by Kendra Santos, PRCA Director of Communications | Jan 02, 2015
I grew up at the timed-event end of the arena, in the constant company of my dad and two brothers. Since birth I’ve had a herd of adopted cowboy grandpas, uncles and brothers. But throughout my childhood, virtually all of them roped and bulldogged. It wasn’t until I first went to work for the PRCA, fresh out of college in 1987, that I got close enough to the bucking chutes to find friends there that might as well be brothers.
The first guys to break that barrier for me were best-friend bull riders Lane Frost and Tuff Hedeman. I suppose it happened that way, at least in part, because they won so much that I was constantly interviewing them. Before long, we were also talking about a lot of things off the record. By the end of that year—Lane’s world championship year—they were my brothers.
Losing Lane at Cheyenne in 1989 crushed us all. That smile that lit up the room, and his sincere love of people will live vividly in me all the days of my life. I’ll always miss Lane, and also truly treasure that time we had together—when those guys owned this sport and introduced me to their world behind the bucking chutes.
Fast forward nearly two decades to the 2007 National Junior High Finals Rodeo at Red Rock Park in Gallup, N.M. I was there with my two boys—Lane and Taylor—at the contestant orientation meeting one afternoon when a kid cruised by with a familiar, bow-legged walk and a big feather in his hat. I couldn’t take my eyes off of that kid—who appeared at very first glance to be the second coming of Lane Frost. At second glance, the kid rode in a pair of old green chaps with black clovers on them that Lane had worn in high school—before handing them off to his cousin Shane.
I saw the similarities before I saw that personable kid’s smile light up the whole park, just like Lane would have. And before my boys, that kid and his little brother were introduced as cousins. Joe and Josh Frost were from the Utah branch of the family tree. My boys were born in Colorado and raised in California. The four cowboy kids hit it off the minute they met, and played into the night on a homemade contraption of a cowboy toy the Utah dad, Shane, had made. Those boys roped, flanked and tied that thing until their hands bled, laughed but never did put that stopwatch down trying to beat each other, and had a big time. They all tore ’em up in the timed events at the rodeo, too. Then there was Joe, who won the national title in the junior bull riding, and like Lane Frost had with me, showed my boys that there really are no barriers in the cowboy kingdom.
Fast forward again to the good times those kids and cousins had together the last few years at the National High School Finals Rodeo in Wyoming, roping the dummy all day and playing pool in the rec room into the night. More timed-event titles, buckles, saddles and horse trailers for the tribe, plus Joe’s 2010 national bull riding title.
Fast forward yet again to this year’s College National Finals Rodeo, where Taylor, who’d won the national all-around championship back in Gallup thanks to the timed events, won the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association tie-down roping title. And Joe—in perfect stepping-stone fashion after national junior high and high school titles, and with NIRA Student President Lane pulling his bull rope—stuck it on ’em with the NIRA national bull riding championship.
There’s a subplot relationship here, secondary for me to the cousins because they’re blood to me, but pointed out to me by my Lane. It’s the one between Joe Frost and Sage Kimzey. I remember Sage from back in Gallup, when there were Sage Steele Kimzey for Junior High President signs posted all over Red Rock Park. He was small for his age, but already had a huge presence. As Lane pointed out to me at the close of the 2014 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, “What Joe and Sage have done is crazy amazing. They both won their circuits (Wilderness and Prairie) by a mile, they were 1-2 (Joe-Sage) at the College Finals, they were 1-2 (Sage-Joe) at the All American Pro Rodeo Finals in Waco this fall, 1-2 at the WNFR (Sage-Joe) and 1-2 (Sage-Joe) in the world. Those two guys have stepped up and dominated big time.”
I hadn’t tracked it all quite like Lane had, but it’s all true. And so reminiscent of the Tuff and Lane years way back when. Sage stole so much of the show in 2014, and rightly so with his money records, NFR win and gold buckle. I’m pumped for him, and so is his friend Joe. It chaps me when I hear some people trying to brew up a rivalry that’s anything but friendly because—just like it was with Lane and Tuff—Joe and Sage have a deep mutual respect. That’s how it is with the best guys. They all have the confidence to live the excuse-free “may the best man win” way. I love that, and that all the true champs have it in common.
“Joe and I grew up riding against each other, and the camaraderie among all of us is real,” Sage said. “We’re all good buddies, whether we’re rivals or not. Joe and I are fans of the sport. We want it to grow. We’re fans of each other, too. I’ve seen Joe have a lot of success, and I’m happy for him. I’m just looking for me and everybody else to have fun.”
While Joe won national championships in junior high, high school and college, Sage has had a different path to the top, due in part to injury timeouts, including a broken ankle and riding hand in high school. He didn’t whine or complain, though. He switched hands and rode on. This year, Sage became the first rookie bull rider since Bill Kornell in 1963 to win the world.
