Some time on Dec. 10, Shaun Stroh will celebrate his 36th birthday with his family in Las Vegas.
And like he did all spring, summer and fall, Stroh will kiss his wife and children good-bye before going to work that evening.
Unlike most of the year, this time his family will join him at the job site.
Being either very brave or feeling a little bit guilty, Stroh and wife Shannon plan to take all five of their children - Boyd, Qwint, Kain, Regi and Shane - to all 10 performances of the National Finals Rodeo this December.
The trip to Las Vegas, Dec. 4-13, is a reward for the Stroh children as dad was gone most of their summer vacation.
"I was home maybe six days the whole summer," Shaun Stroh said.
While the children missed their father as Stroh was traveling across the United States and Canada for work, the payoff was big as he has qualified for his third NFR.
"I'm just so happy to be going back," said Stroh, who struggled with injuries in 2006 and 2007 after qualifying for the NFR in 2004 and 2005.
"It was a struggle, but we got it done."
Stroh goes to Las Vegas 11th in the world saddle bronc standings with $64,888 won.
He spent most of the year on the "bubble" bouncing anywhere from 19th to 12th in the world standings. During a six-day span in July, Stroh won both Molalla, Ore., and Vernal, Utah, for almost $14,000. He turned in a stirring 90-point ride, one of the best scores of his career, to win Vernal.
"Those were my biggest checks," he said. "After that, we just won a bunch of little checks, this year. I was plugging along and placed at a lot of places."
Stroh traveled with Dusty Hausauer and Jess Martin for most of the year. Hausauer has qualified for his first NFR, while Martin finished among the top 25.
"It's so exciting to see Dusty do well," said Stroh. "He's sticky and is just awesome to watch.
"In our truck, everybody was so positive, so happy to be getting on bucking horses."
Because of his position in standings, Stroh had to rodeo hard all the way to the end of the regular season. While many of the top saddle bronc riders rode for big money at the Ariat Playoff round in Omaha, Neb., Stroh was traveling to four rodeos in three states during the same weekend.
"We were scrambling there a little bit," he said with a chuckle.
Stroh clinched his NFR berth by pocketing a total of $3,549. He won Harrison, Ark., for $1,629 with an 89-point ride and earned another $1,382 by placing second at San Bernardino, Calif. Stroh also won $538 at Fort Collins, Colo., but did not earn a check at Poway, Calif.
"The best part of this year is being healthy," said Stroh.
Being healthy is something that eluded him for most of 2006 and 2007. Even his first NFR, in 2004, is an agonizing memory.
Stroh fractured the lumbar vertebrae (L2, L3) during the second round of the NFR after a hard spill off the horse Annie Oakley. Stroh continued to compete and placed in two more rounds to win a total of $16,446 during the 10 rounds.
"That first year at the NFR was terrible," said Stroh with a grimace, recalling the pain. "That NFR was more or less a blur. I hurt so dang bad."
He battled a torn groin muscle and a broken tailbone through 2006 and 2007. And this past winter, he got roughed up in the chute prior to a ride at Fort Worth, Texas.
"I thought that was going to be a continuation of the previous deals," Stroh said.
Since his last NFR, Stroh and his wife added a child, Shane, to the family and have moved from Glendive to Dickinson, N.D. The move was to make it easier for Shannon Stroh to complete her nursing degree at Dickinson State University.
"When I got home this summer, she had a list ready for me," he said with a laugh.
"I feel pretty good right now. The most important thing I want out of the Finals is to get there and ride well. Same as everybody else."