Sage Kimzey is not your typical 19-year-old.
The bull rider from Strong City, Okla., is an extremely articulate, determined and poised cowboy who is enjoying a breakout season with the major goal of winning a world title as his primary focus. He also just happens to be leading the PRCA world standings.
With $69,587 through April 13, Kimzey leads four-time World Champion J.W. Harris by $6,907 after a huge winter that included a share of first place at the Rapid City, S.D., Wrangler Champions Challenge event and a win in Tulsa, Okla. Kimzey also posted runner-up finishes in Denver, Odessa, Texas, and Lincoln, Neb.
Kimzey and Harris are more than $26,000 clear of third-place Trey Benton III, a statistic that further shows how impressive their 2014 seasons have been thus far. It has been a magical winter for the teen sensation.
“The winter has been more than I could have ever imagined it could be, and almost having the NFR made – it’s pretty nice having this much money won this quickly. It really is a dream come true,” said Kimzey, who is just $480 shy of the 15th-place qualifier’s regular-season money total from last year. “Being 19 years old and in the lead in the world standings – even though it is early in the year – it’s every kid’s dream come true to have success in the professional ranks.”
There were signs that Kimzey had the potential to break out like he has, as all he did as an 18-year-old permit holder was set the PRCA record for most money won on a permit with $47,726. He can remember the exact moment last year when things began to click.
“I went to a little open bull riding last year on May 3, I think,” said Kimzey, who was a point guard on a state title-winning basketball team at Cheyenne (Okla.) High School as a senior. “It was pretty special, because I got back number 12. The number 12 means a lot to me because it was Cody Custer’s son Aaron’s basketball number, and he passed away in a car wreck.
“I did well at that bull riding, and it really did just carry on into the great summer I had last year. It was pretty special and gave me a breath of fresh air and boosted my confidence at the same time.”
Rodeo is everything to the Kimzey family. Sage’s father, Ted, was a longtime PRCA barrelman and clown who was selected to work the NFR in 1980 and 1987. Sage’s mother, Jennifer, older sister, Dusta, and younger brother, Trey, are a professional trick riding group called Tricked Out. Dusta also competes for Southwestern Oklahoma State University – where Sage is majoring in entrepreneurship – and Trey has qualified for the National Junior High School Finals Rodeo as a bull rider.
“It’s always been my dream to be a cowboy,” Sage said. “Growing up in a rodeo family, this is all I’ve ever wanted to do.”
Many 19-year-olds might feel the immense pressure of holding the world’s top ranking bearing down on them as they compete on a weekly basis. Kimzey is not one of them.
“I’m really just enjoying it,” he said. “I don’t really get caught up in the whole pressure deal, because my job never changes. It’s man against beast, and as long as I do my job, the standings will take care of themselves.
“It’s definitely a whole new experience being 19 years old and having all of this recognition for doing so well this winter. It’s a different experience, but it’s a great one.”
Part of what is making the experience great for Kimzey is his friendly “duel” with Harris. Harris has thousands of fans across the country, and Kimzey definitely counts himself among them.
“J.W. is awesome,” Kimzey said. “He was one of my heroes growing up, so getting to ride against J.W. is phenomenal. He is one of the most level-headed guys and one of the most mentally tough guys I’ve met, as far as never getting in a slump, believing in his own ability and going out and proving it week-in and week-out.
“That’s why he’s a four-time world champion and who is going to go down as one of the greatest bull riders of all time.”
The mental aspect of the bull riding game is highly important to the cerebral Kimzey. He lists Dr. Charles Garfield’s book Peak Performance as his favorite and uses its principles on a daily basis.
“Oh gosh, that book has helped me so much mentally,” Kimzey said. “It really is about the keys to winning and breaks down winning in every form of the word. It helps me keep a level head, not feel any of the pressure and escape everything and get back to the basics of winning.”
Those principles have served Kimzey well, and his mental approach to his craft is something he concentrates on quite a bit.
“It’s definitely way more mental than it is anything else,” Kimzey said of bull riding. “I’m one of those guys who believes that everything in life is 90 percent psychological and 10 percent everything else. As long as your mind is right, you can conquer anything in this world.
“The fun part of that is doing your homework by reading books to keep your mind right while you’re going down the road, because it is a 365-day grind out here rodeoing. We don’t get an offseason like everybody else does. It’s go, go, go all the time.”
And go, go, go is exactly what Kimzey plans to do the remainder of the season. He is not reducing his travel schedule just because he is No. 1 in the world right now and is a sure lock to qualify for his first Wrangler NFR.
“I’m not going to look back on this year and wish I went to one (more) of the smaller rodeos because I lost the world championship or missed going to the NFR by $5,000,” he said. “I’m just not going to let any of that come into my head. I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t live with any regrets, but at the same time, I don’t like giving myself the opportunity to have any regrets about anything.
“We’re going to try and go to 125 rodeos to max out the count. If I end up a little bit short at the end of the year, all I can do is look back and say, ‘Well, this year, I just wasn’t good enough.’”
Numerous cowboys have implemented the same approach in years past, and they have gold buckles to show for it.
This is the first in a series of monthly articles featuring Sage Kimzey and his path toward the Wrangler NFR. Each month, NFR Insider Neal Reid will catch up with Kimzey to talk about his progress, successes and setbacks as the rodeo season marches on. Stay tuned for more about Kimzey.