She lassoed a husband at the rodeo

News-DemocratOctober 27, 2013 

Not much gets by Catherine Presson Lesyna.

Two years ago, the young rodeo photographer, barrel racer and former rodeo queen was setting up her leather business when she noticed a guy talking to her sister and a friend in the Flickerwood Arena bleachers in Fruitland, Mo.

He was worth checking out.

"All I knew was that it wasn't my sister Amanda's husband," said Catherine, 25, who lives in rural Waterloo. "I said, 'Hi, I am Catherine. Who are you?'"

What did Justin think?

"Well, I married her," said the tall, lean 26-year-old, sitting alongside his wife in the log home they share with his grandparents, Daryl and Lynne Martin.

"I liked that he was really tall and actually had a very good sense of humor," said Catherine. "He's 6-foot-1. I'm only 5-foot-4."

Catherine grew up on a farm in Charleston, Mo., 15 minutes east of Sikeston.

Justin grew up helping out at Sugar Creek Ranch, a Fenton, Mo., boarding stable with 100 horses that was in his family for 35 years. His grandfather recently sold the ranch. Justin, a welder by trade, is helping the family relocate, and dissolve assets.

"We didn't date as long as other couples," said Catherine. "We dated for nine months and got married in June of 2012.

Their families meshed. The couple barrel race together and travel together.

That night they were heading to Cape Girardeau, a good hour away, to celebrate her sister's birthday. No big deal. On weekends, they regularly drive hundreds of miles to compete for 15 seconds.

"You got one shot then it's on to the next one," said Justin. "It's nothing to go 300 to 400 miles, or drive to Oklahoma for a rodeo, then drive back."

And it's nothing for Catherine to barrel race and photograph at the same rodeo.

"I have a photography degree from Murray State (in Kentucky)," she said. "I travel throughout the area photographing barrel racing, rodeos, weddings. I can compete and take pictures at the same time ... I like both equally. I get to do both at the same time. It's a way to combine both passions."

She's also autograph photographer for St. Louis' professional sports teams. "When the players do the autograph signing, I'm the one who shoots all that," she said.

How does barrel racing work?

"There are three barrels in a cloverleaf you ride around," said Catherine, describing her race. "You turn around that first barrel, go directly to the one across, turn around, then go to the one at the far end, turn around that one and run back to the gate as quickly as you can. It's an adrenalin rush."

"Plus, you win money," said Justin.

Prizes depend on how many people enter, and how much sponsors add. On a recent weekend, there were 193 entries and $2,000 added by sponsors.

First place in the first division earned $2,300 for a $45 entry fee. There were also seven winners in four divisions.

"There is no age limit," said Catherine, who learned to ride before she learned to walk. "One thing that makes the rodeo so fun is people compete from 10 to 80, giving each other a run for their money."

There's also an element of danger.

"I broke three fingers at the same time," said Catherine. "I had concussions from getting kicked in the head. If you are afraid of falling off, don't get on a horse."

Justin team ropes.

"I rope cows," he said.

"Steers, to be exact," said Catherine.

"Team roping goes back to the start of the rodeo world," he said, "when you go out to the field and doctor a cow. It started with people saying, 'I can do it faster than you can.' It's a tradition."

And a challenge.

"You are doing two different things. The cow is running and doing what he wants to do. You are chasing, riding a horse and swinging a rope. It's very much fun."

"There's a rodeo every weekend somewhere," said Catherine. In a two-month span, she may take off one weekend.

Both practice regularly.

"You probably spend an hour, two hours a day, taking care of horses," said Justin, "and keeping in shape.

"Just like someone who trains to run a marathon, you have to practice and stay in shape. The same thing is expected when you are riding."

The Lesynas' first date almost didn't come off.

"He started messaging me via Facebook," said Catherine. "When he got my phone number, he started texting. I refused to go on a date till he called me."

So he did.

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