Alli Paige Cadwallader competes at the Texas High School Rodeo Finals in Abilene earlier this month.

Alli Paige Cadwallader wasn’t sure if she was going to be able compete at the 2020 Texas High School Rodeo Finals — but she did, and she returned home to Huntsville a champion.

The Alpha Omega Academy freshman won a state title in barrel racing at the annual event, which took place earlier this month at the Taylor County Expo Center in Abilene. When she received the good news, she could barely believe it.

“I was taking care of horses when they announced who had won everything. My mom was in the arena, and everyone was excited about it, but I didn't know,” Cadwallader said. “She ran out and told me and I didn't believe her. I was like, 'No I didn't, what are you talking about?' And she was like, 'Yes, you did.'

“I was just in total disbelief.”

The COVID-19 outbreak put Cadwallader’s trip to the state finals in doubt. However, she focused on staying mentally sharp and maintaining her confidence — despite being kept out of the rodeo arena for months.

“We weren't sure if we were going ... but my animals were ready to go,” she said. “They'd been rested during the coronavirus, so it was just a lot of mentally getting back in the game. We hadn't been running for so long, and I had to make sure I was mentally sharp enough to compete at such a high level after not having competed for so long.

“I really just tried to remember all the runs I'd done before and have confidence in myself. Even though I hadn't run or competed in so long, I needed to make sure I had enough confidence going in to know that I could compete at the level I was trying to compete at.”

While Cadwallader has only been competing in barrel racing for a little under three years, she’s felt drawn to the sport for as long as she can remember.

“Ever since I was little, I've always loved to go fast,” she added. “My mom wasn't too sure that she wanted her daughter to run barrels, because it's a little nerve-wracking. But my dad was one of my biggest inspirations. He did rodeo, and just getting to watch him enjoy it made it something that I always wanted to do. And really just my love for the animals. I truly love horses, and getting to take care of and be around them.

With her state championship in Abilene, Cadwallader punched her ticket to nationals in Guthrie, Oklahoma. She will hit the road next month, with the event set to run from July 17-23.

As she gears up to compete against some of the best barrel racers in the country, Cadwallader is thankful for those that have helped her along the way.

“There is a ton of hard work that goes into everything, but I've been super blessed with everyone that has been there to help me — the sponsors (Oxy-Gen Equine Products, Huntsville Truck and Tractor, Shorty's Caboy Hattery, Kimes Ranch Jeans and CR RanchWear) my mom and of course the lord,” she said.

“I'm just overwhelmingly blessed.”