Gerry - Joe Bell’s career as a steer wrestler began with a bet with his wife Robin as they were spectators at a rodeo. He says the steer wrestlers were rather small and not very good so he bet his wife beside him that he could throw steers better. Now, 33 years later Joe is still competing at a top level, and this week will again trailer his horse to Gerry for what he says is “at least 30 years” of competition here.
At age 60 Joe is one of the oldest competitors in the rodeo business, but he doesn’t like to dwell on his age. Instead he hopes announcers, fellow competitors, and rodeo fans will judge him on his record of accomplishments and his ability to continue to perform well and forget his age. He says people say he doesn’t look his age, and his philosophy is that you’re only as old as you feel. He attributes his longevity in rodeo to staying in shape year round as he makes his living outside of rodeo by shoeing horses and doing custom hay baling for farmers, both of which demand extreme physical fitness.
Steer wrestling is one of the toughest events in rodeo as the cowboy on horseback chases a 600 pound steer at about 30 miles per hour, gets beside the steer at that speed, slides from the saddle while grabbing the steer by the horns, and attempts to wrestle it to the arena dirt as fast as possible. A good time in this event can be as fast as three or four seconds. Steer wrestling is often termed “the big man’s event” because of the size of the steers. However, Bell is an exception as he stands only five feet, nine inches tall, but packs a lot of strength into his 215 pound frame and depends a lot on technique which he has developed over the years. He also credits his horses for their part in his success as he had one which performed for eleven years and another for ten.
The bet with his wife has taken him across the country many times and has brought him numerous honors. At the peak of his travels, he was competing in about 65 rodeos each year and is still throwing steers at 25-30 rodeos a season. He has won the First Frontier Circuit Finals three times and has competed in Oklahoma at the prestigious Dodge Ram Circuit Finals as well as the famous Pocatello, Idaho, rodeo. On many of his travels he took his son, Joe, Jr., who competed well enough himself to become of the world’s foremost steer wrestlers, qualifying on five occasions for the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, ranking as high as number two in the world.
Bell says he has no plans to retire in spite of two knee surgeries, two shoulder surgeries, a broken elbow, a broken thumb which required three operations and kept him out of action for 15 months, and numerous minor injuries. He says he wishes he didn’t enjoy the rodeo competition as much as he does. He wishes he could find something else he enjoys as much so he could walk away, but that hasn’t happened.
Fortunately for rodeo fans who admire a man who truly loves what he does and is an outstanding ambassador for professional rodeo, Joe Bell, Sr., is still a part of the sport.
The 71st annual Gerry Rodeo runs nightly this week, Wednesday through Saturday, at 8:00. Additional information is available at the rodeo website www.gerryrodeo.org or by phone at (716) 985-4847.
Written by Paul Cooley (716) 985-4215
Photo: Steer wrestler Joe Bell, Sr. shows he can still compete with the best after more than 30 years of rodeo competition.