“I know I did something great and something only one other person’s ever been able to do and that was 50 years ago,” he said. “It’s kind of set in what I’ve done, but not to the extent it’s going to in the future, when I have more perspective (he’s only 20).
“Joe’s a good bull rider. He’s had a bunch of success and I don’t see his success fading or going anywhere. We’re both young and we’re doing what we love to do. There’s no telling how much fun is still ahead of us.”
And Joe’s more than just a good bull rider. In addition to the $104,820 he won at the Finals, and the $174,378 he banked riding bulls in 2014, Joe also won enough in the tie-down roping and steer wrestling this year to take the coveted 2014 Linderman Award. In today’s world of cowboy specialization, that’s a huge feat in versatility. And when it comes to the one guy who stood between Joe and that world title, the mutual respect flows freely.
“I grew up looking up to the competition between Denny Flynn and Donnie Gay, and Tuff Hedeman and Lane Frost,” said Joe, whose dad, Shane Frost, was a first cousin to Lane. “Sage and I are friends first. He can really ride, and he stays calm. He never panics, and he’s been hot all year because of that.
“Sage and I both want to win, and we both respect each other and push each other. I love being up when Sage is, because it makes me ride better. After this year we set the stage for what’s to come for the next several years in the bull riding in the PRCA. It’s neater than heck to be a part of that.”
The Top 15 bull riders got on 150 bulls at NFR ’14, and got 32 percent of them ridden. “That stat just shows you that in the bull riding the competition’s not between the guys as much as it is us against the bulls,” Joe pointed out.
Joe set the record for most money ever won on a PRCA permit in 2012. Sage broke that record in 2013. “That’s something Sage and I talked about in the spring of 2013,” Joe said. “I told him my opinion is that you try to win enough on your permit the year before you get your card that you can get into the winter rodeos. Winning your circuit on your permit is a great goal, too. It’s those little steps along the way that build your confidence and set you up to have a strong rookie year.”
I’ve personally looked across the arena to see Clyde and Elsie Frost—who celebrated their 56th anniversary on Nov. 30—sitting in the second row behind the bucking chutes every performance of the last 28 NFRs. They’ve been there 30 of the 30 years the Finals has been in Vegas, and I marvel at how they cheer for everyone else’s kids after losing their own. It was such fun to see Elsie holding up her “Frost is Hot” sign when Joe rode this time around.
“We used to hang signs, and Kellie (Lane’s wife at the time; now the wonderful Kellie Macy) hung ‘Frost is Hot’ signs that were so professionally done,” Elsie smiled. “I went to the drug store and bought poster board and Magic Markers, so mine looked like a kindergartner made it. Clyde and I started getting nervous every night about the time the calf roping was going on. We wanted Joe to do good so bad, and of course he really did great, which was so exciting for us.”
Clyde, whose brother Joe was Joe’s grandpa, rode bareback horses at the first-ever NFR in Dallas in 1959 and four others. “My brother Joe would be so proud of his grandson Joe,” Clyde said. “My brother was a very bashful person. Young Joe looks shy, but when he gets up in front of a mic he handles himself so well. There aren’t too many young kids who take the time to call and text their great aunt and uncle, but Joe goes out of his way to stay in touch. And we sure appreciate it. We love rodeo, and when you have kin to watch it’s even greater. We’re sure pulling for Joe, and are tickled at how well he’s doing.”
I always used to love it when Lane Frost would say he was “plumb tickled” about something.
“When young Joe smiles, I think of Lane,” Elsie added. “It’s not the same smile, but it’s so prominent. The way Joe talks to little kids really reminds me of Lane, too.”
Lane Frost used to love to rope calves, like Joe does, though I never knew Lane to bulldog. Joe grew up barrel racing, pole bending, goat tying, breakaway roping, ribbon roping, chute dogging, team roping, bareback riding, tie-down roping and bulldogging in addition to the calf, steer and bull riding. So I guess his Linderman win should really come as no surprise.
“We did every event to improve our horsemanship,” Joe remembers. “My dad always said the more you enter the more opportunities you give yourself to win and the more you learn how to win. We were there to win first in every event. My dad is extremely competitive, and he’s instilled that in all of us.
“The Linderman has been as big a goal for me as qualifying for the National Finals. It goes right up there next to the PRCA world championship for me. It meant a lot to get that buckle. It’s neat for there to be an award that recognizes guys who compete at both ends of the arena. Every event is so tough these days, so to be competitive at both ends the way the sport has evolved is pretty cool.”
Shane and Lisa Frost have four kids, Joe, 22, Josh, 19—who this year came close to Sage’s $47,726 permit earnings record with $46,653— Jate, 13, and Jacelyn, 10.
It hasn’t all been easy street for Joe. He’s the first to admit he struggled to stay on last fall at regular-season’s end—right at the Finals-cut finish line. That’s when his ultimate hero stepped up with a few words of wisdom.
