Bull riding champ achieves 'impossible' as final's underdog
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Moments after winning the 2000 professional bull riding world championship last December in Las Vegas, Nev., Cody Hancock stood triumphant before a sold-out audience.
He had just achieved the seemingly impossible; only one other person who had entered the National Finals Rodeo in last place had won it all.
From the bleachers, his parents looked down reveling in their son's success amid challenging odds.
They remembered Cody's 1994 decision to serve a mission, turning down an opportunity to travel the professional rodeo circuit with the then current world champion.
They remembered 12 months earlier, when Cody, then ranked 16th in the world, barely missed participating in the rodeo finals, open only to the top 15.
They remembered the slow start he had in 2000; just seven months earlier Cody was ranked 50th in the world. He had to fight hard just to make the December finals.
And now he was the champion; a "real-life Cinderella."
"My dad promised me that if I would go on a mission that rodeo would come a lot easier when I got home," recalled Cody, 25, a member of the Snowflake 3rd Ward, Snowflake Arizona Stake. "I never really comprehended that until [December]. Winning a world title in my first national finals; it just came to me all at once. It was a direct blessing for doing what I am supposed to do."
Born in Taylor, Ariz., to Ray and Twila Hancock, he is one in a long family chain of cowboys. Brigham Young sent his great-great-grandfather to pioneer the frontier area that is now Snowflake and Taylor. His great-grandfather, while serving in a bishopric, started the first rodeo in his hometown. And today, his father is a professional bull rider, participating in the National Senior Rodeo Finals four times in recent years.
Each member of the Hancock family found ways to live gospel standards amid the traditionally rowdy rodeo crowd. Cody traveled to rodeos with his father while growing up. During the long road trips they talked about the devastating effects of drinking, smoking and using drugs. They each had friends whose lives had been destroyed by bad choices. Cody chose to follow in his dad's footsteps and live the Church's standards.
In his acceptance speech after winning the world title, he thanked his dad for teaching him what kind of man to be.
"There are a whole lot of other bad influences out there," he said. "[The Church] keeps you focused on what you need to be focused on."
Today, he said he chooses not to attend most post-rodeo events, instead spending his spare time with his wife, Rinda whom he married four years ago in the Mesa Arizona Temple and baby daughter, Tyree.
Others have also taken note of Cody Hancock's example. Elder Nick Jensen, a missionary serving in the North Carolina Charlotte Mission, met him while Cody was attending the College of Southern Idaho on a rodeo scholarship.
"Cody has been a great friend and inspiration to me," Elder Jensen wrote in a letter to the Church News. "He has set a good example for me and was a big influence in my decision to serve a mission."
Even his father talks of his son's example. As a child, Cody would often do his brother's chores to earn money for junior rodeo entry fees.
Then in 1988, he used his hard-earned money to help his father. The year before, Ray Hancock participated in only six rodeos, never winning anything. "I decided, 'I can't do this anymore,' " he said. "I went nine months and didn't get on another bull."
Cody, 13 at the time, worked three weeks to save enough money to pay his dad's entry fee into the local rodeo. "You don't know how much time I spent on my knees that day," Ray Hancock recalled. "I wondered, 'How can I be the hero that this kid thinks I am?' I ended up winning that bull ride with the little bit of faith that my boy showed in me."
Ray Hancock said his son sets high goals for himself and couldn't stand to watch others give up on their goals.
Cody's mother said that as a teenager her son wrote many of his goals in his copy of the Book of Mormon. One of those goals was to be a professional bull rider. Another was to serve a mission for the Church.
Even so, the decision to leave the professional circuit months after getting his pro card was hard. He said that most of the two years he served in the Pennsylvania Philadelphia Mission were even harder. Many predicted he would never be in a rodeo as a professional again.
And when he returned, he went through the hard years many thought he would.
Paying his own travel expenses and entry fees on the professional circuit was at times overwhelming. There were occasions he worried he might have to drop out and find work.
He was riding at least 125 bulls a year, a physical and mental challenge.
And then in 1999, after being ranked first or second in the world all year, he broke his leg and had to pull out of rodeos just before July, the most important month in professional bull riding. That was the year he missed the National Finals Rodeo by one spot.
But "going through all that made him want it even more," said his wife.
His parents always knew his hard work would pay off. From the stands of the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas they looked on as their son completed his title-winning bull ride.
"It was awesome for me to watch him as he walked out the last time, realizing what he had done," Ray Hancock said. "When everything finally came together I was able to look back . . . and see the Lord's hand in his life."