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Rodeo cowboys share what it takes to train and perform at the top level

“I don’t know if the general public knows just how physical the sport of rodeo is,” former professional rodeo cowboy Clif Cooper said.
Credit: WFAA

DECATUR, Texas — There is nothing quite like the rodeo.

For 124 years now, people have flocked to Fort Worth for the fanfare of it all and to watch fearless cowboys and cowgirls make it all look so effortless. 

But it’s not effortless. Not by any stretch.

“If you want to win in today’s times, you're going to have to be one of the guys that’s putting in and sacrificing the blood and the sweat and the tears every day,” said Clif Cooper, former professional rodeo cowboy.

If you’re trying to make it in the professional rodeo world and take that career to the next level, you’re probably coming to Fit-N-Wise, a state-of-the-art workout facility in Decatur, Texas. It has a rodeo sports performance program that caters to the best cowboys in the world.

“We get world champions coming in daily,” Cooper said.

Cooper oversees the program. He traded his career as a professional tie-down calf-roper to make other cowboys better.

“I don’t know if the general public knows just how physical the sport of rodeo is,” he said.

At the facility, cowboys first warm up in the rehab room, where therapists address injuries — of which there can be many — and work out kinks. 

Then upstairs, after a short prayer, Cooper takes them through strength, agility, conditioning and high-intensity training. They often focus on the core, which is crucial for cowboys, but Cooper, a certified personal trainer, also tailors the workouts for each cowboy, looking for and addressing weaknesses.

“I try to find a chink in their armor,” he said, knowing that physical fitness doesn’t just lead to better performance, but also allows cowboys to bounce back faster from injuries.

“In my event, the fastest time wins. So I'm always trying to find areas to shave tenths of a second off my run,” said Tuf Cooper, Clif’s brother.

Tuf Cooper is a four-time world champion calf roper.

Tyler Prcin is a professional calf-roper, too.

“I think a lot of people see cowboys a lot different than what they are,” Prcin, an Alvord native, said. “You watch a Western — they don’t have a gym in the Western, you know.”

But the modern cowboy is in the gym, sometimes for hours a day, in addition to the time spent practicing their sport.

“Being in the gym is my part-time job for my full-time job,” Tuf Cooper said.

Prcin said if you walk into the rodeo unprepared physically, “you’re not prepared mentally so you might as well turn around and go home.”

Now more than ever, cowboys are elite athletes. The sweat, the wincing and the perseverance in the gym is all part of it.

“Those guys that aren’t putting in the work and the training, those guys are kind of fading out of our industry,” Clif Cooper said.

And then, the payoff. If you went to the rodeo last weekend, you saw the results of Tuf Cooper’s hard work.

“We are training as hard as we can,” Tuf said.

“I feel like people know cowboys are tough, but I don’t think they know how tough cowboys are,” added Clif.

It’s a deep commitment to their craft, both in the arena and out.

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