Meet the Member Karlene Gonzales
story by Julie Carter Karlene Gonzales left the 2022 NMRA Finals with an armload of buckles and awards that were the fruits of a rodeo […]
story by Lindsay King
If John Birkholz is driving by a rodeo, there is a good chance he won’t be able to pass up entering. He’s fresh out of college and eager to spur as many down as he can. Of course, just when John had the freedom from school he needed to hit the rodeo trail hard, the coronavirus shut everything down and there simply weren’t any rodeos to enter. Last December John graduated from the University of Wyoming with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. “I got out of school at just the right time really, I don’t think I would’ve wanted to deal with the quarantine and school right now,” said the Laramie, Wyoming, bronc rider.
At age 12, John saw the roughstock event at a local rodeo and the sight hit his eyes differently than the rest. “I thought it was the coolest thing in the world and I knew that I would do it someday. It took a long time to get going mostly because my parents didn’t want me doing it.” Even though John’s family wasn’t from a ranch or rodeo background, they weren’t far from it either. That allowed John to find odd jobs on local ranches and feedlots to dip his boots into the agricultural industry. As a leftie, roping was difficult in high school to say the least. Switching to the bronc riding wasn’t only a dream come true, it was the natural next step in his rodeo career.
“I started seriously riding when I was 22. I thought it might be too late for me. I was just a late bloomer.” The University of Laramie rodeo coaches–Beau Clark and Tyler Corrington–got John started, along with J.D. Hamaker and his sons, Ty and Colt. “The UW coaches and the Hamaker’s have been pretty important in getting me started.” Between graduating and the rodeo trail opening back up this spring, John was working for J.D. “The timing of this quarantine wasn’t great; it’s impacted a lot of people. I’m lucky to have the opportunity to still have a job through it all.”
John’s riding was just starting to really take off when his time on the road came to a screeching halt but he didn’t let that mess with his attitude. “I can’t think of a single time in my life when being negative helped me, so I have just tried to stay positive.” John is looking forward to many years of standing behind the chutes as his next mount runs into place. “There are a lot of rodeos coming my way for a lot of years. I do a lot of stuff to stay positive, but one big one is surrounding myself with positive and successful people. I can’t remember who said it but I always remember that ‘motivation is like showering, you should do it every day.’”
John holds cards in eight different associations, most of which are from different states. The NMRA is one of them. “If I think I can win more money than it will cost to get to a rodeo, than I am going to get there. No matter how far away it is.” He frequently competes in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Montana, and Wyoming. John was invited to the NMRA finals last year where he took second in the average. “I’m looking forward to being stuck in town doing the same thing every day. My goals for this year really haven’t changed despite everything, I still want to make the circuit finals and win a couple amateur titles while I am at it.” When John isn’t traversing the four corners of the world and beyond, he’s doing custom leatherwork. Learning the craft from a saddle maker in northern Colorado set John up to be highly skilled in floral carving and tooling. That is reflected in every custom piece he turns out at Lunatic Leather.
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