COON RAPIDS – A champion team roper like Will George doesn’t brag. He just lives by the unspoken creed to “cowboy up” and get the job done, giving his all whether he’s competing in the arena or preparing for the next rodeo.
“It’s all about setting yourself up for success,” said George, 24, who grew up in the Lake City and Coon Rapids areas. “It’s mental toughness. Like Arnold Palmer said, ‘Whatever game you play, 90 percent of success is from the shoulders up.'”
This mindset has paid off in countless ways.
In 2013, George was named the Rookie of the Year in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s Great Lakes Circuit. Now he’s set his sights on even bigger goals, including a world championship.
One of his mentors, Chuck Newman, of Ralston, said George has what it takes.
“It’s been great to watch Will grow, because he’s a talented young man who works hard and is driven to succeed,” said Newman, a former team roper and long-time horse trainer. “I believe he has a good shot at winning a world championship.”
He’d rather be roping
George began channeling his ambition into the rodeo arena since childhood. At age 3, he got his first pony, a Shetland named Princess.
At 4, he received his first rope. Within the next two years, he was running the chutes and riding bareback on horses at John Wiederin’s arena near Auburn.
By the time he was in fifth grade, George began competing in junior bull riding events.
“I really liked the excitement and adrenaline rush,” said George, who became interested in break-away roping when he was 12.
For two years, George practiced roping hay bales. He’d go to the barn nearly every night to practice, sometimes for 15 minutes, and sometimes for an hour. Next, he had to learn how to balance while riding a horse and throwing a rope.
Chuck Newman required him to practice riding with his hands over his head-no grabbing of the saddle allowed. “If you can’t ride, you can’t rope,” Newman said.
George nearly fell off the horse the first time he tried.
“I left there mad, saying I was never coming back,” said George, who later had a change of heart. “I realized that nobody gets good at what they do by always being patted on the back.”
George said he will never forget the first time his hard work paid off with calf roping.
“I caught one leg, which was dumb luck rather than skill. Still, I felt like a world champion.”
“I’d rather be roping”
As George’s interest in rodeo grew, he also played football in junior high, competed on the wrestling team and participated in the Jackson Pioneers 4-H Club.
It became clear to his father, however, that there weren’t enough hours in the day to do it all.
“I told Will he’d have to make a choice if he wanted to be a champion, either in sports or rodeo. He told me, ‘Dad, there is no choice. I’m going to be a roper.'”
During high school, George competed nearly every summer weekend at rodeos across Iowa, from Lake City to Leon to Bloomfield.
In 2005, he was named Rookie of the Year by the Iowa High School Rodeo Association.
Throughout the school year, George and his family traveled to Greenfield for junior rodeo competitions, which were held twice a month on Saturdays.
George’s success at roping allowed him to compete in the national finals in Gillette, Wyo., Springfield, Ill., and Farmington, N.M.
By the time he graduated in 2008 from Southern Cal High School (now South Central Calhoun) in Lake City, George got rodeo recognized as a lettered sport at the school.
By age 18, George had also earned his PRCA permit – the first step to going pro.
“It’s a proving ground, and you have to win a set amount to earn your way into the pro level.”
After high school, George studied at Weatherford College near Fort Worth, Texas, for two years while he competed on the rodeo circuit.
He returned to the Midwest to earn his fire science degree in 2011 from Iowa Central Community College, in Fort Dodge, where he joined the college’s rodeo team and competed at the College National Finals Rodeo in Casper, Wyo.
George also continued to refine his team roping skills with Chad Day, a fellow roper from Estherville. “There are five minds at work in team roping – two horses, two cowboys and one steer,” said George, who earned his PRCA contestant card in 2013. “Ideally, you want a clean run with no penalties, and you want to do it as fast as possible.”
A mere 5.5 seconds is the average winning time among the 20 to 25 teams that compete in the team roping competition in the PRCA Great Lakes Circuit, which includes Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan.
“We drive eight hours or more for a 5-second run,” George said. “When we pull into a rodeo, we expect to win.”
Chasing the dream
This confidence and drive come from countless hours of intense practice.
“You build focus by repetition,” George said. “The more you compete, the easier it gets.”
Unlike other sports, rodeo offers a unique blend of competitiveness and camaraderie. George reviews videos of all his runs, for example, and asks fellow competitors for ways to improve.
“You can learn something from everyone,” he said. “Rodeo is a tight-knit group of fierce competitors who push each other to the top as we strive to be better.”
While southern Missouri is known for producing talented team ropers, Iowa has its own crop of champions, including George and his friends Ryan Van Ahn, from Sac City, and J.W. Beck, from Moville. “These guys are always willing to give their best, and we’re all here to help each other,” George said.
When he’s competing on the rodeo circuit, George said he spends more time with his rodeo family than his family in Iowa.
“Sometimes I’m on the road four or five days a week and basically live in my horse trailer,” said George, who counts Fort Madison; North Platte, Neb.; and Sikeston, Mo.; among his favorite places to compete.
George’s mother, Jolene, said she loves to watch her son win.
“Will was very competitive from an early age,” she said. “His goal has always been to be as good as he can be.
“He’s also always had a strong faith, and he takes that with him wherever he goes.”
While it’s tough to make a living on the rodeo circuit, George wins enough to feed his horses and maintain his “rodeo habit.”
The ability to train his own quarter horses also saves money, offers him a tremendous sense of satisfaction and allows him to pursue his dream of a world championship.
“When you want to be a champion, you don’t make excuses,” George said. “You always give it your best shot, learn from your mistakes, help others along the way and never give up.”
Please Enter Your Facebook App ID. Required for FB Comments. Click here for FB Comments Settings page