December 5-14, 2024


Trusting the Process 

May 12, 2023

Trusting the Process 

Sage Kimzey is a work in progress

By Susan Kanode

I will never forget the first time I interviewed Sage Kimzey for a story. It was at San Antonio, Texas, in 2014. I had been around him while he was competing on his permit in 2013 and I knew that as long as I was involved in the rodeo industry, I was going to be talking to him — a lot. 

I was working at San Antonio’s Rodeo the first time that Sage set foot inside the AT&T Center. I don’t think anyone knew how that one event would propel his career. Even Sage. He had prepared all of his life for this, but what that preparation never considers is the other guy. 

Sage won the Xtreme Bulls on the final day of the rodeo, adding more than $22,000 to his earnings. He had also qualified for the rodeo’s finals which was that evening. Not a big surprise for those of us that were becoming his fans. What was a surprise was seeing all of the other bull riders come off in that final round. Sage got all the money and added nearly $60,000 to his bank account that day. 

He had set an earnings record on his permit and was in his rookie year. That money propelled him to the Rookie of the Year title, his first appearance at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR), first gold buckle, and more records. 

Sage Kimzey at his very first NFR in 2014. | PRCA Photo by Mike Copeman

Since then, he has qualified for the NFR eight times and left with a gold buckle seven of those. He was well on his way to his ninth NFR and eighth gold buckle last year when a nagging injury got worse and he made the decision to take care of the problem. In spite of being sidelined in June, he still finished the season in 17th place. 

Surgery on his shoulder was another opportunity for him to put one of his mental strengths in place. Take something negative and turn it into a positive. He used his time away from the arena to focus on his family which along with wife, Alexis, includes their son, Steele. Steele celebrated his first birthday last January. 

Sage has been a goal setter and planner for as long as he can remember. His goal from day one has been to beat Donny Gay’s record of eight world championships. After surgery and intense rehab, he felt like he was ready to get back on. His first entries were last January at Fort Worth, first competing in the Xtreme Bulls and then the rodeo. 

Sage, Alexia and Steele walking into Dickies Arena in Fort Worth. | Photo by Click Thompson

It wasn’t until the afternoon of his first bull back that Dr. Tandy Freeman of the Justin Sportsmedicine Team cleared him to ride. That ride was successful and the champ was back. There have been some definite struggles since then, but as of May 12, he is seventh in the world standings and chipping away at those goals. 

Achieving those goals has been a lifelong process for Sage and for him 90 – 95 percent of that is mental. That’s also a part of his game he started working on as a youngster. 

“In middle school and high school I started reading books in my spare time,” Sage said. “Pretty much anything I could get my hands on. Mind Gym was easy for me to understand and it was the first one that I read that set me down this path.” 

Even with seven gold buckles, the mental game is a constant battle for Sage. For him, mental fitness is just like physical fitness. 

“It’s not different than working out or doing pushups,” he added. “If you did 1,000 pushups 10 years ago, those 1,000 pushups aren’t doing you much good right now. It’s an everyday thing that you have to address and keep working on.

“If you are weak in a group of muscles in your body, you can’t just ignore it. I’ve seen other guys ignore their mental game shortcomings and never really addressed it. It has to be identified, addressed and fixed.”

Sage Kimzey as he prepared for his first ride back after his injury. | Photo by Click Thompson

For Sage, that means being really honest with himself, analyzing every part of his life and looking for ways to improve. Then he creates a plan to work on those and makes his shortcomings into strengths. It gives him confidence in every part of his game. 

It really is a game of life for him. It goes deeper than what happens at the arena.

“If I’m being productive at the house, if my life is in balance of being good to my wife and son and I’m doing the right thing on a regular basis, if I’m putting the work in – going to the gym or getting on my drop barrel – all of these things build my confidence,” he said. “If each of those little things add 2% to your confidence, and you can check 50 boxes, you’ve got a big confidence boost.”

And that work outside of the arena carries over to the competition. If Sage is working to be the best that he can be in any given moment it gives him the confidence that he has done his part and deserves to win. 

After his injury, he drew on those things to come back. He had been working hard for the return and while he was successful on his first bull, there were still struggles ahead. He had to gain confidence that his shoulder was going to work like it was supposed to. He is getting back to that form and proved that winning the George Paul Memorial Bull Riding in Del Rio, Texas, this month. It was Sage’s first time to win the legendary event. 

A quick photo snapped while Sage was holding Steele. | Photo by Click Thompson

Learning how to #becomelegendary has been a process for Sage and he’s hoping that he can pass some of his lessons on to future generations. 

“You can learn stuff from a lot of different sources, but at the end of the day, your mental game is up to you,” he said. “I’m kind of a control freak. I gather all of the information that I can, get my own thoughts and develop a plan to implement it. Going through that process on your own is the only way for me to gain true confidence.” 

Sage’s quest to constantly improve starts with a simple question. “Why?” His ‘why’ has changed through the years, but it’s a question that gives him the motivation to keep working towards those goals. Now, with a family to support, his ‘why’ includes them. 

His responsibilities have changed, but so have the payoffs. There is nothing like seeing Steele’s smile when he sees his daddy coming for him.