When Sadie Leyba picked up a .22 rifle for the first time, she estimates she was no older than 10-years-old. The gun was a way for her father Sam Leyba to bond with her. Her younger sister Jessie said her experience was similar.
“We started when we were really little, maybe three or four years old. It was always a family thing, starting with BB guns in the backyard to going shooting in the hills,” Sadie Leyba said.
“As we got older, probably around 10 or 12, our dad started cracking down and actually practicing with targets.”
The years of practice led to the two sisters developing a muscle memory with the rifle, turning the process of aiming, holding your breath and shooting into a second nature. Years later, the two are still tapping into that memory, even at the highest levels of competition.
Sadie Leyba shot her way to a 10th place finish in the .22 shooting event at the National High School Rodeo Finals this year in Wyoming. Her performance mirrored that of her sister Jessie, who placed 10th in the junior high nationals. According to Sadie Leyba, both her and her sister’s performance were the culmination of years of working with their dad, who never shot competitively himself.
“He was always into shooting but just with friends, never anything competitive. When we started getting involved in competitive shooting through 4-H, that was when he really started to get into it and began taking a lot of pride in being our coach,” she said.
Jessie Leyba said that the support that both her parents provided through the years has helped her become successful, even on a national stage.
“I have the best mom in the world. And my dad has been the driving force behind teaching me how to breathe, which is so important, and how to shoot. I don’t think I would be where I am without that support system behind me,” she said.
That support system became even more important shortly after the state championship rodeo, as the trailer that was carrying the sisters’ equipment caught fire. Sadie Leyba, who was ramping up her final practices for nationals at the time, lost her competition rifle. Jessie lost her state championship belt buckle as well as her entire rodeo wardrobe. It was a devastating loss for the pair coming at a time when they were both looking to improve on their successful state rodeo runs.
But then their support system kicked in. Extending beyond just their parents, the Leyba sisters found help from both the State Rodeo organization, who offered to replace the lost belt buckles. Sadie also found herself trying out different friend’s rifles, trying to find one that resembled the feel of her usual .22.
“It’s hard to explain but using someone else’s rifle is like putting on someone else’s shoes and trying to run in them,” Leyba said.
She struggled up until the the day before the competition to find a rifle that she felt comfortable competing with. Eventually a friend lent her one that was close enough to her own in feel that she was able to still crack into the top 10 competitors out of a field of over 100.
Sadie Leyba will enter her senior year at White Pine High School after this summer and for the first time ever will be joined in the White Pine Rodeo Club by her sister who will be coming in as part of the freshman class.