ProFile: Tory Johnson
Written by: Ruth Nicolaus< Back to Articles
Tory Johnson knows how good it feels to achieve goals. And the Oklahoma man did just that, when he won the Permit Challenge in December, held at the South Point Casino Arena in Las Vegas.
The steer wrestler didn’t begin his rodeo career in that event. He high school rodeoed as a tie-down roper. In college, first at Bacone College in Muskogee, Okla., then at Langston (Okla.) University, he rode bulls and added steer wrestling, in part because of the adrenaline rush. “I was more of an adrenaline junkie,” he said, “and steer wrestling and riding bulls have more adrenaline activity for me than just roping calves.”
Actually, his bulldogging career began in unlikely fashion. He was in college as a roper, watching the bulldoggers practice, when he talked smack to them. “I got to talking noise with them,” Tory said, when eight or nine of them decided to put $25 each in a hat, and if Tory would run and throw a steer, they’d pay him. “Me, being the daredevil I am, I did it.” That was in 2004, and he came home from college that summer and worked hard, learning all he could from world champions and other steer wrestlers like Clarence LeBlanc, Jesse Guillory, Romon Jones, and others. “I took to it like a natural.”
After graduating from Langston in 2009 with a degree in business agriculture, he came home to Oklahoma City, working as a cement truck delivery man, and rodeoed.
For the past ten years, he’s competed in the Bill Pickett Rodeo organization, the United Pro Rodeo Association, the Cowboy Pro Rodeo Association, based in Texas, and the Texas Cowboy Rodeo Association. Between the four organizations, Tory has won ten steer wrestling titles, three reserve titles, two tie-down titles, one bull riding title, and five all-arounds.
In 2019, he decided to do things differently. He had purchased his PRCA permit ten years ago, filling it several times over but never getting his rookie card.
Last January, the time was right. “I’ve been wanting to (be a PRCA member) for the longest time,” he said. “I got out of my comfort zone and said, hey, I have the horsepower, I have the talent, I’m ready, I’m going to do it.”
The thirty-four-year-old wrote his goals down, three big ones: fill his permit again, qualify for the permit challenge, and qualify for the Prairie Circuit Finals. He did all three, finishing the rodeo season twelfth in the Prairie Circuit and finishing as the number one permit holder.
At the permit challenge, he was the only man to throw both steers, thus winning the average and the title of champion.
The permit challenge wasn’t his first monumental win, though. At the World Champions Rodeo Alliance (WCRA), he won the average at Guthrie, Okla., and second in Green Bay, pocketing $25,000. And in the Prairie Circuit, he won or placed at rodeos in Ponca City, Henrietta, and Elk City, Okla.; Texarkana and Hot Springs, Ark., and others.
Competing in Las Vegas at the permit challenge while the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo was taking place was a thrill, Tory said. “It was pretty awesome to feel like you were one step out of being in the ‘big house.’ It was fun to be able to run a steer in Vegas, at the same time the Finals were going on.”
He had a large cheering section, too. More than 25 people: cousins, aunts, friends, his dad, even sponsors, were on hand to cheer him on.
For much of the year, he rode Queenie, an eleven-year-old mare owned by Denise Mooney and Marvel Rogers. “Me and her have been clicking everywhere we’ve been,” he said. She’s a typical mare, though. “She’s fun to be around. She can act like a mare every now and then, she gets moody, but she’s a winner and that’s all that matters.”
When he’s not rodeoing, Tory works installing window blinds in new homes across Oklahoma.
He’s set his 2020 rodeo plans, written in the same calendar book where he keeps pro rodeo entry information. His new objectives: win rookie of the year, and make a run at the NFR. “I’d like to go to the Thomas and Mack and run ten (steers).”