For the third summer in a row, Austin Sanders has traveled to Gallup, N.M., for the National Junior High Finals Rodeo, which started today and ends Saturday.

He blocks everything else out, and listens to country music to clear his head for the 359-mile, six-hour drive from Marana to Gallup.

"I don't think about it," said Sanders, a breakaway roper, "I just think about my runs, and I listen to country music, I listen to George Strait."

The Sanders family drove to New Mexico on Thursday, with Austin's horse trailer in tow behind an RV. And it's Austin's RV, because he paid for it.

The 13-year-old bought his family a motor home because he didn't feel like staying in hotels anymore.

"We don't have a lot of money," said mom Christine Sanders, "and what we do have, we spend on our kids. Rodeoing is what we do."

Sanders has some money saved up, thanks in large part to his success in rodeo competition. In 2012 alone, he made $20,000.

"He really stunned us," his mother said. "When I asked him what he was going to do with the money, he said 'I want to buy an RV.' It brought our family to tears. What 13-year-old kid is going to do that?"

The thing is, Sanders loves the rodeo. He lives it, he breathes it and basically couldn't function without it. He practices roping every day.

"I've always tried to work toward making a life out of this," Sanders said, "and one day going pro."

This is his third time competing in the National Junior High Rodeo that draws about 900 competitors, and he's already been a part of Las Fiesta de los Vaqueros in Tucson, so he's well on his way down that path.

He's also gone up against people two and three times his age in other venues. Sanders has competed in roping events where he's going against 700 teams, the majority of which are made up of grown men.

"In one day alone, he won over $3,000 roping against 700 teams of old men," Christine Sanders said, "and he doesn't realize that's such a big deal. He doesn't get fazed. He just loves the challenge."

It doesn't faze Sanders that he makes more money than some adults make in a year, or that he occasionally competes on national television. He's calm, cool and collected before, during and after competition.

"I have to clear my mind," Sanders said, "and just focus on one run at a time, take it all in and focus on one run each time."

His mother can't even ground him like any other 13-year-old. Taking TV or video games away from him wouldn't do much.

"If you want to punish Austin," she said, "you take away his rope, or tell him he can't practice today.

"Like any other athlete, he puts his time and discipline into it just like if it was baseball or football. It's what he wants to do, it's in his blood, it's in his heart and it's all he lives and breathes for."

Contact reporter Zack Rosenblatt at or 573-4145. On Twitter @zackblatt