earnings, cracking the top 15 to clinch his first Wrangler NFR berth. He’s taken full advantage over this past week-plus, earning more than $55,000 to go along with the $10,000 bonus each NFR contestant receives.
He’s jumped to sixth in the world standings with $146,390 for the year, and through eight go-rounds, he’s at third in the lucrative NFR average.
“This whole year has been crazy, starting from the winter time last January. For it to turn out like this, I’m so grateful,” Bridger said. “I know guys who go their whole career, and it doesn’t work out for them. So I’m just trying to soak it all in.”
While the 29-year-old from Stevensville, Mont., has certainly enjoyed the competition so far, that wasn’t the most memorable moment of the week.
“The most memorable experience was riding down that tunnel for the first time, for the Grand Entry,” Chambers said. “Riding out and seeing all those people, my parents, my family, my friends, who came here to support me, that was the best part.”
Chambers, who has a daughter and three sons with wife Kristen, hopes to create another memory or two in Saturday night’s 10th and final go-round.
“I don’t know what other people are gonna do, but I’m gonna keep running at that barrier and try to win as much money as I can,” Chambers said. “Guys go broke trying to get here. Now, you want to cash them checks, pay off them bills.”