The husband-and-wife team of Jo Ann and Lory Merritt doubled down at the Reno Rodeo Invitational, and deposited both of the $100,000 champs' checks into their joint account back home in Eaton, Colo.
The $200,000 windfall, banked by roping four steers in 38.30 seconds, was a thrill. But the feeling of accomplishment that came from closing the RRI deal together was positively priceless.
"The first thing is not the money," heeler husband Lory said. "Jo Ann and I have been best friends for 21 years. We've always encouraged each other. That's the big payoff for me. Don't get me wrong. I'm all over the money. But winning this thing together means a lot more to me than the money. When you believe in each other like we do, that's huge."
As was the passel of prizes they skipped the Silver State with. In addition to the large load of loot, the Merritts also were awarded Cactus Saddles, Gist Buckles, D-Bar-M saddle pads, Resistol Hats and Maloy rope frames.
The 13th annual Reno Rodeo Invitational was held June 23 at the Reno Livestock Events Center, and the Merritts' margin of victory was more than five seconds over the 247-team field, which was led by 2009 RRI reserve titlists Ron Miller and Bert Bilby.
"I wanted to yell when I roped that last steer, but knew I needed to get dallied first," Lory said. "I'm in shock. I was confident because of Jo Ann. But this is amazing."
His better half had that peaceful, easy feeling riding in to rope their last one. "I've dreamed about being high call, and have roped that last steer here so many times in my mind," she said. "I'm always nervous on the first one here. I'm 42 years old, and I've roped since I was a kid. All you can do is rope the steer you've got, just like in the practice pen. You don't have to make it any more complicated than that. If that steer gives you a go-round, great. If not, just go get him caught."
That's experience talking. The Merritts have roped at all 13 RRIs, though not at every edition together. "We've been here every year," he said. "We've won a lot here, but we've never won the big one." (And she can now officially forget the year she broke out for Darrel Norcutt to win it all. It's haunted her- until now-knowing that if you subtracted the 10-second speeding ticket in the opening round they'd have been the champs.)
The Reno Rodeo Invitational is a USTRC No. 11 roping that's capped at a No. 6. Jo Ann's a No. 5 header who has developed a handy immunity to unforced errors. When she rode back into the arena for the victory lap, she pulled her horse over at the announcer's stand where Di Loreto stood waiting for a congratulatory hug. "I finally know how you feel," she beamed.
Few people on this planet do. The Merritts had come close to the RRI winner's circle before. And now that they've been there and done it they also understand Di Loreto's stance that bans all $200,000 champs from ever entering the event again. "One win and you're out," Di Loreto smiled. "I wish this feeling on everybody." He knows the feeling firsthand. Di Loreto and his native Nevadan partner David Faught hit the richest jackpot in team roping in 2005.