Written by: Ted Harbin
March 10, 2019 / Guthrie, Oklahoma – Seventeen days before the opening round of the CINCH Timed Event Championship, Justin Thigpen took a call from the Lazy E Arena inviting him to be a replacement for the injured JoJo LeMond.
Fifty hours after he roped his first steer, the Waycross, Georgia, cowboy became just the 15th man to win the “Ironman of ProRodeo” in the event’s 35th year. What’s even bigger is that he became the third rookie in that time to claim the title and the top prize: Leo Camarillo won it in the first year in 1985, and Mike Beers was the next newcomer to do it a year later.
“I’ve wanted to come here for years,” said Thigpen, a 19-time International Professional Rodeo Association champion who has won titles in the all-around, tie-down roping, heading and steer roping. “I’ve dedicated my life to roping. I’m’ so glad I got to prove to myself that I can do it and that I belong here.”
Yes, he does, and he proved it to the well-educated Lazy E crowd from the opening kickoff. He was strong and steady and placed in the first three rounds – second in the first two performances and first on Saturday afternoon. He also packed a heavy dose of prizes and money, $107,000.
It’s the richest weekend of competition he’s ever earned.
“By far,” he said. “Wow. What a great event. I’m honored that they had me. The crowd is just amazing; they respect the horsemanship it takes and the cowboys. There’s not another event that’s dedicated to the roping and bulldogging like this event.”
Twenty of the best all-around, timed-event cowboys in the game test their skills in this unique challenge, where each man must compete in heading, heeling, tie-down roping, steer wrestling and steer roping in order to complete a round.
The biggest paydays come in the 25-run aggregate. Thigpen finished in 341.9 seconds to collect the top prize of $100,000, then added his money in the rounds to get his total. K.C. Jones, a five-time CTEC champion from Burlington, Wyo., finished second in 412.0, which was worth $25,000.
“Justin’s rodeoed for a long time,” said Jones, who has pocketed $493,500 in CTEC cash in his career. “He’s got a good arena, and he gets to rope a lot in the wintertime. I come out of Wyoming, and I go to south Georgia to get out of the weather. Once he got invited to come here, we got together and practiced.
“There are a ton of good rodeos down there, but they’re just in a different association. He’s competed, but he’s lived in the wrong part of the country for a lot of people to notice.”
They’re noticing now. In fact, Thigpen had secured his championship after the 24th run of his weekend. He held a 63.8-second advantage after the 23rd event, then added to it in steer wrestling, one of his signature disciplines. The worst a cowboy could get in the CTEC is a 60-second run, the equivalency of a no-time.
Therefore, the big check had his name etched on it before he made his final run of the weekend.
“When I came to bulldogging, my buddy that helped me all weekend, Matt McGee, told me, ‘Hey, don’t back off now. You’ve got a job to do,’ ” he said. “That’s the mentality we take. That’s the dedication in the practice pen. Let it show off in the arena.”
It was definitely a learning situation for Thigpen, who had never attempted a steer roping run before he accepted the invitation. That that he understands he will be back in this arena as the defending champion, Thigpen plans to work more on that event and heeling – they are the two he doesn’t do often at rodeos.
For his first time inside the massive arena, he took all the challenges the CTEC offers and handled them in dominating fashion. It can be a grueling test of each athlete’s physical and mental endurance.
“I run a lot of cattle and compete at the rodeos, so I felt like it was to my advantage physically just running them back to back to back,” Thigpen said. “I know a lot of guys here who just run at one event most of the time. It was nothing for me at that end of it.
“As far as the mental side of it, I told myself so many times this week, “Stay smooth, stay in the game; don’t get ahead of the game if you draw a cow that is stronger. Still do your job, get a time and go on to the next one.’ ”
It worked, and he has the right mental game to handle this event for years to come. He knows just what to consider as he trains and plans for next March and the 2020 CINCH Timed Event Championship.
“Don’t get over-confident, and don’t take it for granted,” he said. “Live for this moment, but you better practice and you better be ready for next year. It’s an event like not other, and it ain’t for the faint of heart.
“You’ve got to go at them. The pen is big, the cattle are strong. You’ve got to bear down and do your job every time you nod your head. There’s not a layup in this thing.”
That’s what helps make it the most unique event in Western sports.
First round: 1. Jordan Ketscher, 60.7 seconds, $3,000; 2. Justin Thigpen, 72.1, $2,000; 3. Brent Lewis, 73.9, $1,000.
Second round: 1. Marcus Theriot, 73.6 seconds, $3,000; 2 Justin Thigpen, 75.7, $2,000; 3. Clayton Hass, 78.3, $1,000.
Third round: 1. Justin Thigpen, 52.6 seconds, $3,000; 2. Clayton Hass, 60.4, $2,000; 3. Rhen Richard, 61.1, $1,000.
Fourth round: 1. Rhen Richard, 49.1 seconds, $3,000; 2. Cash Myers, 57.1, $2,000; 3. Cody Doescher, 58.0, $1,000.
Fifth round: 1. Trevor Brazile, 45.8 seconds, $3,000; 2 Clay Smith, 47.7, $2,000; 3. Brent Lewis, 53.2, $1,000.
Average: 1. Justin Thigpen, 341.9 seconds, $100,000; 2. K.C. Jones, 412.0, $25,000; 3. Erich Rogers, 420.6, $15,000; 4. Shank Edwards, 444.7, $10,000; 5. Clay Smith, 450.0, $7,500; 6. Paul David Tierney, 452.3, $5,000; 7. Jess Tierney, 453.9, $4,500; 8. Rhen Richard, 466.3, $3,000.