Score one for the little guys, both literally and figuratively.
For the month of March, Sports Illustrated named Utah high school rodeo star Wyatt Johnson as its high school athlete of the month. Johnson represents a sport that is sanctioned by only a handful of states, yet his exemplary record makes it no question that he is deserving of the honors presented to him.
As for the other “little” part, well, Johnson is just 5-foot-3. There’s no way of sidestepping that height when considering his accomplishments.
And there have been many accomplishments. Johnson is the 2014 Utah rodeo state bareback riding champion, and the Payson High junior has emerged victorious from some 30-other high school events, according to Sports Illustrated’s profile of his exploits. He also finished third at the Rocky Mountain Professional Rodeo Association’s Winter Rodeo Series event at the Golden Spike indoor arena, competing against professionals who compete on the national tour. He beat riders who were more than 10 years older, and far more experienced. He finished finished fifth overall in the RMPRA season-long bareback standings for 2014 with a total of $2,448.79 in earnings, earning the nickname “Wild Man” along the way. Not bad for a high school junior.
For Johnson, a good rodeo is inspiration enough to keep coming back despite the injuries and pain, one of which had him on crutches when he received his Sports Illustrated award from legendary bareback rider Kaycee Feild who, somewhat ironically (or perhaps fittingly), was also on crutches. Don’t worry, their belt buckles were more than big enough to steal the show regardless of any crutches.
“I block out the fear—I just don’t think about it,” Johnson told Sports Illustrated. “You don’t think about getting hurt. You know it’s going to happen, but you don’t think about it. Like in football, when you’re playing, you’re probably going to get hurt but you don’t think about it, you just think about winning and having fun. And it’s the same thing with rodeo. If you do think about it, that’s when you start getting in trouble and start to get scared when you get on.
“Life without rodeo would be crazy to me. I wouldn’t be who or what I am today if it wasn’t for rodeo.”
He certainly seems like a fitting first winner of the award to represent the sport of rodeo, all 5-foot-3 of him.