As part of a series called "My Big Break," All Things Considered is collecting stories of triumph, big and small. These are the moments when everything seems to click, and people leap forward into their careers.
When Blaine Lotz fires off prices from the auction block, the first thing you might notice is the lightning-fast speed of his words. But Lotz, wearing a suit and black cowboy hat as he rattles off numbers to a crowd of cattle-buyers, says there's much more to the art of auctioneering than speed.
And he would know: the 21-year-old from Edna, Kan., is this year's winner of the World Livestock Auctioneer Championship — the Super Bowl of auctioneering.
"Just about anybody you ask, they can tell you what they think an auctioneer is and it's always a fast talker," Blaine Lotz says. "But it's really more than that. I'm the bid-taker. I am the middleman. I am the agent between buyer and seller."
For Lotz, auctioneering is a family tradition.
"Years ago, my grandfather started the generations of the auctioneer," he says. "Later on, mom came along and she incorporated livestock auctions."
Lotz says his parents met at an auction in Diamond, Miss. She was the auctioneer; he was a cattle buyer.
"It just kind of went on from there," Lotz says. "Dad bought cattle, mom sold cattle, and I was born right into the business. In fact, 45 minutes after my mom had got done auctioneering, she went into labor with me. I was pretty near born in a livestock market."
Growing up, Lotz's lullaby was his mom's auctioneer chant.
"I guess it sunk in, because by the time I was 4 years old, the only thing I could think of was cattle and a livestock market," he says. "In fact, I learned to count cattle at a feed bunk. That's the way I learned to count."
As a teenager, Lotz enrolled at Western College of Auctioneering in Billings, Mont.
"They advertised it as the Cadillac of auction colleges," Lotz says. "The way they taught you how to auctioneer was via number-drills and tongue-twisters."
A month after finishing school in Montana, Lotz sold at his first auction. But he says his career breakthrough came a little later.
"My big break was the first year I competed in the qualifying rounds for the World Livestock Auctioneer Championship," he says. "That's where it all started."
"I went straight for the world contest," he says. "I never did compete in any other competitions or championships."
He was only 18 years old — the youngest age allowed to compete.
"It just shocked me to death when I was standing there ... when the first place rang, they named my name and I just could not believe it," he says.
That year, he won his qualifying round. Three years later, he's taken home the world title.