The Memorial Day Weekend is the traditional start of summer for most Americans. For rodeo cowboys, it means that the busiest time of the year is about to begin.
That is a love-hate relationship for reigning world champion bareback rider Tim O’Connell.
“I love my job and wouldn’t trade it for the world, but I love being home with my wife too,” he said. “There are a lot of things you miss out on that people can’t really fathom. It’s hard on your family and relationships. It’s a tougher situation than most people really understand.”
Planning the summer rodeo run involves more than just scheduling travel. There are stock contractors, money, circuit points and traveling partners to consider. This year, Tim’s summer started out with wins at Garden City, Kan., and Rosenberg, Texas over Memorial Day. Both were memorable, but for different reasons.
At Garden City, he rode Korkow rodeo’s Onion Ring for a career best score of 92-points. Rosenberg’s title came at the U.S. Navy SEAL Danny Dietz Ultimate Challenge with a 90-point ride on Picket Rodeo’s Shady Nights.
The memory of the win is second to the one that was created when he escorted one of the widows into the arena for the opening ceremonies honoring Navy SEAL Widows and Gold Star Families. This was the second year for the event and one that O’Connell hopes to return for again and again.
“Anytime we can do anything to recognize our troops and what their families give up for our freedoms is a great opportunity,” he said. “It’s a great way to spend Memorial Day, and a reminder that for so many families, every day is Memorial Day.”
When June hits, competition heats up just like the summer sun and continues fast and furious through Labor Day. O’Connell compares it to working out. “No one ever wants to start a really tough workout, but once they get into it, it’s usually not that bad.”
In fact, this year has been pretty good for him as he was the winningest bareback rider over another Patriotic Holiday, the Fourth-of-July. That holiday is known as Cowboy Christmas because of the amount of rodeo’s they can go to in a short amount of time and the money that is available.
Tim won the St. Paul (Oregon) Rodeo and set an arena record with an 89.5-point ride on Bridwell Pro Rodeo’s Sacred Nation. That got him a check for $10,892 and put his name in the history books. He also got checks at Greeley, Colorado; Prescott, Arizona; Cody, Wyoming; and Killdeer, North Dakota.
When Tim showed up at the Cody Stampede on July 1st, Tim had a noticeable limp. He tweaked his left ankle the night before in Prescott so relied on the Justin Sportsmedicine Team for extra support when he could. It worked in Cody as his 85.5-point ride on Frontier Rodeo’s Gun Fire was good for a second-place tie and $6,688.
When they added up his totals, he had won $24,102. Once again, he is at the top of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association World Standings. He has amassed $117,392 so far and is ahead of the rest of the field by over $50,000.
This time of year, when contestants spend more time with their traveling partners than their families, who is next to them in the truck or on a plane is very important. Tim is traveling with Logan Corbett, the rodeo coach at New Mexico State University, and Shane O’Connell (no relation) from Rapid City, S.D.
“It makes such a difference who you are traveling with,” Tim said. “We all have the same goals and are willing to put in the work to achieve them. It helps make it fun”.
After Cowboy Christmas, Tim headed to Minnesota to compete at the 41st Annual Isanti Firefighters Rodeo. He got another win there which counts for world standings and towards Great Lakes Circuit Points as well.
Then he headed to Canada for the Calgary Stampede. After that is over, he will meet back up with his traveling partners and go to rodeos in Utah and finish off the month of July in Wyoming at the legendary Cheyenne Frontier Days known as the “Daddy of ‘em All.”
Hopefully that will be an opportunity for him to spend some time with his best friend and wife, Sami. She got to join him in Cheyenne last year and watched him win the second round of the rodeo there.
“I fly Sami to rodeos as much as I possibly can,” he said. “If we are going to be somewhere for a couple of days and I can’t get home I try to get her to the rodeo. It helps our relationship, but it helps me even more.
“I talk to my wife a lot when I’m on the road. We take time to talk over lunch every day. We communicate and I think that helps us find a balance.”
Finding a balance is working for Tim, in rodeo and in life. He always counts his blessings and having the “best job in the world,” is one of them. His attitude, combined with work ethic and love of the game are keeping him in the winner’s circle.