Editor's note: This story is the first in a series of three covering local World Champion cowboys in the National Senior Pro Rodeo Association
If bronco rider Wes Hertzog keeps winning, Olympic gold medalist Dorothy Hamill may soon be out of a job.
The ice skater who won the 1976 Olympics is a spokesperson for the osteoarthritis drug VIOXX. Hertzog, who will be 51 Dec. 9, a seven-time world champion saddle back bronco rider in the National Senior Pro Rodeo Association, said he would like to be a spokesman for VIOXX since his career was revitalized after orthopedic surgeon prescribed him the drug.
"After riding bulls and broncs for more than 20 years, my joints started to lock up," he said. "I took a break from the sport when my body hurt too much (from '96 to '99). Once I got the pills, everything loosened up and I'm back riding.
"I wrote them and told them my story," he said. "Maybe, if I keep winning, they'll ask me to be a spokesman. I could probably even ice skate if they need me to."
Since returning to the rodeo, Hertzog has won three straight NSPRA World Championships. This year was the first for Hertzog in the 50-and-over age group. He returned last week from the World Championship Rodeo in Reno, Nev., which ran from Oct. 28 to Nov. 3 as his new age group's champion. While he didn't win the actual competition in Reno, he accumulated enough points, 2,646, to distance himself from second place Keith Chapman of Georgetown, Texas, who had 2,524.
In saddle bronc riding there are two judges who look at two aspects of the ride. They look at the ability of the horse to buck and the ability of the rider to hold on. The best score a rider can get is 100, with 25 points for the bronc and 25 points for the ride from each judge.
"If you score in the 80s you know you'll probably go home with some money," Hertzog said. "Since the judging is by humans, it's not fair at times but if your feelings got hurt every time you thought you got shafted, you wouldn't last very long."
In the NSPRA, a rider is required to stay on the bronc for seven seconds instead of the famous eight seconds.
"It doesn't really matter because if you stay on for seven, you're probably going to be on for eight," he said. "Besides, I'm really shooting for 10 when I'm up there because usually what they judge on is the last moment I'm on the horse. If I'm riding strong when the buzzer goes off then I'll score higher."
There are around 90 rodeos a rider can attend throughout the season that runs from January or February to October or November.
"The season is usually broken in to runs," said the Maybell native, who can't travel all of the time because he owns a small gravel pit and a couple of tractor-trailers in the area.
"We'll go to eight events in ten days in Texas and then, later, go to eight in eight days in Nevada."
The traveling as a "we" that Hertzog refers to is his Craig rodeo companions. David From and Jim Holt have traveled with Hertzog this year and also won World Championships From in 40s saddle bronc riding and Holt in 50s bull riding.
"Winning feeds off winning," Hertzog said. "I'm just glad I don't compete against either of those guys because they are riding well."
While his local friends are "riding well," Hertzog has been riding for a long time.
"When I was 12 or 13 I was working washing dishes in Maybell for a job," he said. "They had a jackpot in Craig on Tuesday nights and I went and placed third and won $12.50, which was more than I was making washing dishes. I quit that job and began riding."
And after so many years riding, Hertzog says he is not ready to hang up his saddle yet.
"I've been fortunate to be a winner," he said. "It's a one-on-one scramble out there and as long as I'm finding ways to win, I'll be out there."
David Pressgrove can be reached at 824-7031 or email@example.com