EIGHT-TIME WORLD CHAMP TO ROPE IN K.C., SIGN AUTOBIOGRAPHY
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Fred Whitfield is the most decorated African-American in rodeo, the owner of eight world championships and 20 qualifications to the sport’s marquee event, the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
In a pro career that has spanned 24 years, he has won titles at many of the most prestigious events in the game, including the American Royal Rodeo. He returns to Kansas City next week for another run at the championship during the 2013 rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 27, and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28, inside Hale Arena at the American Royal Complex.
“I won it my rookie year and a couple of other times,” said Whitfield, 46, of Hockley, Texas. “It’s always been a good rodeo, and I’ve always had success there. Fans have always been so great, which is another reason I like coming to Kansas City.”
He’ll have a greater opportunity to meet with rodeo fans at this year’s event. You see, Whitfield co-authored his biography – Gold Buckles Don’t Lie, the Untold Tale of Fred Whitfield – with writer Terri Powers, and he will conduct a book-signing in conjunction with the rodeo. Whitfield will have books available at the American Royal complex and will sign during Saturday’s 2 p.m. performance and from 6-7:30 p.m., prior to the start of the evening show.
“If I need to, I can still meet with fans after I rope that night,” he said.
Roping has been Whitfield’s primary focus most his life. The book details how he overcame childhood struggles – growing up in a poor family with an abusive father and battling through numerous challenges along the way – to reach the pinnacle of rodeo. He earned his first tie-down roping gold buckle in 1991, at the age of 24 in just his second year of roping in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, the premier organization in the sport.
“I never envisioned myself doing a book, but over the years, there’s just been so many things I’ve been through in my life that I never talked about,” Whitfield said. “There are so many emotions in this book … the highs, the lows, the feel-good moments. It just makes you feel good, and it’s also inspiring.
“There are a lot of kids that grow up that have to go through this stuff. If they read something like this, it gives them some hope.”
Through the tumultuous times he experienced, Whitfield balanced it with passion for roping. He’d spend as much time as possible in the arena, whether it was riding bareback on a pony or being mounted on world-class horse. He found solace in it and the people that helped him along the way.
“I went through hell, but a lot of it was building character,” he said. “I can realize that now. When I was going through that stuff, it made no sense to me.
“The reason I never talked about it before was I felt like the success was better for it. No matter how bad it was, I was always positive. That’s just the type of person I am.”
He found what worked to build on his success. In telling his tales, Whitfield reflected on days when arrogance was getting the better of him. He realizes the fine line cockiness plays with confidence, and he tries to stay on the conservative side.
“I knew I was good, but I wasn’t trying to be cocky,” he said. “I’d celebrate, but I’d never rub in in their face when I beat them. I was having success in roping. I was molded to be quiet and subdued, but in order to be a world champion – a Fred Whitfield, a Joe Beaver, a Ty Murray – you have to be different.
“You think a lot different. You eat, you breathe, you crave whatever your profession is. That’s the only way you can go.”
Whitfield still craves the competition, but he realizes that a man in his mid-40s has certain limitations. The arena is still a great place to be, but the miles it takes to get from one event to another has taken its toll. When he ran his final calf in the 10th round of the 2012 NFR, Whitfield knew it was the last time he was going to compete in ProRodeo’s championship. Roping is still very much who he is and what he’s about, which is the main reason he’ll be in Kansas City.
But he loves spending time with his family and getting to chat with fans.
“The one thing I can say about my career is that no matter what, I’ve been accepted by my fans with open arms,” Whitfield said. “It means the world to me.”
BOOK SIGNING: Eight-time world champion Fred Whitfield will conduct a book-signing of Gold Buckles Don’t Lie, the Untold Tale of Fred Whitfield at the American Royal complex during the second performance of the American Royal Rodeo, which begins at 2 p.m. Saturday. He will return to sign from 6-7:30 p.m. later Saturday. Books can be purchased on site for $25 cash only.