Episode 004 - Tim O’Connell, 3-Time World Champion

Listen as Zwingle, Iowa cowboy, Tim O'Connell, speaks about the importance of a great mindset, what it's like traveling with Cole Franks and Jess Pope, and touches on the beauty and hardships of life on the road away from his wife and son. From a thumb injury to finishing sixth overall in the world, you hear it all here on the Kick Your Boots Up Podcast.

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Podcast Transcript

Taylor Mcadams: You're listening to the kick your boots up podcast where we swap stories of the West. Whether you're just waking up or getting in for the day, come on in and kick your boots up. Joining us today on the kick your boots up podcast is none other than three-time world champion, Tim O'Connell. Tim, it's so good to have you here. Thanks for not only being a Justin endorsee and wearing the brand well, but also just taking the time out of your busy day to be here with us.

Tim O'Connell: Well, I'm glad to be here.

Taylor Mcadams: You know, you're a rock star in and out of the arena, I love following you on social media, you always seem to have a positive attitude. And that's crucial and beneficial for the sport of rodeo talk to us about the importance of having a good positive attitude day in and day out.

Tim O'Connell: You know, like it is a struggle to have a positive attitude. But like the most things that I've thought about lately is, you know, especially showing up to a rodeo if you're not positive about the animal that you're going to get on, usually it doesn't work out. Nine times out of 10 If you have a negative mindset that the horse isn't going to be enough, or that your riding style isn't going to match up with that horse, then it's usually probably not going to work out you'll find something in your, your mind or your thoughts while you're riding why this isn't feeling good, and why you're not going and then you start going through the motions of the ride and it doesn't look it doesn't look good to the judges and it doesn't pan out it doesn't ever pencil out on paper for you. So I've really started to you know, get excited about everything about a rodeo you know, it's not a I have to it's I get to attitude. And you know, I get to go ride bucking horses and I get to get on every kind of get different kinds of style of horses and you know, I get to go to all these places over the country and and I just love what I get to do honestly.

Taylor Mcadams: And your top notch at it, you do I love that you said you get to do things. And it seems like you know your stuff, too. Obviously, you can't be a world champion without not knowing a little bit of something. Tell us about your family background and how you got started in rodeo.

Tim O'Connell: So my dad was a pickup man. He picked up for Cervi Rodeo for like 20 plus years. And then he you know, we started being more and you know, he started kind of staying around the house a little bit more. And he worked for Three Hills Rodeo for a good portion as well. And we just started rodeoin' and you know, like we said every weekend, we'd just go see my dad, whatever rodeo he was at. So like we would always pack up on a Friday morning and skip school and go rodeo for the weekend. And, you know, that's how my brother and I just kind of fell fell in love with rodeo, you know, and it was just, it was part of our DNA at that point. And we ran around for you know, years and years and then the summertime would come, and we only live 10 miles from the Three Hills ranch in Three Hills Rodeo Company. So we would go and spend a majority of our summer over on the ranch, workin' the ranch and then go on rodeo with him all summer. So it was really in the cards for us to pick up. Pick up this lifestyle My brother did he rode a bull saddle broncs was a bullfighter. He was a pickup man. And now he runs his Championship Pro Rodeo. And I always fell in love with the competition side of things. You know, I was a bull rider all through high school. And you know, I rode sheep and steers and all that. And then I kind of figured out that I was more of a bull getter onner than a bull rider. I found bareback riding when I was a senior in high school and I just absolutely fell in love with it. And then, you know, I just kind of got obsessed with the sport and how it worked and the ins and outs and the fine details. And here we are.

Taylor Mcadams: Wow. And I'm sure so many have so many different questions about that because I know I do. But I want to back up a little bit where you said your brother was a bullfighter. That's, you know, pretty incredible and he's worn many hats but now has become a stock contractor and owns the company. Have you ever tried to be a bullfighter? What did that end up for? What ended up like for you?

Tim O'Connell: I helped at the practice pen one time and I yeah, I don't want anything to do with those animals. Like I told him you guys get one pass. I'm gonna give you one good pass, and then you're on your own after that like you save your own butt you're not getting up and running after i i made the pass and that's your own fault. That's as good as you're gonna get.

