Cody Rostockyj Rolls On
by Leigh Ann Schroeder Photos by Todd Brewer
On February 16, 29-year-old Cody Rostockyj pitched a perfect three for three night as he began the 2019 season riding past the fresh crop of young pro’s 11 years his junior to win the Casa Ford Tuff Hedeman Bull Riding in El Paso, Texas. 34 days from that victory, Rostockyj would say said goodbye to a career he cherished and clung to, even pushing beyond good medical advice on occasion.
As a competitor, Cody Rostockyj earned the respect of the men and women on both sides of the chutes.
“It was fun to see a guy that has been around and loves the sport be so competitive - he always tries hard, and he had to fight hard to get past two of the industry's hottest riders,” said Hedeman after his El Paso win.
Two-time Super Bowl winner and legendary Dallas Cowboy quarterback Roger Staubach said the injuries were part of a complex equation of family, health and athletic factors that added up to "a gut feeling" when it was time to quit.
Cody Rostockyj did not have the gut feeling…but his neurologist did. After taking a hit in the face in Waxahachie, Texas in what he characterized as a "not so bad wreck," he was stunned and paralyzed for two minutes including numbness and tingling that persisted.
“After an MRI, I went to the doctor, and he walked in and said bull riding’s done…you have bruised your spinal cord and I’m telling you it’s done, you can be hard headed and go try it again and be paralyzed, or you can take my advice.”
The message was loud and clear, get hit again, and you might be paralyzed the rest of your life.
“So I am hard headed by not ignorant,” continued Rostockyj.
“At 29 going on 30 years old I knew retirement was coming sooner than later, it’s a young man’s game, and you don't ride till your 50, I honestly thought I had a couple years left, and I just never put a date on it.”
Not mentioning the outcome of the appointment with anyone, Rostockyj took a few days to tell even his wife, Tomile.
"I had to come to grips with it myself, and I had to grasp what was really happening. They ran more scans to be sure."
Rostockyj, known for defining his moment his way, ordered 60 pounds of crawfish and threw a retirement party to tell his family and friends.
"Someone posted it on Facebook, and then the PRCA called me."
Maybe the best parts of life as a writer are those moments when you get to go eye-to-eye with the athletes, and your "job" is to engage them in conversation.
After listening to over five hours of previously recorded interviews spanning eight years, the words repeated most from this week’s Tuff as Nails spotlight characterized perfectly the heart, soul, and career of a recently retired professional bull rider, Cody Rostockyj.
“You know he’s the kind of guy you hope your kids grow up to be like,” said Hedeman who followed Rostockyj’s career from the 2008 College National Finals Rodeo thru retirement.
I had one last question for the bull rider who in my book could teach a college level course on bull riding public relations. Do you remember the sacrifices and failures as much as the victories?
Cody Rostockyj, a multiple event champion bull rider with total career earnings passing the $500,000 mark earned many championship titles including National Finals Rodeo qualifier and round winner (2016), PRCA’s Texas Circuit Finals, 2015 CBR Horizon Series, multiple CBR event titles spanning 8 years, and finished in the top 10 of the CBR World Standings most years he competed.
The family man and father of two who missed his daughter’s birth, but won the rodeo, began many sentences about many subjects with “to be brutally honest,” and that phrase characterized my decade of covering the thrills, spills, triumphs, and tragedies of the Waco, Texas bull rider.
Rostockyj’s honesty earned him the opportunity to sit in the television broadcast booth next to 8 time World Champion Don Gay and commentate the inaugural season of the Tuff Hedeman bull riding tour. The decision would turn heads as he was the first to commentate the sport while still competing, a trend used later that same year by the National Finals Rodeo broadcast.
“You know Tuff has meant so much to the sport and we all know he is always for the riders first and foremost and to win that one in Tuff’s hometown (El Paso) with the incredible energy in that building, it's one I'll never forget and that night will always be special to me, “Rostockyj reflected.
According to Cody, qualifying for the Wrangler NFR in 2016 was a career accomplishment and was a dream come true. He placed in four rounds and split the Round 7 win on an Andrews Rodeo bull, but it was a different Andrews’s bull on a different day and time that he will remember as his best ride.
Cody recalls being close to home in Waco at the Texas Circuit Finals in 2015.
"I was battling Cody Teel for the Circuit Finals win, it came down to the last bull, and I was the last contestant. I rode him for a big score and won.”
Vowing never to attend the WNFR unless he was competing, in 2016 Rostockyj finished sixth in the Wrangler NFR average and earned $64,718 and left Las Vegas seventh in the world standings with $153,287.
Included in Rostockyj’s greatest hits would be two 92.5 point rides (Outside the Box and Corpus Red) in CBR competition including televised event wins in Jackson, Tennessee, Laughlin, NV, Fort Worth, Texas, and Salina, KS and multiple Horizon titles including the Horizon Series Championship.
“We’ve known Cody since we first started going to the CBR events. He was always a god draw for whoever was lucky enough to get him. Always gave 100% and helped a lot of people win money, a fine man that loves his family. He will be missed as a competitor. We are happy to call him a friend, said stock contractors Skip and Elaine Jones of JQH Bucking Bulls.
