Ashland's Jule Hazen jumped seven spots in the final steer wrestling standings and was two-tenths off winning the short-go in Sunday night's final performance of the Dodge City Roundup Arena.
Hazen said to jump that many spots in any event at a rodeo is just like a win, especially in his "hometown" rodeo arena; but he couldn't completely celebrate what he accomplished since he wasn't able to call grandfather Richard Degnan, his top fan and his first teacher when it came to the rodeo.
Degnan died Thursday afternoon in between Hazen's first two rounds in the slack during the morning and the performance that night.
"I just want to be a good cowboy and he's the reason why," Hazen said after Sunday night's short-go. "We drove down to see him after slack and he wasn't really awake at the time. We stayed for a little while before coming back up here for the show and he died about an hour after we had left.
"That's what makes everything hard because I couldn't call him and tell him what I had done. I called him when I did well and when I didn't, but he'd be mad when I didn't call him. He's the reason I was interested in rodeo in the first place."
Hazen did celebrate after his ride, which netted him almost $3,500 for the weekend work. It also helped him in working to returning to the National Finals Rodeo after not being able to compete for most of 2012 because of tearing all the ligaments in his right shoulder during competition at the Beef Empire Days Rodeo in Garden City. He is currently eighth in the standings.
"It's an amazing feeling once you qualify and the facility is packed to the rafters before the event starts," Hazen said. "I always get goosebumps before, during and after I compete there. It's the dream of every cowboy and I've been there twice.
The two-time NFR cowboy (2007, 2011) was in 11th place with a two-round time of 11.5 seconds going into Sunday night, but he recorded a 5.2 time in the short-go to finish third in the round and fourth overall in the average at 16.7 seconds after many of the wrestlers had trouble in their action in the rodeo.
"I've been coming here since I was a little boy, so this place is special to me," Hazen said. "I dreamed about competing here since then and the people here are great. My mom (Kelly Hazen) and my wife (Heidi Hazen) have a facebook page for my fan club and everyone in that club was here. Even when I do bad, the crowd cheers me on. This is one of the best run rodeos ever and it's great to hear the fans cheer me on after my rides."