Originally published June 30, 2018 at 06:05a.m.

Updated June 30, 2018 at 06:32a.m.

PRESCOTT — Forgive Sage Kimzey if he’s a tad tired. Ever since the 5-foot-7, 140-pound Strong City, Oklahoma, native joined the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) as a bull rider five years ago, he’s been on a whirlwind adventure.

On opening night of the 2018 Prescott Frontier Days “World’s Oldest Rodeo” Thursday, Kimzey arrived at the bucking chutes well-groomed and well-dressed with a black bag hanging over his shoulder. Some 20 feet from the metal gate, Kimzey stopped in his tracks for an ever-so-brief respite.

Road weary, his eyes drooping, Kimzey managed to crack a smile. He was in his element, after all. At the age of 23, the friendly, humble Kimzey has accomplished a feat most rodeo cowboys his age achieve only in their sweetest dreams – being a four-time world champion.

None of his success was handed to him on a silver platter, however. Kimzey recalls riding sheep and calves as young as 4 or 5 years old.

“I’ve trained my entire life for this,” Kimzey said from behind the bucking chutes Thursday evening. “Everybody gets to see the glitz and glamour that it is now and getting to come to these cool rodeos like Prescott – win a lot of money and do all that. But they never saw the work that was behind the scenes.

“It really was 18 years of my life that I dedicated to this craft. It’s been a whole lifelong journey, for sure.”

Kimzey and his partner, Tyler Ray Taylor of Stephenville, Texas, visited Frontier Days from the West of the Pecos Rodeo in Texas on Thursday. They’re in the middle of traveling together nonstop for three weeks during the Cowboy Christmas period. From June 26 through July 9, they plan to hit about one rodeo per day.

Taylor said he tries to model Kimzey’s calm demeanor in the chutes, breathing deeply and slowing himself down, which has helped in competition. Outside the arena, Kimzey sprints, completes flexibility exercises and does some yoga. He said bull riding is “20 percent physical and 80 percent mental.”

“We got together last year, actually,” said Taylor, 24, who first met Kimzey at the International Youth Finals Rodeo (IYFR) in Shawnee, Oklahoma, at 16. “I jumped in with him for the first time and we went about 30,000 miles in 12 weeks – all across the country to some great rodeos.”

This travel schedule isn’t for the faint of heart. After leaving Prescott, for example, Kimzey grabbed a 1 a.m. flight from Phoenix to Dallas. At 6 a.m., he caught another plane to Denver. At 7:25 a.m., he flew from Denver to Calgary, Canada, so he could get to the Ponoka Stampede in Ponoka, Alberta, Canada, which is more than 1,500 miles north of Prescott. The performance was scheduled for 1 p.m. Friday.

“It’s a sleepless night,” Kimzey said.

MILLION-DOLLAR MAN

Kimzey is a four-time defending PRCA world champion bull rider who became the youngest millionaire in the association’s storied history during the National Finals Rodeo (NFR) in 2016 in Las Vegas. At 22 years, three months and two weeks old, Kimzey had already reached the pinnacle of his sport.

And yet you won’t find Kimzey settling for anything. He’s too confident, driven and focused to stop now. He thinks he can win as many as nine or 10 world titles in a row.

“It’s very possible, and that’s the goal, for sure,” Kimzey said without hesitation.

Frontier Days Rodeo General Manager J.C. Trujillo, a PRCA Hall of Fame bareback bronc rider, said in early June that Kimzey reminds him of pro rodeo legend Donny Gay, an eight-time world champion bull rider during the 1980s.

“Sage Kimzey has dominated the bull riding in the PRCA like Donny did,” Trujillo added. “Donny had a lot of guys trying for the world’s championship. And it would come right down to the nut cuttin’, and he’d pull her through, just like this Sage Kimzey has.”

Sage has rodeo roots. His father Ted was a longtime PRCA barrelman/clown who worked as the NFR barrelman in 1980 and 1987 and used to appear at the Prescott Frontier Days Rodeo. His mother Jennifer, older sister Dusta and younger brother Trey are pro trick riders who perform under the name Tricked Out.

“I was always around rodeo, and it’s kind of just all I’ve ever eaten, slept and breathed, for sure,” Kimzey said. “For me, it’s pretty easy to get my blood pumpin’ and get ready to go [in the chutes]. We’re all beat up, sore and tired at this point in the season. So, you really just kind of turn your brain off, get everything ready like you do every other time, and just get on [the bull].”

KEEP ON ROLLIN’

On Thursday night, while Tricked Out was performing at the Licking, Missouri, PRCA Pro Rodeo, Sage was preparing to ride a bull named Little Turbo. Apparently, Little Turbo was too fast for Kimzey, who couldn’t hang on the bucking bull for the 8 seconds required to earn points.

“Whoever lives here ought to come to Prescott [Frontier Days],” Kimzey said. “It’s a dang good show.”

Despite that setback, Kimzey maintained his healthy $53,000 lead atop the PRCA’s world standings for bull riders. Through Thursday, Kimzey had earned more than $157,500 since January, notching wins at seven different rodeos and co-championships at two others. Parker Breding of Edgar, Montana, is currently in second place with more than $104,400 in earnings.

In January, Kimzey spent the whole month recovering from a fractured pelvis. He bounced back quickly, though.

“I haven’t really hit any home runs here lately,” Kimzey said with a laugh. “I’m waitin’ on that, for sure. No lead is safe, but it has been a crazy, blessed year. I’ve won a lot of big rodeos already this year, and I’ve won a lot of money that goes toward the standings.”

Doug Cook is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier. Follow him on Twitter at @dougout_dc. Email him at dcook@prescottaz.com or call 928-445-3333, ext. 2039.