Taylor Mcadams: Mad respect for Dusty and Cody then because those guys are crazy for doing what they do.

Tim O'Connell: Absolutely.

Taylor Mcadams: But a little bit I want to go back to your story. You kind of your brother said that you just knew rodeo and you you've kind of fell into this this love and appreciation for the sport. That's huge. Every cowboy has a love and appreciation for either their animals the way of life. They get up and go. What do you think is your favorite part about the sport of rodeo?

Tim O'Connell: You know, like, I think it's the family that you get to make with it. You know, like when I was talking with my wife when we got married. You know, we had to invite my family, her family and then we had to invite our rodeo family. You know like you make so many lifelong friends going up and down the road because you see him on a weekly basis. As you know, you talk to him on a weekly basis. And then, unfortunately, you know, like when you retire from the sport, it kind of all goes away. But you know, your family never really goes away. So you just get to, you get to live a whole different life for, you know, for a roughstock rider, or it could be 15 years, 10 years, 20 years, however long your, your body's gonna let you do this. But you create a whole different life with a whole different family that comes from all walks of life. And that's what I love the most about this sport.

Taylor Mcadams: And it sounds like for you, since you're not only a one-time world champion, you're a three-time world champion, you've been there done that you've kind of mastered a little bit, the traveling aspect of it being away with your family, being away from your family, joining a rodeo family, things like that. What is some insider advice that you have for someone who is struggling on the rodeo Road, maybe they're in a rut, or maybe they're just not getting it, they're not figuring out how to get up and go all the time, what would be your piece of advice for them there?

Tim O'Connell: I would just stay hard headed. I mean, this is a grind this is nothing. Just because your winter doesn't go very good doesn't mean that your summer can't I mean, there was a time where I didn't start rodeo until Reno and I finished sixth in the world. You know, like, it's, it's a grind, you have to roll with the punches, and you just can't count yourself out. At any given moment. Yeah, you got to believe in yourself, you know, we pay an entry fee. So you're betting on yourself anyway. So you might as well take that with full, full force and go go full on into it. Because that's, that's all you got to do. You can't bet on yourself and who you got to bet on then you don't, then you don't if you don't want to bet on yourself, and believe that you can do it, then you need to step away from this game because it is too dangerous not to believe in yourself.

Taylor Mcadams: Wow. And you've seen some pretty high highs, obviously with winning the world a few times. And then some pretty low lows even recently. Well not so recently anymore, let's let's act like it's longer than it was, um, you had your thumb injury, tell us about the thumb injury and how you were able to mentally overcome that which made you physically overcome that.

Tim O'Connell: Well, I have my thumb, I tore the ligament that stabilizes my thumb in August, late August two in Kennewick Washington. And, you know, that was 100 days before the NFR started. So I had them go in surgically tack my thumb back together, and then try to get my grip strength back to where it was. And they came back literally four days before I left for the national finals, you know, and that was with all my PT and all my surgeons and all my my training that the training that you have to do to get ready for the finals anyway, you know, it was a big mix of everything. But I had the I had the right people in my corner, I got the people in my village that believe in me and believe that I can do things that other people can't do. And they'll push me to that point too. And it was having guys like Dr. Sean Scott set the surgery up and checking in every week and having you know, keep me in check of what I can and can't do. But also let me do a little bit more. But I mean, like he really ran the ship on that. And he got with my trainer and he got with my coaches. And he gave them very black and white instructions on what I can and can't do. And I followed that to a “T” and I followed that to a tee. Because I knew that he was going to make sure that I was ready to go and I was ready to go for the National Finals (Rodeo). And it was it was a I mean, it's a that was a very quick turnaround from having that kind of a thumb injury.

Taylor Mcadams: And being able to only have just gotten your grip strength back four days before the NFR that had to have been a little bit nerve-wracking, right?