“My dad told me, ‘Don’t be afraid to reach your dream,’ ” Joe remembers gratefully. “I was having hell staying on, and it was mental issues. My dad always knows exactly what to say to get me back on track. The night before the Finals started he told me, ‘Everyone is going to tell you to treat this like it’s just another rodeo. But this isn’t just another rodeo. This is the one you’ve worked for your whole life. So just go out and enjoy it.’ ”
The people Joe looks up to most “for their success in the arena and in life” include his dad, ProRodeo Hall of Fame bull rider Denny Flynn, and his rodeo coaches at Oklahoma Panhandle State University in Goodwell, Craig Latham and Robert Etbauer. Etbauer’s one of the ProRodeo Hall of Fame bronc riding brothers. Latham’s an NFR bronc rider, who rodeoed as the honorary fourth Etbauer brother. His blood brother, Deke, who died in a holiday car accident when he was way too young, also rode broncs at the NFR.
Craig, who’s been battling cancer without complaint for years, surprised Joe by flying into Vegas one day. When Joe rolled around the corner and down the tunnel that night, bull rope in hand, he had tears in his eyes telling me about it.
“I’ll never forget that day,” Joe now says, looking back on it. “I talked to Craig every night before I rode, but that day he called me at noon to tell me he was there supporting me. I didn’t know what he was talking about. I couldn’t believe he was there. It was the one day we had an extra ticket, so he was sitting with my parents. I had a bull I’d fallen off of earlier in the year, and I had to work my butt off to get him ridden. To win the round there that night for Craig, well, that’s something I’ll remember forever.”
After winning Round 1 on opening night (that buckle went straight to Shane’s belt), Joe won Round 5 for Craig, and the kid who rode with a “Ridin’ for Craig” patch on his vest every night promptly handed that one over to Coach.
“Everybody knows Craig and Robert are great guys and extremely helpful to everybody,” Joe said. “I wanted to go to a school where I could be around world championship people in and out of the arena. I knew I could trust Craig from the first day I met him. I felt at home there with him from day one. Being around those guys has shaped me as a person this last three and a half years.”
Joe will graduate this spring with a degree in agricultural business. His next round of goals include a fourth regional all-around saddle in college, making his circuit finals in all three events and moving up one hole in the world bull riding championship race. Making his first Finals definitely fanned his flames.
“The NFR was everything I’d expected it to be and more,” he said. “You hear people talking about being at the NFR and you see it on TV. But there’s nothing I could tell somebody who hasn’t ridden there to describe the feeling of what it’s like to be there. I know exactly why I went to 82 rodeos all year long, and I didn’t know that in 2013 when I went to 94 rodeos and ended up 20th. Everyone wants to make the NFR. But nobody realizes how bad you want to be there until you’ve been there. It’s like Tuff said the other day, ‘Until you’ve been here, you don’t really understand just how special it is.’
“The thing I’m happiest about when I think about 2014 is that I know I improved throughout the year and got better. I really dedicated myself for 45 days before the Finals, and got on two bulls every other day after starting to work out really hard the end of October. I’d ridden 30 bulls in a row for 12 seconds a pop before I got there. They weren’t rank bulls, but like Denny had told me, ‘That’ll get your confidence up and your timing down.’ It was really important to be in riding shape after that big break after the regular season. It worked, because I got through 10 rounds in good shape and was ready for 10 more.”
Ty Murray used to always tell me, “Toots, quit worrying about things you can’t control.” Joe Frost picked up on that one somewhere along the line, too.
“I can control whether I ride my bull today, and whether or not I get to the next rodeo in time to ride again tomorrow,” Joe said. “Win or lose, the only person who’s either going to get the glory or take the blame is yourself. I don’t care what you drew or if they opened the gate before you nodded. If your hand’s in the rope, get it done. It does me no good to worry about things beyond my control, but I can do something about everything in my control. So that’s what I focus my energy on.”
Eight gold buckles strong, ProRodeo Hall of Famer Donnie Gay is the winningest bull rider of all time. He’s not easily impressed, and he doesn’t dish out insincere compliments.
“Joe is a really good boy, No. 1, which makes you like him, bull riding aside,” Donnie said. “He’s just a cowboy. And he’s only going to keep fine-tuning and finessing things even more as he goes. The boy is built absolutely perfect to ride. He looks like a better conditioned Jim Shoulders to me—his legs and core are stronger. He’s just a physical specimen from top to bottom.
“Joe Frost has a bright future. He can ride, and he’s going to have a college degree in his pocket. If he doesn’t get married and have kids he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with. Doing that’s like trying to ride bulls with a 100-pound anchor around your neck. If all you have to look after is yourself there’s nothing too scary to take on. Joe’s going to be outstanding, and it’s going to be fun for guys like me to watch it happen.”
Courtesy of PRCA