Jess Lockwood sat on an Olympic Training Center wrestling mat surrounded by his heroes as they watched highlights from his world championship bull riding season.
Yep, just another Tuesday evening in “Olympic City USA” – the country’s best in one discipline comparing notes with and celebrating the accomplishments of one from another.
“It’s the opportunity of a lifetime. You’ve got to take that,” said Lockwood, who in November became the youngest-ever Professional Bull Riding World Champion at 20. “These are Olympic athletes. They’re the best in the world at what they do. You want to surround yourself with people like them. The work ethic is unbelievable. This is just the greatest team you’ll see in the world.”
There wasn’t much gained from a practical standpoint in bringing the high-school-wrestling-champion-turned-bull-riding-standard-bearer to spend a few days training with the best freestyle wrestlers the United States has to offer. Lockwood will soon return to his once-a-week encounters with bulls with names like Dennis the Menace and Dirty Deeds that can weigh up to 2,300 pounds. So, a sparring session with 145-pound former NCAA champion Tony Ramos doesn’t really translate.
This was more about bringing together elite competitors in the same place, and the OTC is as good a place as any for that to happen.
“We just thought it would be a cool thing,” USA wrestling freestyle coach Bill Zadick said. “We knew it would be cool for him if he was interested, and, honestly, for our guys to be around somebody who is doing something at a high level in another field brings the energy level up in the room.”
For Lockwood, who wrestled for 12 years and won a state title at 112 pounds in Montana, it was like attending a fantasy camp where the camp counselors – a “who’s who of the sport” according to Air Force wrestling coach Sam Barber, who was in attendance – were just as admiring of him. The moment when the team gathered with Lockwood to watch his bull riding highlights was particularly emotional, with the wrestlers clapping and cheering throughout.
“I haven’t been to a bull riding competition, but I definitely want to go now,” Olympic gold medalist and Coronado graduate Kyle Snyder said.
Lockwood’s three-day stay in Colorado Springs hatched from the mind of USA Wrestling national teams high performance manager Cody Bickley.
Bickley, also a Montana native, is a former bull rider who follows the Pueblo-based Professional Bull Riders, Inc. After Lockwood won the $1 million PBR World Championship in November, Bickley heard an interview where Lockwood described his background in wrestling and mentioned some of his heroes.
"They were guys in this room right here,” Bickley said.
So, USA Wrestling reached out to Lockwood with an offer to pay for his trip to Colorado Springs to spend time with at the team camp – one of about six roughly weeklong sessions held annually at the OTC for about 30 of the top wrestlers in the country.
Lockwood – 5-foot-5, 130 pounds – sparred a little with some of low weight class wrestlers and was quick to seek out two of his favorites, David Taylor and Snyder.
“Those guys are awesome,” Lockwood said. “They’ll give you the time of day and they love to talk.”
Lockwood also did some demonstrating. He showed Ramos a medicine ball workout in which he jumps on it, spins and does squats, building balance and strength in his core and hips that is vital both for a bull rider and wrestler.
“It’s cool to see different ways that different sports and different athletes train and if you can incorporate any of it into what you do,” said Ramos, a national champion at Iowa who has twice competed at the world championships. He's now a volunteer assistant at North Carolina. “I’ll probably take some of that home with me.”
Lockwood didn't think he would change up his routine, which consists of putting in long hours on his Montana ranch and then sweating through 60 minutes of exercise in a facility that he turns up to about 110 degrees.
The key in Lockwood’s field is recovering from injuries, and even at his young age he’s had to come back from a punctured lung, broken rib and lacerated liver.
To do that requires supreme confidence and a single-minded focus.
“We just wanted to piggyback on some of that,” Bickley said. “We’d like to think we have some guys in this room who have the same mentality.”