Pro rodeo athlete Derrick Begay (Navajo) looks to inspire youth

RENO, Nev. — Fresh off his latest appearance at the 2017 Reno Rodeo, Derrick Begay is a hopeful Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association world champion team roper this year.

Begay, a member of the Navajo Tribe, grew up in small community of Seba Dalkai on the Navajo Reservation, just 50 miles north of Winslow, Arizona.

The 33-year-old team roper comes from a long line of Arizona cattlemen and cowboys.

His family’s culture and rodeo roots run deep — his father, Victor Begay, serves as the All Indian Rodeo Cowboys Association team roping director.

With a family like his, Begay had some pretty big boots to fill.

“I just grew up roping,” said Begay. “I really didn’t have a choice if I wanted to or not.”

Begay’s family has always stayed on the roping end of things; however, he did not compete competitively in the rodeo world until he finished college.

“I never really competed in high school or college rodeo,” said Begay. “I figured if I was going to go to school I would just focus on that.”

Begay graduated from Winslow High School in 2001, and then attended Northland Pioneer College in Show Low, Arizona.

After obtaining an Associate Degree in Industrial Arts, he joined the PRCA in 2004.

Over the years, Begay has had seven Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifications, and in 2008, he was among one of the first Navajo cowboys in history to qualify for the NFR.

He already holds a world champion title from the Indian National Finals Rodeo, but still has his heart set on a PRCA world champion title.

Locally, Begay has been made several appearances in the Reno Rodeo in the past four years, including competing in roping events at this year’s rodeo, which took place June 15-24 at the Reno-Sparks Livestock Events Center.

When asked what advice he has for those want to follow their dreams, Begay had a straightforward answer.

“They just have to pick what they like to do,” he said. “If you are going to pursue something you don’t like, then you aren’t going to be any good at it. Don’t be afraid to follow your dreams and go after what you want and who you want to be.”

At a young age, Begay said he knew exactly what he wanted to be.

At just 8 years old, Begay wrote a letter for a school assignment. In the letter he said “... when I grow up, I will be a world champion ...”

Those are pretty big dreams for a third-grader, but with hard work and determination, anything you put your mind to is possible, he said.

“This life has always been my dream,” Begay said.

He definitely has a love and passion for rodeo and has found his niche. And in the process, Begay has paved a trail for many young cowboys and cowgirls to see that it is possible to pursue your dreams.

Jarrette Werk is a journalism student at the University of Nevada, Reno, and works for the Sierra Nevada Media Group as an intern, writing and taking photos for First Nation’s Focus. Email him at


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