Tim O'Connell: No, I mean, not really. I knew it was commin'. I didn't know if I was gonna get it all the way or not. But it was pretty close. I mean, I was really happy when I see my left hand finally go over my right hand and because I am left handed dominant. So it did give me just more confidence going into the finals, that I wasn't gonna have to worry about my thumb. And even Dr. Sean Scott, his uh, his motto is if I'm not nervous, you can't be nervous. And he told me he was more nervous when they took my tailbone out last year than I will then he was for this thumb so I was pretty happy about that.

Taylor Mcadams: And everything's hindsight 2020 Right? So he probably wouldn't have told you at the time of your tailbone that he was nervous, but after the fact it was okay that he said it right?

Tim O'Connell: Yeah, it was okay that he said it after that.

Taylor Mcadams: And kind of talking a little bit about that more you are a prime example of utilizing the Justin Sportsmedicine Team® to the fullest because even now you have to you know, continue to watch your thumb and make sure more injuries like that don't happen. How important is it to you to have the Justin Sportsmedicine Team® at some of the rodeos that you're at?

Tim O'Connell: It's crucial like I only really go to rodeos now that I do have the Justin Sportsmedicine Team® there. You know like there's no other professional sport that's going to have you go out on your own without without doctors there without PT's their trainers there. And what we do for a living is very hard on your body. It is very taxing and you need them guys to be there for your bumps and bruises in the tape that we go through and what the ins and outs of what it takes to be a rodeo caliber rodeo cowboy cowboy at the highest caliber now. And you know, there's just time after time where your bruises just ended up, battling up and you got to have guys like theJustin Sportsmedicine Team® there. And that's why, you know, I really only go to rodeos that have been there anymore.

Taylor Mcadams: And they're pretty good about prevention as well. So not only do they help you, once you get injured, they help along the way with prevention. But you know, since being a cowboy is your professional job, you're a professional rodeo cowboy, that it's important for you to maintain your body to treat it all well to work out to get your balance, right. You mentioned earlier that you have coaches tell us about your coaches and what you're able to do for strength training, how you balance all of it, and how you get prepared and get ready for the rodeo season.

Tim O'Connell: So I have a personal trainer that I've been with for the last, oh, gosh, seven, eight years now. I mean, he knows me to a tee. And, you know, we work out accordingly. And we, you know, he has to adjust his stuff all the time, because I'm always coming in with injuries. But, you know, he knows when to push me. He knows when I maintain my body. He knows when like, we need to build a backup and we need to slow it back down like he he gets all that and I also still work with my rodeo coach from college on my technique. You know, I always thought you know that guy really sharpen the axe. So why not continually let him do that. So I still I still live in the town. I went to college yet. I'm actually an assistant coach on the rodeo team now and he still works out with me and helps me out helps Jess out. There's a bunch of us that you know have utilized Stan, Marsh, Missouri, and you know, figuring out what bareback use all about and Yeah, and just the you know, my wife obviously too, you know, like she's she's a huge team player on this deal. Like she helps me with, you know, all my endorsements, making sure I'm in the right places at the right time. I mean, people don't understand how hectic Cowboy Christmas is when you're running around trying to do autograph sessions. And, you know, she really keeps me on track on a daily basis and makes sure that I have my ducks in a row so I can focus on ridin' bucking horses.

Taylor Mcadams: You know, I'm so thankful you brought her up because I'm really curious to hear the men's perspective on rodeo marriage. I'm sure there's a lot of people out there too that want to know more. Is it hard to be married and go on the rodeo road? Or let's talk about the highs and lows of that as well.

Tim O'Connell: I mean, it is it isn't it isn't right. You know, the the hard part is leaving your wife and leaving your kids that's the hardest part for sure. But at the same time, I feel like they all knew what they signed up for when they started dating or marrying a rodeo cowboy. You know, the best the best is with these rodeos or the rodeos and the winner is for the last how many years we've been able to bring bring the family down to Texas with us, you know, with rodeos that have multiple days, where you're competing, I usually will bring my family down with me like it's just a no brainer and kind of rodeos like that throughout the summer that you have more time at, I'll bring my family with me. And the other fact is like I don't, I don't hang out on the road either. Like if as soon as the rodeos are done for the week, I get the next flight back home. Like and that's just how we've set up our relationship. You know, that doesn't work for everybody. But that works for us. And that's what keeps our marriage happy, is uh, not wasting any time when I can be with them.

