“I was a broke kid,” Cody said about growing up in Paris Tennessee. He knew he would have to support himself, and while other kids were out pursuing their high school passions, he and friend Matt Carter scrambled for the odd jobs they could get from people they knew, then washing cars at a used car lot, grocery store, plumbing and electric, loading and stacking hay, you name it, they did it. On top of that, he loaded hay for his own parents on their place.
“I was two years old when my stepfather Pete Burns came into my life; he rode bulls.” Cody grew up riding horses, but something about bull riding stood out for him. At area rodeos, Cody would be hanging on the fence when it came time for the bull riding competition. And when his stepfather’s friends came over to practice on the dummy, Cody was right there watching, his mom told him, and looking forward to the day he could practice too.
Professional bull riding is the fastest growing sport in this country and has gone global. Twenty-five years ago, 20 bull riders from the professional rodeo circuit got together, pooled $1,000 each and broke away from the rodeo circuit to establish the Professional Bull Riders (PBR) as a stand-alone sport, never imagining it would explode so quickly in popularity. Riding bulls is the most popular of the seven events in traditional rodeo, and it took off. Cowboys compete all year to win the year-end title, the cherished Gold belt buckle and a share of over $10 million, plus a bonus of another million to the season’s top winner.
There are more than 600 bull riders who are members of PBR, and they compete in over 300 bull riding competitions each year in the United States, Australia, Brazil, Mexico, and Canada. You will find them at the PBR Unleash the Beast series broadcast on television, the PBR Pendleton Whisky Velocity Tour Velocity Tour or the Touring Pro Division. There are also tours in the other countries mentioned above. The ultimate aim of each man is to qualify for the PBR World Finals Finals in Las Vegas, which took place in November of this year. Cody Nance has been a top finisher every year he has competed, taking 8th place at this event, the richest bull riding event of them all.
Cody began riding bulls at age 14, coached and mentored by his uncle and stepfather. “We were both hooked,” says Matt Carter, a friend since third grade. They tried it together, one after the other on the same bull and that was it, Carter, of Huntington, Tennessee emphasizes. Both have been riding bulls for 16 years. After two years on the Touring Pro Division (TPD), Nance moved up to the PBR’s elite series in 2009 and was named Rookie of the Year, finishing 18th in his first ever World Finals. He has qualified for the finals every year since finishing a career-best fourth place in 2013.
How Nance got to where he is today in the sport is another story about the making of a champion. Says Jeff Tilley, a mentor from the early days, he was running his place, baling hay and raising his bulls and the local deputy sheriff pulls up with a kid in the truck. That kid was Cody Nance, and it happened the deputy was a bull rider himself. He brought some bulls and a few kids to a competition in Memphis. There was a bull named One-Way, for one reason: the rider gets on and One-Way jumps and twists until he tosses the kid. “I’ll get on him,” says young Cody and he loved it so much he stayed on with Tilley for a year, riding 8-10 times a day. Tilley well remembers a record day when Cody did 22 rides. He just kept getting on, says Tilley. “You gotta want it. He had one thing on his mind, and that was riding bulls. He loves it; he’s all heart.”
During the year at Tilley’s place Cody lived in a horse barn with five other guys, and thanks to a friend who made a couple of phone calls, Nance got a job hanging guardrails along the road. So, with a paying job and so many good bulls available, he got to ride all the time, soon reaching the point where he could ride them all. It was Tilley who made the phone call to get Nance his first top-level bull riding event. He placed well at that competition in San Antonio, Texas which was the turning point in his career, leading to more wins and into the Touring Pro Division (TPD), from which he made the leap to the elite PBR series in 2009.
The 8-seconds on back of the bull can seem a long time, but if it goes well, Nance advances to finals and prize money. “For me, bull riding is rough, wild and as dangerous as it gets,” he says, “but when everything is in sync, there is no other feeling in the world like it,” concludes Nance. “When you’re on him, and he is jumpin’, spinnin’ and blowin’ in the air, it’s rhythmic, almost like a dance.”
Reminiscing on what it takes to be successful in this sport, Cody says a bull rider needs to be strong pound for pound, but not too big. He weighs 162 pounds and is 5’ 8”, a typical size for riding bulls. His workouts consist mainly of cardio work to promote endurance, lifting light weights for strength and an emphasis on flexibility. To keep in top condition and maximize his training, Cody favors ProMera Sports products, especially CON-CRET®, and Alpha Recovery to help him get over the sport’s many aches and pains. If you’ve watched a man ride a bull, you have seen the back-breaking whipping the rider takes during those 8 seconds. Cody is strong for his size but works with light weights, as no rider wants to add more weight on the back of a bull.
Nance has only been sidelined by injury for any length of time once, in 2008 when the bull stepped on him hard enough to break ribs. Other injuries have included a broken leg, broken arm, more than one ACL injury “and a few concussions,” as he put it to me. Not a sport for the faint of heart. His friend Matt Carter says the one thing about Cody that accounts for his great success in the sport is “You can’t make him quit.”
Cody consistently scores in the top 5 or top 10 every year he competes and has qualified for World Finals the past nine years. 2013 saw his career-best score, a fourth place on the elite tour. In 2017 he finished 17th in the world, resulting from four Top 5 finishes and nine Top 10 finishes, two of which came at Majors, Last Cowboy Standing and Music City Knockout. Edmonton, Alberta, Canada was the setting for the first PBR Global Cup, a new international team tournament akin to the Ryder Cup in golf, where Nance represented Team USA and went 1-for-2 to help the team win that first five-nation competition.
In October of 2018 Cody Nance, ranking 7th in the world hosted the Nance Invitational Touring Pro Division (TPD) in Jackson, Tennessee, where many of the top talented young riders competed for prize money. Cody enjoys helping the young talent learn the sport; he rode on the 26th, where $500 for every second he stayed on the bull was donated to St. Jude Children’s Hospital - other local charities also benefitted from this event.
The elite PBR Unleash the Beast is televised weekly on CBS, CBS Sports Network and networks in 130 countries and territories around the world, and with annual attendance at events at over 3 million fans now, those original twenty investors turned their original $1,000 investments into millions.
When asked, Cody says his most memorable ride so far in his career was in Columbus, Ohio in 2009, mainly because the bull he rode came from his hometown of Paris, Tennessee. Nance often watches a video of the best rides from his rookie season to remind himself of what he is capable of accomplishing, sometimes while munching his favorite sweet treat: dark chocolate. When not riding Cody enjoys time with his wife and three children and enjoys hunting, fishing, and riding horses. Future plans may include opening a bull riding school for youth, where he can teach them how to ride and how to stay inspired in this tough and dangerous career.
“I honestly don’t think I’d have made it without all the people who have helped along the way, and the opportunities that have come with that. And God has truly blessed me,” said Nance recently, reflecting back over his successful and inspiring career riding the bulls. - Sherry Ballou Hanson