Kaufman, Texas, native Cody Johnson is one of the top 40 cowboys who will be trying to dominate their rides at the Fredericksburg PBR event this Saturday at the Gillespie County Fair Grounds. Johnson appeared here in his rookie year in 2011, and this will be his first PBR event in a year and half following injuries.
Cody Johnson: Riding for glory
by Phil Houseal
Last year I wrote about the caliber of bulls that burst out of the chutes in the Professional Bull Riding event that is coming up this Saturday at the Gillespie County Fair Grounds. It’s only fair to recognize the other party with skin in this game–a lot of sore, scarred, rubbed raw skin–the cowboy. So I called up Cody Johnson to find out what it feels like to ride topside on one ton of bucking bone and muscle.
“It’s an adrenaline rush,” said the 22-year-old Kaufman, Texas, native, in that laconic tone cowboys have mastered when explaining their lifestyle as if everyone does it. “I don’t know if you are born with it, or get on and feel it and have it in you. Either way it’s a lot of fun!”
It hasn’t been exactly a lot of fun for Johnson the past few years. Just 22, he’s already a veteran, having joined the PBR as soon as he turned 18. Twenty-twelve was a big year. His ride percentage topped 28% and he earned in the high five figures. He was champion at five PBR events and a PBR World Finals Qualifier.
The next year started out well until he had to undergo hip surgery. That knocked him back physically. This season he dealt with a shoulder separation three months ago. But riding in an arena is not just hard on bone and sinew. It takes another toll.
“There is no hiding out there,” he said. “Everybody sees your mistakes. When I got bucked off the first jump, I used to throw a fit and get mad. Then I got to thinking there were little kids who looked up to me. So now I try to carry myself in a way to glorify God, win or lose.”
Johnson’s faith is something he carries with him on each ride. He admits he is far from perfect, and in 2013 got “sidetracked.”
“In 2012 I used the stage that God gave me, then got sidetracked and was not focused,” he admitted. “I went through some trials and tribulations, and spiraled down. But I feel like this is where I will rise to the top.”
Johnson is not shy in testifying.
“To get real honest, I’ve been a people pleaser my whole life. It’s gotten me far, but at the same time it’s gotten me in some bad situations,” he said. “I’ve learned to do my best for God, and let the rest take care of itself. Work as if you’re working for the Lord. That’s what I do, whether being a father or being a friend, I’m doing it for God.”
To be honest, other people feel that way. But they are content to do it as an accountant or carpenter, or myriad other careers that don’t involve working with creatures carrying Brahma genes. What is the main reason Johnson rides bulls?
“I could work 8 to 5 and have money in the bank, and provide a living for my family,” he said. “But whether you are a trash guy or a professional athlete, I believe God gives everyone a platform or stage. What they do with it is the way they give back.”
In the end, riding a PBR-caliber bull is just a day at the office for Johnson and the 39 other cowboys scheduled to go up on Saturday.
“Ever since I remember, it’s just the thrill of getting on and trying to dominate an animal. The object is to be better than him on that day.”
This will be Johnson’s first PBR ride in a year and a half. But it won’t be his first rodeo in Fredericksburg. He rode here as a rookie in 2011, and has fond memories of the way the locals put on a show.
“I was telling a buddy the other day that the Fredericksburg event is probably one of the coolest PBRs I’ve ever been through,” he said. “The way you come in with the big introduction in front of the huge stands and stand in one row is a really cool experience. It was packed and loud. When the crowd gets into it that loud, you get amped up. That’s when I do the best.”
As it is for both pro football players and prima ballerinas, the career window for bull riders is short. Most retire by 30, if they make it that far. Johnson would like to push hard for eight or nine years, putting enough aside to go into commercial cattle ranching.
Meanwhile, he’s riding for the greater glory.
“It’s a great atmosphere; you got the greatest bulls in the world; and 40 of the top guys in the world. There’s gonna be great action. It will be a heck of a time!”