Taylor Mcadams: And what a cool perspective too, I'm sure that's changed over the years, you know, as you were younger and single, I'm sure you did like to enjoy hanging out a little bit more. But it is really, really cool to see you mature and grow and become a husband and be the dad that you are that's so inspiring to a lot of guys out there. And a lot of women too, that are just looking for, you know, that aspect of it all you guys are put in the limelight a lot, but then I feel like you're you're better, better half whether you're male or female in the limelight, they don't always get the credit. So I always like to throw that in anytime we get a chance because wives and husbands rodeos are incredible. You know, you can't do anything without them in the back behind the scenes. But kind of going back to your coaching and your mental game and your toughness, I'm sure there's a lot of advice that you'd like to give to people that you know are wanting to they're either in a rut in rodeo, they're wanting to get started in rodeo. They're young, they're old, they're trying to get back at it over, you know, overcome injuries. What are some things that you'd like to tell people I know you mentioned having a hard head, but maybe something else.

Tim O'Connell: Um, you get you're only as good as who you travel with. That's another thing too, like, you gotta surround yourself with guys that want the same thing or have done the same thing that you're going for, like, if you surround yourself with three winners, you'll be the fourth winner, you know, like you're only as good as the people that you're the company that you keep at the end of the day. I mean, you'll just kind of rise to that occasion. So I would say find people that want the same things. See, as you do or compete at the same level as you do, that are striving to be great at what they do. That's the biggest thing. You know, when I rodeo with Jess and I rodeo with Cole Franks, you know, like, we are all trying to win a world title. I mean, that keeps that rig very competitive on a daily basis, you know, you have to show up and do your job to the best of your abilities, you don't get a day off or you don't get paid. You know, that's, that's one thing I would encourage everybody to do is to find traveling partners that keep you accountable.

Taylor Mcadams: And you guys have a good thing go into I know that you guys experience a lot of life together in and out of the arena. And that's, that's key as well, but kind of speaking of an arena when Jess winning the world, this previous NFR What was it like for you being there beside him getting to lift him up, cheer him on, because you've experienced that same as well.

Tim O'Connell: You know, it's, it was exciting. You know, I'm not gonna sit here and lie to you and tell you, I didn't want to win the world. But Manny kicked our butts. He just did. He just made a flawless performance. And he made everybody start taking chances, and the chances that we all took failed. And he just kept doing the same thing over and over and over again. And then, you know, finally it was the 10th round. And I had competed. And I kind of like telling the story now. But like, we're leaving me and just over the rodeo every single day with each other. And we're getting in the car. He goes, Man, I really screwed up today. I was like, What did you do? And as I kept picking my phone up, because people were calling me telling me not to miss this horse out. And all I can think about is missing this horse out now. And honestly, that's the dumbest thing I think you've ever told me Jess like, let's go over there. Let's do the same thing we've done for the last nine nights in a row, get through our warm-ups, go tape up and then go spur buckin horses. The only thing difference in that is they're going to give you a gold Buckler that says you're the world champion. And it had kind of worked itself out. We're like. Unfortunately, I was weirdly in the pecking order. I was always at the beginning of the set of the bare background. He was the last guy out so we would swap help. Well, this night, I was sixth to last. I mean, so I was ninth. And Cole was at the front. So Cole road, and then me and Jess pulled my horse. And then when Jess came in me and Cole pulled Jess' and got his regen ready. Well, Jess has got like two people to go in front of him and he is ghost white. And I'm like, What is wrong with this guy. So like, if anyone's ever seen me, like, obviously in the arena, but on like, the 15 minutes before I get a bucking horse in 15 minutes, after, like my adrenaline is running high. And so I got in his face, and I started yelling at him. And then at the end of it and I started yelling some things that I'm not going to repeat to it. But the end of it, I ended up hitting him. Like I like slapped him on the chest. And I said you need to go get what's yours now. And then he like finally like his face kind of woke himself back up. And this is the point where he has to put his glove back on like he is go time. So like, you know, it kind of sparked him back up. And he didn't make like a very good ride. But he got the job done. And at the end of the day, and I was really happy and proud for him.

