De Soto man looks to break through at Shrine rodeo
Justin Williams is an old man in the sport of rodeo.
The bareback rider from DeSoto is 37 and competing against cowboys nearly half his age.
Williams will compete at the Shrine Rodeo starting Thursday. He grew up on a horse farm outside DeSoto and got on his first bareback horse at age 8, but it wasn’t pretty.
“I got thrown off pretty quick,” he said. “I told my dad, that’s what I want to do, and he said, that’s fine but you’re gong to wait until you’re physically mature.”
So Williams was 16 when he got on his next bucking horse in high school rodeo competition. During high school, he had a high motivation to succeed, and it was evident in three areas: football, wrestling, and the Naval Junior ROTC program, which he loved.
“During the summer I had to go to boot camp and I enjoyed it,” he said. “I was very into the discipline part of it.” He planned on following one of those three paths after high school. But he realized he wasn’t good enough to play pro football, and the only path beyond school for wrestling was the Olympics, so he didn’t pursue that.
After high school graduation, he reached a fork in the road: the military or rodeo. He accepted a college scholarship to rodeo, and took that road.
Even now, he doesn’t know whether it was the right one.
“I still don’t know if I chose the right path,” Williams reminisced. “But I’ve made a lot of friends in rodeo, and I still enjoy myself to this day.”
He exercises to stay in shape at an age when most bucking horse riders have retired. Work requires two to four miles of walking every day, and he uses a weight machine, lifts, and runs daily. And his discipline has paid off. He has qualified for the regional championships, the Prairie Circuit Finals, 17 times, winning the year end championship once. Last year, he won the pro rodeos in Coffeyville, Manhattan and Strong City. At the Shrine Rodeo, he’s placed second four times.
Williams, who is married with 6-year-old twins, credits his work ethic for his success.
“Bareback riding is so physically hard on you,” he said. “You have to be extremely tough, and if you want to be good at it, you have to refuse to lose and do whatever it takes to win.”
In his prime 20 years ago, he was competing at upwards of 100 rodeos a year. Now, with a full-time job, a wife and kids, he goes to about 40 rodeos a year. He stays within the Prairie Circuit, pro rodeos in Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma, and that allows him to compete for the Prairie Circuit Finals champion.
He spent the last five months recuperating from his second knee surgery, and early this year, wasn’t sure he wanted to get on another bareback horse.
“In January and February, I didn’t know if I wanted to rodeo anymore. But it was the winter drolls. Once spring comes, I crave getting on bareback horses.” His age is starting to catch up with him, however, and the travel gets to him. “I hate to say it, because I love to (rodeo), but I don’t crave driving anymore. I just don’t want to travel a whole lot.”