LAS VEGAS Professional bull riding in the modern era is full of finely tuned athletes, many of whom spend countless hours in the gym toning biceps, forearms, core muscles any part of the body needed to successfully mount a one-ton beast and hang on for eight seconds.
But not newly crowned Daisy Rookie of the Year Cody Nance. No, Cody Nance got in the best shape of his life by doing nothing more than hanging guardrails in Tennessee. "It got me in really good shape," he proclaimed shortly before the start of Round Six, a round which he won in a five-way tie.
But hanging guardrails are now a thing of the past for the 21-year old from Paris, Tenn. That's what happens when you explode onto the Built Ford Tough Series as Nance did, winning two events and earning nearly $150,000 in his first full year on the top PBR circuit. Nance was named Rookie of the Year on Sunday at the Thomas & Mack Center, beating out a talented field that included Florida's Caleb Sanderson and Australia's Pete Farley.
"That was a used-to job. I've quit hanging guardrails," Nance said. "I got out of that and got back on track to where I needed to be, just living life, riding bulls and praising God for it."
Just like his unorthodox workout routine, nothing about Nance's career has been easy up to this point. Injuries sidelined him the first few years, and he's suffered from a lack of local support ("Everybody just kind of looked at it as 'oh he's riding bulls,'" Nance said of his hometown. "But they never knew what I was doing out there on the road or anything.") and the loneliness of traveling solo to rodeos and PBR events around the country with limited financial means.
"I've traveled by myself since I bought my permit when I was in high school," Nance said. "I would just travel around the United States and I had friends spread out all over the place. I'd just drive, and who knows where I'd end up but I would go pretty much wherever I could to get on a bull."
But believe it or not, those guardrails were a turning point for the young Tennessean. Not only did he get in better shape, but he found a support system in the nearby town of Shelbyville, where the construction project was based.
"I had a lot of people backing me up," Nance said. "The people of Shelbyville were real good people, and they followed me up on every bit of what I was doing. They really supported me."
Nance also found a friend with good bulls that he could get on every day, and that same friend fronted the money for his plane tickets each week. That is, until the Pueblo, Colo. event in May. That's when everything changed for the struggling rider. Nance rode two of four bulls at the event, capping it with his first 90-point ride of the season on the bull Super Duty to win the title and $30,000 in cold, hard cash allowing Nance to pay his benefactor back in full.
"I didn't really have a lot of money growing up, and he helped me out," Nance said. "I repaid every bit of that back to him whenever I won the first event."
The Pueblo event marked a turning point for Nance, who earned another event win in Columbus, Ohio, in October, virtually assuring the 21-year old the Rookie of the Year title and a berth at the 2009 PBR World Finals in Las Vegas. Nance struggled through the first five rounds here, covering only one bull for an 87.5 in Round Three, before putting it all together on Saturday night for a five-way split of the round win.
"I haven't been riding to the best of my ability," said Nance after winning the round. "I've maybe been wanting it a little too much. However, I'm a little more relaxed now and I'm just going back to having fun. That's how I got here."
At least one former Rookie of the Year can sympathize with the rider none other than World Finals average winner J.B. Mauney, who had a similar experience during his first World Finals in 2006.
"It was horrible," said Mauney of the experience. "I did the same thing Cody did. I fell off six bulls in a row and didn't know what was wrong with me. I couldn't figure anything out, I was trying different stuff, breaking new ropes out, using new gloves, I was trying everything and nothing was working.
"Finally I went back to everything I'd gotten here with and something just clicked. I rode the last two."
Although Nance bucked off his last bull on Sunday and failed to make the short go, he still bested his nearest competitor, Caleb Sanderson, by more than $40,000 to take the Rookie of the Year title. The honor carries with it a $10,000 bonus, a Daisy Rookie of the Year belt buckle and a set of spurs.
And look out J.B. Mauney Nance says he'd like to become the first rider from east of the Mississippi to win a PBR world title, something Mauney missed by a hair at this year's World Finals. At least one world champion thinks it's not out of the question.
"He's got a heck of a career ahead of him, and it's cool to see young guys coming in and stepping it up," said 2009 world champion Kody Lostroh. "It happens, guys get old and they leave the sport, and it's good that we've got new guys like Cody coming along and taking their place."
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Check back with ESPN.com and pbrnow.com all week long for continuing coverage of the 2009 PBR World Finals in Las Vegas.