Taylor Mcadams: Without a doubt what a cool story to and to have somebody like you for each other. It doesn't matter when the rolls or switched who's winning, who's not. You guys genuinely care for each other. You genuinely genuinely want each other to win. And that's inspiring.

Tim O'Connell: Yeah, at the end of the day, like, you know, those two are my brothers, you know, like, they're, they're not blood, but they're my brother like you do spend so much time with them. You know, in the summer, I mean, you're living in a back of a pickup pretty much with two other grown men. I mean, like she spent a lot of time with them. And you know, you just they're your brothers at the end of the day you want what's best for him.

Taylor Mcadams: Oh, yeah, and you guys truly have set the bar really high in rodeo. It's really incredible to watch you guys actually, whenever you're up together, cheer each other on behind the scenes, and I encourage everyone out there to to do the same. You know, watch you guys on the bucking chutes, watch you guys interact with each other. It's it's really awesome. And then along that same line, what's it like then having, you know, millions of people cheering your name cheering you on and then balancing the pressure of trying to stay humble trying to keep your head right because it is a big mental game.

Tim O'Connell: I just think remembering where you came from, you know, remembering that everybody in this world puts their pants on one leg at a time. So whether what you do in, in your sport in your life, you know, like, you should never look down your nose at anybody. You know, so I think that's been the biggest thing. You know, like I have felt like over the years I'm still the same guy that bought is bought his rookie card that I am the guy that's 10 years into this now, you know I don't feel like I've changed no matter what my accomplishments are, you know, like, they're great, and I love them. And I've done some really great things in this sport, and I plan on doing more. But at the end of the day, I've just done things in my life.

Taylor Mcadams: And that's exactly the right attitude to have. And not a lot of people in the industry can say that. So I'm very impressed with you on that. But speaking of future plans, before we go, let's talk about the 2023 season that's already well underway. By now it's probably almost you know, you're gearing up for the summer, the stakes are high, you're starting with a new game plan, What's your game plan for this year to make sure that you're sitting better or on top, going into the NFR?

Tim O'Connell: I'm going to play it pretty close to what I did last year, I'm going to go get on the horses that I really want to get on. I'm going to do my best at all these and all these rodeos showing up making sure that my body is in the best shape, it can be that my mind is in the right shape it can be and just showing up and showing out every chance I get, if I got an opportunity to win, I'm gonna take it. If I don't have an opportunity to win at your rodeo, I'm probably not going to come to your rodeo and I'm gonna take that time to get my body better. You know, and I played that played that pretty honest last year. And it was really working, you know, I had before I got hurt, I had been to 37 rodeos. And I was the number one guy in the world. So that was a, that was a really good strategy for me last year, I felt like I was riding as good if not the best I've ever rode before that injury. And I'm gonna play that pretty close to the exact same way.

Taylor Mcadams: I really held on to what you said, you are going to pick the horses that you want to ride, you get to go to the rodeos, with the horses and the stock that you want to ride. Talk more about that. Because now that you're you know, established and you're more of a pro and your name is a household name, you get to do that more. So you've proved your way you've made your way. Tell us about that. That side of it, because not a lot of people get there either.

