Chasing the Dream: Grady Kirkes at NMJC

Chasing the Dream: Grady Kirkes at NMJC

Grady Kirkes

Raised in Carlsbad, New Mexico Junior College rodeo athlete Grady Kirkes is a New Mexico local. In 2019, he won the title of State Champion Calf Roper for the New Mexico High School Rodeo Association (NMHSRA). Kirkes attends NMJC on a rodeo scholarship and is hopeful to continue pursuing rodeo in the future professionally. 

When speaking about what attracted him to NMJC, Kirkes says that its affordable tuition costs were a factor, but his decision was based much more heavily on the college’s excellent rodeo-athletics facilities. “The rodeo facility [at NMJC] is easily the best in the State, and one of the best in the Southwest region [...].”

While rodeo is his primary pursuit, Kirkes has also found purpose in his academic studies. He is seeking an Associate of Arts (A.A.) degree, and will possibly pursue a Bachelor of Arts in History after completing his education at NMJC. When asked why history, Kirkes explains, “It’s just something I found was interesting to me. I haven’t found that I really cared about any other [subject], so that is really what’s keeping me engaged in school.” 

Kirkes will graduate from New Mexico Junior College in Spring 2021. Since starting college in the Fall of 2019, he’s already had some pretty memorable moments. He says, so far, probably his most memorable experience at NMJC was the roping jackpot put on by his team coaches, Clay Bonner and Stewart Kinley. The jackpot was held in November 2019 and invited participants for events like calf-roping, breakaway-roping, and goat-tying. Kirkes jokingly adds that “the steers getting out weekly” were also very memorable moments. 

Among the memories of his first year as a Thunderbird, Kirkes also recalls the times he and his friends just spent time together. “We made some really good friends with some Frenchmen on the track team; they were hilarious. They spent a lot of time with me and my friend Tomas in the dorm rooms [Tomas, an international student from Brazil, is also a rodeo athlete at NMJC].”

When discussing what his plans are after graduating from NMJC, Kirkes admits he’s not quite sure. His goal is to compete in rodeo at a professional level, and he would prefer to pursue that goal immediately, rather than to continue further education: 

“Hopefully, I’d win at the college finals next rodeo season, and use that momentum to start rodeoing more professionally through the PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association). If I do that, then I wouldn’t go back to school. But [if I do go back to school] my choice will be between ENMU in Portales (NM) and Texas Tech University, based on proximity.”

When asked what he would say to prospective students considering NMJC, for academics or athletics, Kirkes offers a few words of recommendation. 

On being a rodeo athlete looking to come to NMJC, he says “[...] I know that several of the kids who have already signed-on to the rodeo team are serious about it, and I know I’m serious about it. So, the athletics part of [NMJC], definitely I recommend it, and I’d tell them to come on. You’ve got coaches that know how to coach, and you’ve got teammates who want to learn and who want to be the best.” 

Considering academica and recommendations he would give, Kirkes goes on to say, “College isn’t really that hard. You’ve just got to show up to class and do the work they assign you [...]. If you do the lessons and you show up, you’ll be fine [...]. But, it would have been useful to have someone tell me, ‘Hey, there’s going to be a lot of work  from day one’. In high school you had about a two week grace-period [at the start of the year] where you just kind of did little small lessons and then you started doing real work. With college, that’s a different story. You show up that first day, and then you have homework that night. It can be super easy to get behind or just miss assignments, and then you’re just trying to fight your way back up.” 


BONUS: During his interview, though not a primary focus, we briefly discussed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Kirkes as an athlete. 

“I think for me personally, it’s not so bad [...]. My family is super supportive. I’ve got five horses here I can get on all day; we’ve got 20 head of calves; I’ve got a great practice partner that lives next door and who comes over to rope with me every day. So, that aspect isn’t too bad. You know there’s a difference in being sharp at home and being rodeo sharp, and I haven’t been able to go anywhere, so that may hurt. But everybody’s in the same boat with that. 

I hated to have to leave all of my friends like that, though. We were all one big family over there, and then, it didn’t make anybody happy that we all had to leave with a week notice [not knowing when we’d get to come back].”

While not sure of what the Fall 2020 semester will be like, Kirkes is ready and hopeful to continue his time on NMJC’s campus as a Thunderbird soon.