With wife Tomile and a son Collin, 6 and a daughter Zoey, 3, Rostocky is not worried about having something to do or looking for the next adrenaline rush.
"I have always put 100 percent into anything I do, so, for now, my family gets that attention. As a Dad my goal is to be better and get better every day, I had a great dad to look up to so I want to be the same, even better if that's possible."
I thought when I left the sport I would be finished with it entirely, but here I am sitting in a hotel room in Reno, working for the PRCA, laughed Cody who is currently employed as a bull riding director for the PRCA.
Rostockyj’s bull riding career did not begin like most rough stock riders, he didn’t start riding bulls until he was fourteen.
“My dad, when I told him I wanted to ride high school rodeo, made me go for a year to the practice pen without ever going to a rodeo or anything so I could get everything down basics-wise and then went to high school rodeos.”
“I just thought I was awesome and could go and do it and went and wasn’t as good as I thought,” he recalls with humor.
He went back to the steady course he knows, building up his resume.
He college-rodeoed for Hill College, competed in amateur rodeos and then entered the CBR Horizon Series.
“I got all of it down better than I had anticipated and just slowly came into it,” said the Hill College elementary education graduate.
IT’S ALL BUSINESS
In addition to being the class clown, Rostockyj’s resilience on and off the chutes became character building. Most memorable was in Cheyenne where he was knocked out in the first round of the CBR World Finals. He would recover riding the following night and ultimately finish the event riding three of the four bulls he attempted.
“Rostockyj on a Roll,” was a headline I typed once and thought often. But in addition to always being humorous, he was a natural leader in the locker room. When Tuff Hedeman first developed and implemented the sudden death format, it was Cody who instantly supported and credited the three-round tournament style as confidence building.
"Tonight I just kept building on my confidence. After getting one down it works to your advantage to only go up against 11 in round two. With fewer people to beat and a bull I had ridden in Ft Worth last year, it was the confidence I needed,” said Rostockyj after an event win in 2016.
Cody Rostockyj meets and greets fans, sponsors, and the media the same as everyone who crosses his path – with a huge smile and time to give.
“Honestly, it’s a business, so you’ve got to treat it like one,” said Rostocky, who was selected to represent Mahindra Tractors as one of the first Mahindra Young Guns.
For 16 years, first, as an amateur and then professional, Rostockyj competed in multiple pro bull riding organizations at the highest level. There is nothing about bull riding or event planning that Cody Rostockyj does not know, or understand. The bulls, the crew, the pens, the schedule, and probably the license plate numbers of the 18 wheelers that arrive with the arena.
In 8 years he was the only cowboy ever waiting on me in the lobby at 5 am to make a television morning show appearance. He would strut the latest fashion on air if asked, participate in goofy 8-second challenges on the radio, dance at openings of Whataburger’s, look after the rookies, and offer solid and honest commentary on or off the air when asked.
I only know of one missed autograph signing and he had a doctor’s excuse. In July of 2016 in Cheyenne, Rostockyj left the arena on a stretcher after a collision with a bull, and he lost consciousness. With a chin full of stitches, he would thrill the crowd getting on for the second night's performance and finishing the CBR World Finals riding three of the five bulls he attempted.
He carried that resilience thru 2016 qualifying for the NFR and it was the beginning of 2017 when the rodeo side of Rostockyj’s career would sideline the father of two.
“I didn’t expect or plan on a collapsed lung in Arcadia (Florida) to take me off track again in the spring. I managed to ride one in Fort Worth and then two weeks before Del Rio I broke the scaphoid bone in my wrist which is by the way - the slowest healing bone in the body according to my doctors,” continued Cody.
Rostockyj, who admittedly enjoyed time with the family while he was healing, was able to enjoy his son’s first year of T Ball without interruption and he is grateful for that, but acknowledged in one interview it was difficult to sit out.
“You know you go home and you get hungry to get back on a bull and compete.”
Although a trip to Disney World is probaby in Cody Rostockyj’s future, he is currently serving the PRCA as a bull riding director, and honing a new skill as broadcast analyst for the Tuff Hedeman Bull Riding on TuffRideTV.com.
In April, Rostockyj, well-known as a leader in the locker room, was selected by the PRCA to serve as the bull riding director.
“As much as a prankster as Rostockyj is he is an educated guy that loves the sport and is honest with everyone. He will be a huge asset for not only rodeo, but bull riding as a whole,” commented Sage Kimzey, 5 Time PRCA World Champion Bull Rider, 3-time CBR Champion and THBRT Bossier Champion. .
He is expecting a new home remodel assignment from his wife, as well as his part-time jobs of rodeo husband, playday groom-Dad and a little regular work mixed in here and there. Rostockyj is respected by bucking bull owners as having a good eye for the bulls the riders want to get on so a part-time gig as a stock contractor is not completely out of the question.
Rostockyj once told me in an interview he was a laid back family man who enjoyed any activities on or near a lake. Imagine my surprise when he responded with my favorite answer to the question of what would you be if you were not a bull rider.
"I think I'd have gone into the Marines, and still tried to be someone a kid can look up to," said Rostockyj 8 years ago.
Retiring while he is physically able to play catch with his son, saddle his daughters' pony, and dance with his wife at his daughters wedding is undeniably someone we all can look up to.