Tim O'Connell: Yeah, I mean, you know, it is a random draw for the horses that you get on. But there is always the best horse in the pin in the worst horse in the pen. And it doesn't matter how good you are, at the end of the day, if you don't have something that is even close to the best horse in the pen or the second best or the third best, they only pay so many holes and you're paying to play and with what it costs to go up and down the road what it costs to to play this game, you're better off staying at the house sometimes, and just making sure that your body's good. And, you know, I got through a drawing slump there last year where there was 19 Different times where I didn't even have an opportunity to win a check. So I just stayed at the house. And yeah, I mean, it's not the way I want to I've never entered a rodeo with plans on turning out or planning not to come. But you know, I've done that in the past where I went and got on those 19 horses and I beat my body up and I just did it for free. And you know, I'm just not at the point in my career anymore, where I'm gonna do that. And that's not for everybody, either. I know when I mean in my heart and in my brain, if I know I got a chance to win when I show up and I'm excited about the animal that I'm getting on, I'm going to make a really good ride and the horses probably going to be good and I'm probably gonna win. Or at least catch a good check. And that was how I I played that out in my head last year and then it penciled out on paper when it got done too. I mean, there wasn't a lot of a lot of people that could go to 37 rodeos and then take off the last six weeks of the regular season coming in the NFR in the top eight.

Taylor Mcadams: Not many at all that can say that. And that you're one of the very few and that right there alone proves how good of a cowboy you are and how strategic you were planning early on for things like that. It's almost like you plan for something right? You were prepared prepare for the worst expect the best. And knowing that you've had the taste of winning Cheyenne, Prescott, very large rodeos. What's your game plan? What what rodeos Are you headed to this summer? What are what's going to be your strategy overall, for the whole summer, not even just Cowboy Christmas alone, but just trying to hit as many good ones, big ones as you can.

Tim O'Connell: We're gonna go to every big rodeo that we possibly can in the week. Not that I don't care about the circuit system. But there's so many big tour rodeos that go on that I can't delegate 15 rodeos, to my circuit that you can by the time you get done placing at all 15 rodeos you could have won that to two or rodeos you know, I can't, can't justify the swing there. And then if our open is overtop of Calgary and always go to Calgary overtop of the NFR Open, no offense to the NFR Open I think they put on a great event. But Calgary as Calgary at the end of the day, and you know, that's just kind of my game plan. You know, we're just gonna we're gonna get in the hunt. We're going to enter the biggest rodeos. We're going to put our our names in there and we're going to it'll be wolves against wolves every time. And like, I think that keeps you that keeps you motivated that keeps you hungry. I think a lot of times when you move down to like a circuit system rodeo, you feel like it should be a layup. And at the end of the day, it's still at an animal, it's still bucking horse underneath you and you still have to do your job at a very high level. And I think that gets people in methodical thinking and methodical riding. So I want to make sure that if we're showing up, we have to ride at our very best. And, you know, hopefully, our drawing skills are on point.

Taylor Mcadams: They will be I have faith for you guys. And you guys are so strategic with everything. So I have no doubt in my mind that it's going to be a great summer run a great end to the 2023 season this year. Lots of lots of things in store for you both personally, professionally. I'm just so inspired and so ready to watch your journey. I know everyone else else out there is as well. And if we get the chance to follow you somewhere, where can everyone find you? I know you're big on social media. So give yourself a plug. Let's give the chance for everyone to reach out and watch your story and see how you shine.

Tim O'Connell: Yeah, my my real thing is Official Tim O'Connell on Instagram. That's where a lot of my well that in my Facebook page. I have Tim O'Connell Facebook page, that's a like a fan page. I post my schedules on there, I post my rides on there, the Cowboy Channel does a great job at helping us get our rides, get our media and get everyone so we we post the weekly places where I'm going, like officially, if it's on that page, then I'm going there for sure. So and then usually underneath there, we will put if it's on The Cowboy Channel or The Cowboy Channel Plus App and what time, that's all riding. But those are my two main pages where everyone can follow me at and get the insight of what we're doing how we're doing it.

Taylor Mcadams: That's so great. I know I appreciate seeing your schedule as well. So thank you for that. And thank you for taking the time out of your very busy week this week. Taking the time to talk with us and share with us your story. I feel like we've gotten to know a little bit more about you. So thank you for continuing to be your genuine self and good luck down the rodeo road.

Tim O'Connell: Thank you very much.

Taylor Mcadams: Thanks for joining us on Kick Your Boots Up. I'm your host Taylor McAdams and we can't wait to share the next story of the West. Until then, feel free to like subscribe and leave us a review. Follow us on social media at Justin boots to keep up with our next episode. And we'll see you the next time you kick your boots up.