PUEBLO, Colo. – Keyshawn Whitehorse was sitting in the back seat as his dad, Norbert, and mother, Del, were in the front of the car as the Whitehorse family was making the drive to Las Vegas for the 2018 PBR World Finals.
They were going through the hills of Nevada when Keyshawn could not help but think back to the long car rides he took as a kid.
Keyshawn is a first generation bull rider, but that does not mean his parents didn’t do all they could to help him achieve his goal of one day competing at the PBR World Finals.
Norbert and Del would spend hours studying and learning all they could about a sport that was foreign to them. If this was their son’s dream, then they were going to do all they could to help position Keyshawn for success.
“It was kind of like a time machine happened,” Keyshawn said. “I remember when I was little going to rodeos or any little finals, and my parents would be driving in the front seat. The whole objective at that time was, yeah, to win those little events and stuff, but it was to get to this point where I’m at right now.
“They’ve always kept me on the right path when I wanted to just stop for a while because I couldn’t figure out the plan, couldn’t figure out the idea, because I kept trying and kept pushing and it just wasn’t working. They were always the ones to kind of lead me the right way, saying, ‘Hey, it’s not the end, you can keep going.’ Through the rough times, through the good times, they were always there and they always stayed the same. It never changed. They never were more happy for me when I did good, and they never put me down more when I did bad.”
They were also there on stage inside T-Mobile Arena when Keyshawn was officially crowned the 2018 PBR Rookie of the Year earlier this month at the 2018 PBR World Finals.
“We are very excited,” Del said. “He has worked so hard for this moment. I am just so very proud of him. I have no other words to express. I am so overjoyed.”
Keyshawn concluded his first PBR World Finals 1-for-5, but his 89.5-point ride on Wicked Dreams was good enough for Whitehorse to lay claim to the 2018 Rookie of the Year title.
One of the first people he looked for following the ride was his dad.
“When I make a bull ride, he’s the first person I look to,” Whitehorse said. “I don’t look out in the crowd or anything. He’s the first person I look to. When I buck off, he’s the first person I look to.”
The 21-year-old concluded the season 19th in the world standings after going 16-for-57 (28.07 percent) this year in 19 events.
Whitehorse’s best performance came via a third-place finish in St. Louis, which was one of his six Top-10 finishes.
His first World Finals qualification was a long-time coming as well.
Whitehorse purchased his PBR card in 2015 and made his premier series debut the following season. A bull riding prodigy of Robson Palermo’s, Whitehorse spent two full seasons bouncing between the Real Time Pain Relief Velocity Tour and the premier level before breaking through in 2018.
In 2016, Whitehorse came up just short of riding at the World Finals and ultimately finished 39th in the world standings.
Whitehorse has come to appreciate his journey during the last three years.
All of the trials and tribulations have made him a better person, let alone a better bull rider.
It is why he took some time before the World Finals to appreciate that journey.
“I feel like, more than anything, just thankful to get to this point,” Whitehorse said. “Thankful for being able to stay healthy, thankful to keep the mindset of the heart I was given to keep persevering through this.”
Whitehorse continues to learn and grow every day.
He has admittedly struggled with the mental side of the sport and has had to work through the mental obstacles associated with being a professional athlete.
Whitehorse will often check in with himself to make sure he is in a good spot – he made sure to take some time to reflect following the regular-season finale in Nampa, Idaho, in preparation for his first World Finals – and he also studies various sports psychology techniques.
The McCracken Springs, Utah, bull rider has the Lucid app on his phone as well.
Lucid is a mobile app that gives athletes a platform to be empowered with the same mental training as professional athletes. Aaron Gordon of the Orlando Magic and NFL wide receiver Brandon Marshall have promoted the app.
The mission of the app to help an athlete curb the outside noise, focus on the task at hand and achieve results.
“At the end of the day, there’s only so much you can do,” he said. “It’s all me. It’s inside me, inside my brain, inside my heart. I learned how to slow things down. It’s just when the time is needed to think, I allow myself to, and I always make sure I check in with my mind. That’s what I call it, is checking in with my mind, and seeing if I am thinking too much.”
Del has seen her son grown in this area.
“He is very critical of himself, but I think he has really grown a lot and matured a lot where he can let things roll off his shoulders as needed,” she said.
Whitehorse looks at nine-time World Champion Ty Murray and two-time World Champion Justin McBride as examples of two bull riders with great mental strength.
“They knew in their mind exactly what happened, when it happened and how it happened,” Whitehorse said. “Nothing seemed to phase them to where they stayed too high or they stayed too low. That’s why they’re great at what they did. And in any athlete, that’s what it takes.”
Whitehorse has continuously said that winning Rookie of the Year was not the ultimate goal, but rather a step up the bull riding ladder.
However, to build off this year, Whitehorse wants to keep doing that with his family in his corner.
“From here it’s just kind of keep climbing, and keep that, keep that going with my family, because that’s how I am. I’m a family-oriented person,” he said.
He also believes he is still capable of much, much more than just a Rookie of the Year title.
“Yeah, I’ve lost. I’ve lost a lot. And I’ve won, and I’ve been successful up here,” Whitehorse said. “But really tasting that true taste of victory, I think will stoke a fire in me that I can’t even stop or put out, even if I wanted to. Because I’ve yet to really taste it, and I’ve wanted it so bad, and I know once I get it I’ll only want more.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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