Are rodeo cowboys perhaps the world’s greatest athletes? Most people would say “No” as they think of the NBA’s Lebron James and his 35 million per year salary or the Dodgers’ pitcher Clayton Kershaw with his 31 million per year. Or maybe Tiger Woods with his notoriety and 40 million per year. But how do we define greatness?
Consider an athlete who has no guaranteed paycheck, travels the country at his own expense, faces injury every performance, pays an entry fee to compete, doesn’t get any money unless he places in his event, and has to have another job to pay the bills, yet does it solely for the love of competition in his sport. That’s a picture of the average rodeo cowboy, including two bareback bronc riders who shared their stories while competing on a previous trip to Gerry.
Tim Palmer makes his home in Russellville, Arkansas, and has been around rodeo since his teenage years when an older friend encouraged him to take up the sport. He tried riding bulls and also tried the roping events, but bareback bronc riding became his love. Surgery on a compound fracture of his leg when a horse stepped on him in 2012 forced him out of competition, but he returned just three months later only to break the same leg, requiring more surgery.
He took three years off as a result but slowly worked his way back to full-time competition. This year he will compete in more than 70 rodeos, travel more than 100,000 miles in 30 states while living most of the time out of a mini-van. Some of the rodeos require that he fly, including his trip to Gerry as he travels nationwide to compete in Wyoming, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Missouri.
Injuries continue to be a part of his sport and include a broken collar bone, two broken ankles, broken hands, broken ribs, and a dislocated hip. However, he has no plans for quitting and says his ultimate dream is to be a world champion, a goal which he says is not for himself but to bring glory to God. He dedicates each ride to his best friend, Coy Lutz, who was killed when a bronc landed on him at age 19.
And to make ends meet when he is not on the rodeo circuit, he owns a tree service and spends his “off time” climbing trees as well as training horses.
Tim Kent of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, is a veteran of the rodeo circuits. His journey to pro rodeo began at age 12 when an older cowboy friend took him to the First Frontier Circuit Finals in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to see his first rodeo. He immediately “got the bug” for rodeo, but, because his parents didn’t approve, he had to wait until he was 18 to attend a Sankey Bull Riding Clinic in North Carolina. He got on his first bull competitively when he attended a rodeo and they needed a bull rider. He says he wasn’t very good on the bulls and found his that bareback riding was where he belonged
Today most of his rodeos are up and down the East Coast here in the United States and eastern Canada, where he will compete in about 70 rodeos. He is now married, and he and his wife recently had their first child, an event which he says changed some of his priorities.
True to his profession, he, too, has suffered a number of injuries including two broken wrists, and surgeries on both knees and a shoulder. His most serious injury was a ruptured spleen. He nearly died from loss of blood and had to be airlifted to a hospital.
He says that his reason for loving this sport is hard to explain, but there is a thrill or “rush” from getting on the back of an angry bronc that is out of control and being able to put on a great show for the fans. His biggest reward, he says, comes on those rides when his timing is “right” and the eight-second ride seems “effortless”. He has no plans at the present to stop competing. He, too, has a couple of other jobs as he is a skilled stone mason and owns a small sawmill.
So, when you go to see a rodeo the next time, whether in Gerry or elsewhere, remember the rodeo cowboys’ dedication, sacrifice, and love of their sport, a passion not exceeded by competitors in any other sport, and perhaps you will agree that they rank well up the list of the world’s greatest athletes.
The Gerry Rodeo has four performances this week, Wednesday through Saturday, at 8:00 each night, August 2 -5, in their arena six miles north of Jamestown, New York, with more than 200 of these dedicated athletes competing for $50,000 in prize money.
The event also features their famous beef barbeque dinners cooked for eight hours over wood fires and served at 5:00 each evening in the air-conditioned dining hall. A lighted midway with more than 20 vendors offering everything from Western Wear to cotton candy is open before and after the rodeo. There is a free kids’ rodeo at 4:00 Saturday where kids ages 3-8 can dress up like real cowboys and cowgirls and participate in rodeo related games in the arena supervised by rodeo personnel.
All proceeds go to the Gerry Volunteer Fire Department which answers more than 300 fire and emergency calls each year. Additional information is available at the rodeo website www.gerryrodeo.org or by phone at (716) 985-4847 or 1-888-985-4847.