HELENA — The East Helena Rodeo has been good to Cody Wortman.
Wortman, 26, a fourth generation Boulder cowboy, has won at every level at East Helena. His first victory was the Mutton Buster’s kid’s sheep riding when he was about 5 or 6 years old. Several years later, he captured the kid’s steer riding contest.
In 2016, as a member of the professional Northern Rodeo Association (NRA), Wortman garnered the East Helena bull riding championship with a 79-point ride. He entered the rodeo two years ago sitting atop the leaderboard, but later slipped in the standings and finished as the reserve champion at the NRA Finals.
This year, Wortman is again leading the bull riding standings, with a lead of $590. He has pocketed $2,698 to date, while Kelly Murnion of Jordan is second with $2,108. But Wortman knows there’s no such thing as a comfortable lead in rodeo, and that he’ll need to continue to excel in order to reach his goals this year.
Wortman is scheduled to ride in the 55th annual East Helena Rodeo on Saturday after competing in Three Forks Friday
“I’d like to hopefully repeat at East Helena, and go on to win the NRA’s year-end championship,” said Wortman, referring to the finals in Butte in October. “I just need to keep riding my bulls, realize I can’t control the scores, and the rest will fall into place.”
Rodeoing runs deep in the Wortman family’s blood.
Cody’s great-grandfather, Orville Wortman, was a saddle bronc rider out of Boulder about 75 years ago. His grandfather, Leonard Wortman, rode bareback broncs and was a bulldogger. He later served at a Jefferson County commissioner.
Cody’s dad, Dennis Wortman, was a barebacker, while his uncle Bill rode bulls.
Shannon Wortman, another uncle, has perhaps had the most success on the rodeo circuit. He rode all three rough stock events — saddle bronc, bareback and bulls — and was a CNFR all-around finalist for Western Montana College. Shannon had a standout NRA and PRCA Montana Circuit career before switching to bull fighting.
And Cody's mother, Capital High alum Shauna Stallings, was a 1986 Miss Last Chance Stampede Rodeo contestant.
Cody Wortman was a prep wrestler for Jefferson High, qualifying for the State All-Class tournament in Billings for the Panthers.
He was also a member of the Helena Rodeo Club. Among his teammates were NRA bull rider Tanner Theriault of Townsend, who currently ranks No. 7; PRCA bull rider Guy Nordahl of Huntley; and Helena PRCA steer wrestler Ty Erickson, a four-time top-10 placer at the WNFR.
After high school, Wortman spent several years in California. He lived with Gary Lefeww, and attended Lefeww’s bull riding school while competing in pro rodeos and the PBR.
He returned to Boulder three years ago, where he has worked at the family’s fencing business when not rodeoing.
Rodeo is a rough sport, with bull riding arguably being the most dangerous event. At 5-foot-10 and 150 pounds, Wortman’s chore every ride is to last 8 seconds atop the whirling and bucking fury of a Brahma that often tips the scales at 10 times the Boulder cowboy's own weight.
“I’ve been pretty lucky so far, broke my right arm two times, but no catastrophic injuries yet,” he said.
This year Wortman's won two rodeos, in Gardiner and Polson, and placed runner-up at Choteau. His personal record is a score of 86 points, which he attained last year in Deer Lodge.
Wortman’s rodeo heritage has served as a foundation to carry on the family tradition, as well as an incentive to achieve a high level of performance.
“The most important lessons I’ve learned from rodeo is to never quit trying, always stay humble and make as many friends as you can,” said Wortman, who also credited his supporters at Boulder’s Windsor Bar.
“I’m hoping to some day be as good as Uncle Shannon was, or even better, and to do that I just need to be persistent and stay healthy.”
And a win in East Helena this weekend would be another step on that journey.