It’s been a long journey for Junior Nogueira.
And certainly, it’s nowhere near over, but Saturday, it hit a high point as Nogueira became the All-Around winner, jumping from fourth place to first on the final night of the National Finals Rodeo.
Nogueira, 26, whose father was a tie-down roper and his mother a break-away roper and header, became the first Brazilian to win a gold buckle.
“It means a lot for me,” Nogueira said. “I just want to win to share with my family. In this town, everything’s possible through God. … I thought it was impossible, too. We didn’t have an amazing finals. I thought I didn’t (win it) but they say we won it, I won it.”
Nogueira finished the year at $231,728.33, barely edging out Clayton Hass who placed second at $228,107.76.
Nogueira was able to clinch the title on the final night thanks to a sixth-place finish in the last go-round and fourth in the aggregate standings. Dustin Bird and Russell Cardoza, who were ahead of him entering the day, took a no-time, dropping them to ninth in the aggregate standings.
Though the standings fluxuated throughout the week, Nogueira tried to resist the urge to check them out.
“That’s the worst thing you can do. You have to do your job,” Nogueira said. “It’s hard when you start thinking about ‘Oh, he’s doing good.’ (Then) you’re not taking care of your own business.”
But in the end, Nogueira did take care of his own business.
Nogueira, who started roping with world champion Jake Barnes after arriving in the U.S., immediately caught people’s attention.
The pair formed a close bond and roped together in 2014 and 2015 before an accident knocked Barnes out of last year’s NFR, leading Nogueira to rope with JoJo Lemond in the competition where they fell just short of a gold buckle.
Nogueira was planning on touching base with Barnes shortly after his victory.
“He’ll say ‘You got lucky,’” Nogueira said with a laugh. “It is true.”
But of course, Nogueira’s path to a gold buckle involved more than just luck.
It also involved hard work, injuries and the loss of his grandfather.
“He taught me how to be a cowboy and he pretty much raised me,” Nogueira said. “I couldn’t see him and he passed away. … He was like my dad. … I wasn’t really focused because that happened in my life.”
But Saturday, Nogueira was all smiles, with hardship from his journey ending up in the culmination of a dream.
“God is great. Everything ended up being good,” Nogueira said. “You need to be thankful for what we’ve got. That’s what Jake said.”
Contact Betsy Helfand at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @BetsyHelfand on Twitter.