Keston Denny is an accomplished athlete who has run cross country and competed as an alpine ski racer. He also happens to be the epitome of a rodeo cowboy, a blue collar worker who always shows up to compete and never quits.
Tough? Denny rides bulls and wrestles steers. 'Nuff said. It can be said this young man is tough as nails.
That toughness, not to mention a lot of perseverance, has earned him a return trip to the 57th annual National High School Finals Rodeo on July 18-24 in Gillette, Wyo., an event billed as the "world's largest rodeo," with an estimated 1,500 contestants representing 40 states, five Canadian provinces and Australia.
The Carson-Douglas High School Rodeo Club cowboy is looking forward to making his second trip to Gillette. He's looking for some redemption, too.
"I'm real excited," said Denny, who graduated from Douglas High School on Friday night. "Last year, I was fifth in the first go-round against all the bulldoggers ... then I got rained out."
The end of the trail for Denny came in the second round when he went out in the rain, and into an arena he described as soupy mud.
"When you get in the mud, you can't compete, really," he said. "Your horse can't run and you can't get any footing."
So, after posting a time of 5.894 seconds that had him in contention after the first go-round, Denny dropped all the way to 70th in a field of 134 bulldoggers in the final results. Jeremy Hensley of Afton, Okla., stopped the clock in a very impressive 3.997 in the first go-round and went on to win the championship.
This time, Denny has every intention of going back and contending for that championship.
"After seeing what I could do against those guys last year, it makes me want to go back and beat them that much more," he said. "My goal this time is to be in the top five."
He's capable of doing just that, according to Richard Beemer, who rides bulls on the Senior Pro Rodeo Association circuit and is a familiar sight at high school rodeos in Nevada.
"Keston is a dyed-in-the-wool rodeo cowboy," Beemer said. "Just naturally tough. Whether he's dogging, roping, or whatever, he always comes to ride. He'll be in the Wrangler National Finals one day. There's no doubt in my mind."
Denny punched his ticket to nationals with a clutch bulldogging performance Sunday on the final day of the state finals rodeo in Yerington. Fifth in the steer wrestling season standings coming into the state rodeo and needing to move up one spot to qualify for nationals, Denny clocked a 7.55-second takedown of his steer Sunday to win the three-head average and edge Matt Morrison of Wells for the No. 4 spot.
"When Keston came out of the box, he knew exactly what he had to do, and he did it," Beemer said. "And Matt Morrison is a top hand who does it all. When Keston edged him out, we were all so excited."
Denny also came up with a strong finish in bull riding Sunday - his score of 65 points was the second best of the day - but it left him just shy of cracking the top four.
"I had a good ride, I just ended up one point behind Chad (Steele)," Denny said.
In between the competition, he returned to Minden on Friday to graduate with the senior class at Douglas High on Friday night, then returned to Yerington to finish the rodeo Saturday and Sunday.
For Denny, that's just a routine week.
"It's a week-long sport. It keeps you busy every day," said Denny, who trains with Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association bulldogger Jim Usher in the Carson Valley. "You need a lot of focus and dedication if you want to win. It's just like any other sport. If you want to be good, you have to put in the time."
The 6-foot-2 Denny is athletic enough that he finished 12th individually and helped Douglas to third-place as a team at the high-powered Tahoe Basin Ski League Championships this past winter. To show endurance, he also ran cross country as a sophomore at Sierra Lutheran High.
But there's no doubt that rodeo is his No. 1 sport and a sport he intends to pursue in the fall at Cochise College in Douglas, Ariz. His ultimate goal is to compete for UNLV.
"This is a great sport," he said. "It keeps you in shape mentally and physically and it made me work hard on my grades so I could keep going."
The sport also has a unique camaraderie.
"You don't have the rivalries like you have in some sports," Denny said. "You still have the competition, but you make a lot of great friends. Matt Morrison and I get along great ... he'll beat me in team roping, I'll beat him in bulldogging, and then we go hang out together afterward.
"And at nationals it turns into a team thing. It's Nevada pride and we all want to do our best against the rest of the nation."
n Contact Dave Price at email@example.com or call 881-1220.
National High School Rodeo Association
WHAT: National High School Finals Rodeo. The first was held in Halletsville, Texas, in 1949.
WHO: Boys events include bareback riding, bull riding, saddle bronc riding, calf roping, steer wrestling, team roping and cutting. Girls events include breakaway roping, barrel racing, pole bending, goat tying, cutting, team roping and the queen's contest. Boys and girls compete together in team roping, but are separate in all other events.
STAKES: Performances are conducted twice each day for the first six days. The top 20 contestants in each event then advance to the final round on Sunday, July 24, to determine who will win the coveted championship buckles.
INFO: Go online to www.nhsra.org