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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Barrel racer gears up for Clovis Rodeo

Barrel racer gears up for Clovis Rodeo

By Jeff Davis

She's a renaissance gal from Prather, a former beauty queen and mother of two who works a 40-acre ranch with her husband when she's not tending to her job as director of quality and regulations at Clovis Community Medical Center.

And for fun? Vonnie Nunes will don her duds and become a rodeo barrel racer April 21 at the Clovis Rodeo.

"It's a juggling act, but I have a lot of energy," said Nunes, 40. "I got it from my dad's side. We're a little hyperactive – have to be on the go."

The Professional Bull Riders touring pro division headlines April 21 opening main events. The rodeo continues through the 24th.

Nunes reached a highest ranking of sixth in 2005 on the Women's Pro Rodeo Association barrel racing tour when she rode under her maiden name, Griva. These days, because of her hectic schedule and the rising costs of travel and horse maintenance, Nunes limits her events to a select few in California.

Last year she placed ninth at Clovis in the first go-round, won some money but finished out of the top 10 in the finals.

Arena director Vince Genco said about 70 barrel racers will compete. The first go-round is today, then the 36 fastest advance to the April 22 and April 23 rounds.

"It's a field of top riders," Genco said. "They like to come here because our arena is fast, and they can get some good times."

Nunes will ride her horses, either Hawk or Hot Rod, against a fast field that includes world champions Sherry Cervi (1995, '99, 2010), Mary Burger (2006) and Lindsay Sears (2008). Other local riders are Sanger's Jamie Myatt, Clovis' Doreen Drummond and Fresno's Sheena Robbins, who has been to the national finals.

Riders race for time around three barrels in a cloverleaf pattern. The best post times in the 16-second range and finishes can be determined by 1/1,000 of a second, said Nunes, whose best time is 17.2 at Clovis.

Nunes comes from a long line of rodeo contestants. Her mother and aunt raced barrels and her father was a pro team roper. But as a teenager, Nunes lived in Salinas and was more into beauty pageants and showing horses. But by age 18 she developed an itch to ride competitively.

"I started barrel racing, and it was a lot more fun," Nunes said. "I could win money instead of ribbons."

Nunes attended Fresno State and was on the horse show and rodeo teams. She got a nursing degree in 1994, graduated from Fresno State in 1995, then earned a masters in public health administration and in 1997, won the Miss Central Valley California pageant.

In 2006, Nunes earned her law degree, the year she married Tom, who had two daughters from a pervious marriage. She worked an internship at St. Agnes then found a job at Clovis Community Medical Center.

Nunes and husband Tom, a foreman for Fresno County's maintenance department in Auberry, still find time to work their ranch. They have three rodeo horses, two show mules and some bulls that will compete in the PBR Futurity next year.

Nunes said she rides in the mornings or when she gets off work, and Tom also exercises the horses for her to keep them in racing shape. "Barrel racing is expensive and time-consuming, but it's an addiction," she said. "I've been doing it over 20 years and look forward to something outside work. Whenever I get on my horse it's refreshing and reviving. I love the thrill, the exhilaration of making a fast run."

Local rodeo connections

Former Clovis Rodeo director David Motes will compete in team roping, along with Hanford's H.P. Evetts, Dos Palos' Kris Goodman, Chowchilla's Todd Hampton, Sanger's Bert McGill, the father-son act of Madera's David and Landon Gill and Fresno's Cody Robbins, brother of Sheena Robbins.

Chowchilla's Stan Branco will go in tie-down roping and steer wrestling, Chowchilla's Garrett Colvin in steer wrestling, Chowchilla's Rhett Kennedy in team roping and steer wrestling, and Kerman's Sean Peterson in bull riding.

PBR lineup

Australian Pete Farley, No. 2 on the money list, headlines the challenger touring division of 40 riders today. Also in the field are No. 6 Caleb Sanderson, No. 9 Reese Cates and No. 12 David Kennedy.

They'll be challenged by two PBR main series riders: Shane Proctor, ranked sixth, and No. 11 J.B. Mauney.

Clovis Rodeo

Where: Clovis rodeo grounds

Thursday, April 21: 7 p.m., Professional Bull Riders touring pro division
Friday, April 22: 5:30 p.m., main rodeo and concert by Easton Corbin
Saturday, April 23: 9:30 a.m., parade in downtown Clovis; 1 p.m., rodeo queen coronation; 2 p.m., main rodeo; 7:30 p.m., dance at the Clovis Rodeo Hall
Sunday, April 24: 12:45, kids rodeo; 2 p.m., main rodeo
Events: barrel racing, bareback riding, bull riding, saddle bronc riding, steer wrestling, tie-down roping, team roping
Tickets: $20 today; $25 Friday includes concert; $15 Saturday-Sunday ($10, rodeo dance)

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