RNCFR Austin Beaty

Austin Beaty, a Virginia high school rodeo champ in his teen years, has come full circle. He was the 2018 overall bull riding champion in the First Frontier Circuit, which punched his ticket to the RNCFR here in Kissimmee.

Virginia's Austin Beaty an example of the part-time cowboy who makes up RNCFR field

The path bullrider Austin Beaty, competing in this weekend’s RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo, took from his home in Bedford, Virginia, to the rodeo wasn’t straight down Interstate 95.

He got here by way of the Middle East.

Between the time that Beaty, 27, thought he’s become a professional rodeo cowboy back in high school to this weekend, when he’ll compete with and against the very best, he’s been in the Army and a deputy sheriff back home in Bedford County.

And Beaty, who got to see Monday’s cattle drive through downtown Kissimmee firsthand, has been excited all week to get on to competing.

“This is it, this is the Circuit’s NFR, with a million dollars on the line,” he said. “I had no idea until coming to the Silver Spurs Rodeo last year about the heritage or that this is a real cattle community. I think this is amazing, getting a community behind this and shutting down downtown Kissimmee for it.”

Beaty was the bull riding champion for the PRCA’s First Frontier Circuit, which stretches from Virginia to Maine. In his three-year professional career, he said he’s competed nationally, but not quite enough to make it to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the World Series of the rodeo world.

But making it o the RNCFR, the sport’s All-Star Game so to speak, isn’t exactly settling. In fact, it’s a life’s work come true. Beaty began riding bulls at age 12, when showing horses as part of the 4-H Club stopped exciting him. His mother wasn’t exactly endeared to his new hobby, but encouraged him, he said, as long as he earned his own way. He qualified for the National High School Finals Rodeo four years in a row, but missed the final year due to injury.

“This is exactly where I thought I’d be when I was 17,” said Beaty, who competed in the high school rodeo circuit before sustaining a series head injury right at the end of his senior season of high school rodeo. “It was raining, it was a bull guys didn’t like getting on and I said, ‘Whatever’. I got real upset with myself. My uncle was a recruiter, and so off to Basic Training I went.”

RNCFR Austin Beaty in the service

Austin Beaty

He got into the Army just in time to get deployed to Iraq in 2010, as then-President Barack Obama was drawing down the force in the Middle East. He returned home and stayed in the active Army service while competing in amateur and semi-pro rodeos. In 2014 he left active service and joined the Virginia National Guard and the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office.

He had great success at the lower levels of rodeo during that time, when he was sent to the Middle East for a second deployment in the United Arab Emirates during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2016-17.

“I’m sitting in the sand box thinking missing bull riding so much, thinking, ‘Am I good enough?’” Beaty said. “And a voice inside said, ‘Well, go be good enough.’”

Upon returning in May 2017, he and a friend (“on a fluke”) ponied up for their PRCA tour cards and began competing — with the support of the guys on his Sheriff’s force.

“I couldn’t ask for a better commander,” he said. “Everybody really supports me and would never tell me, ‘Don’t go this week.’”

Beaty competed as far west as San Angelo, Texas this year, but stayed in his region enough to be the First Frontier money leader, average champion and region finals champion in bull riding to punch his ticket to Kissimmee, a place where he knows other qualifiers. He doesn’t know others, but he’s learned that usually doesn’t matter in PRCA circles.

“It’s a real fraternity,” he said. “We may not know each other’s names but it’s, ‘Hey, you need a ride from the airport? C’mon I’ve got a car.”

This weekend Beaty will ride at least two bulls. Four bulls would be a great weekend, meaning he made the “final go” on Sunday. This weekend will also set the table for the 2019 season, when he’ll make an effort to rodeo a more national schedule to meet his big goals of qualifying for the NFR and being a world champion bull rider.

“No circumstance should ever define your dream. I should have pursued this when I was younger,” he said. “Now that I don’t have the experience that others who have been pro rodeoing longer than me, I have to work and enter twice as hard.”

He’s out to prove the route from western Virginia to Las Vegas doesn’t have to be a straight line, either.