Cimmaron Gerke graduated from Odessa (Texas) College with a degree in diesel mechanics. As it turned out, that was only the beginning of his education.
The 22-year-old bareback rider from Brighton, Colo., spent 2002 and 2003 learning the ropes of ProRodeo. A college national champion while at Odessa College, Gerke won only about $20,000 his first two seasons as a pro.
Rodeo life is a lot different this year for Gerke. He's already amassed $56,883 and sits No. 6 in the Jack Daniel's World Standings.
The difference between this year and the previous two?
"It was just a learning experience," Gerke said. "I worked on my skills and paid my dues and it's starting to pay off this year."
One constant between this year and last, however, was the Days of '47 Rodeo in Salt Lake City. Gerke won the rodeo last year and returned this year to repeat as the rodeo's bareback riding aggregate champion.
"I think Salt Lake City is my favorite rodeo," Gerke said. "To draw that well at a rodeo two years in a row is really something."
In fact, last year, Gerke was broke and ready to go home. The only thing that kept him going mentally and financially was his win in Salt Lake City.
"That rodeo was the only thing that kept me from quitting and going home," Gerke said.
Adding to the luster of his victory in Salt Lake City this year was the fact that it was the fifth stop on the summer Wrangler ProRodeo Tour. Gerke not only won a check for $6,552, he picked up 26 Wrangler Tour points, moving to No. 1 in the Wrangler ProRodeo Tour Standings.
The top 12 finishers in the standings in each event qualify for the Pace Picante ProRodeo Challenge (Sept. 23-25) in Omaha, Neb. As it now stands, Gerke is in solid position to earn a Pace Challenge berth.
"I think I've got it made," Gerke said. "Now, I just hope I do better there than I did in Las Vegas [site of the Pace Chute-out that Gerke qualified for last May]. I didn't win any money there. That was my first time in Las Vegas and I didn't know what to expect. I'd probably do some things differently if I had the chance to go back."
The Pace Challenge will feature the same format as the Pace Chute-out, so Gerke's experience in Las Vegas won't go for naught. Again, chalk it up to a learning experience.
"I'm hoping to cash in at Omaha," Gerke said. "I want to make it to Las Vegas for the [Wrangler National] Finals [Rodeo]."
He won a college national title in bareback riding three years ago and while at Odessa College competed against some of ProRodeo's brightest young stars like Will Lowe, Royce Ford, Wes Stephenson and Tyson Thompson.
Lowe went on to win the 2003 world bareback riding title and Stephenson set a world record with a 94-point ride. Ford has emerged as a world title contender this year and Thompson has come close to earning a Wrangler NFR berth the past couple of years.
Now, it looks like it's Gerke's turn.
"I've improved my riding skills since I got out of college," Gerke said. "I've worked hard and learned the ropes. Hopefully, it will pay off in a big way."