Even a hole in a cowboy’s heart can’t stop him from doing what he loves. That’s not a cheesy lyric from the latest country-western hit, but rather simple reality for UVU bulldogger Jake Woolstenhulme.
The junior steer-wrestler waited until he was declared the Rocky Mountain region’s steer wrestling champion, and had earned a berth to the Intercollegiate Rodeo National Finals, before undergoing heart surgery last week to repair a condition that has hindered him since high school.
Woolstenhulme and the rest of the mens’ rodeo team finished the regular season as the second-ranked team in the entire nation, a feat that wasn’t necessarily unexpected by coach Shane Draper. “They’re a bunch of good kids and they’re going to do really well on the national level,” he said. The national finals are in Casper, Wyoming, beginning June 14.
Other UVU men claiming regional top honors were regional champion bareback rider Connor Kent, bulldogger Baylor Roche and bronc rider Taylor White, both finishing second regionally in their events. Colton Bair finished third in bareback riding and Blake Beck finished third in team roping. Beck will pair up with UVU teammate Jentry Youd to vie for a roping medal at nationals.
For the first time in ten years, the womens’ team has qualified for nationals and will send regional champ Hilary Bair in the goat roping and breakaway roping events. Tori Thacker and Skya Defa will join her to compete at nationals in breakaway roping too.
Bair’s regional title was accomplished despite sitting out two rodeos to comply with eligibility rules after transferring from another school — a feat akin to being named the game’s MVP while only playing for three quarters. Coach Draper sees a strong future for the womens’ team that has suffered low numbers in years past; next year’s team will roster at least 10 competitors.
Woolstenhulme’s cardiac condition was diagnosed after an exam a month ago, but he wouldn’t let it keep him from competing. “I kept riding ‘cuz I could, ‘cuz I love it. I never really let it affect me,” he said. “I just went with it.”
Tougher than any rogue steer, his heart condition has dragged him through a rough stretch of small strokes, temporary blindness and chronic episodes of total exhaustion after especially taxing competitions. After the surgery and one night recovering in the hospital, he says his toughest month is coming up; the month-long rest and absence from any rodeo activity as mandated by the surgeon.
Growing up on the family ranch near Kamas, raising 100-plus head of cattle each year and working with horses and animal stock prepared the UVU rodeo champion for his rodeo career and he is excited about his accomplishments, but more excited for the future of his rodeo team. “It’s going be really fun. I’ve got a buddy coming off a mission and he’s going to be really good. I think we’re going be really tough next year.”
That should be a spectacular year, considering the remarkable accomplishments of the cowboy with a hole in his heart.