THUNDER VALLEY –Oglala Sioux Tribal member Jordan “Slick” Phelps has been viewing the world from the topside of bull since he was 4 years old.
Now at 19, that experience has transformed him into becoming a two time World Champion Bull Rider.
“I grew up on a ranch raising cows. One day my dad put me on a calf and I was addicted,” Phelps said from his home in Thunder Valley on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in southwestern South Dakota. “I kept getting on after that. I knew I wanted to be a bull rider when I was little and I’ve been chasing my dreams ever since. It’s working out so far.”Every year since then, the daring little cowboy participated in the 3 Mile Creek Rodeo School, run by Dale and Mona Vocu, gaining experience from some of Lakota countries top rodeo contestants.
“Dale and Mona have always been there for Slick. Their help and encouragement steered him to where he is now and where he has yet to go,” said his mother Alice Phelps.
The first rodeo Slick won was the calf riding in 2004 at Little Wound Youth Rodeo School in Kyle.
Slick attended Little Wound High School in Kyle where he was involved in the South Dakota High School Rodeo Association. He qualified for state all four years and then in 2015, his senior year, he became the SDHSRA State Champion Bull Rider.
During high school he was also involved in the Great Plains Indian Rodeo Association and traveled throughout Indian country participating in rodeo events. In 2013, 2014, and 2015 he was the GPIRA Year End Champion bull rider.
His first experience at the Indian Nationals Finals Rodeo was in 2011 as a contestant in the Junior Steer Riding. He said he took the next year off the hitting rodeo circuit gaining experience so he would be ready to ride the “big bulls” at INFR.
Then in 2014 at the Indian National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, Phelps became the youngest athlete to garner a World Championship title in bull riding. Proving he is a force to be reckoned with, Phelps returned and captured that title for the second time at the 2015 INFR.
“In 2014 I ended up winning my first world title. Then in 2015 I came back and won again,” he said. “It’s pretty special to me because I’ve been working so hard for it. It’s a goal that I met and I just plan to keep on going.”
Next month Phelps will be competing in The American semi-finals at the historic Cowtown Coliseum in the Fort Worth Stockyards on February 17 -21.
“I have just been working very hard to get to that in February. Last year I went as a rookie and ended up bucking off all my bulls. But it was a learning experience,” he said. “So this year I kinda know that I’m going to be facing some pretty rank bulls.”
The American invites the top 10 athletes from the 2015 PRCA, WPRA and PBR world standings and pits them against underdogs who advance from The American Semi-Finals, held Feb. 17–21 in Fort Worth. If a nationally ranked athlete wins, the prize is $100,000, but if a qualifier from the Semifinals wins The American, that contestant shares in the $1 million bonus prize money.
“I’ve been working on myself lately trying to get in shape. Just preparing for that caliber of bulls. I’m going into the semi files pretty prepared,” he said.
Phelps said he just joined the PRCA this year and will be hitting the pro rodeo circuit.
“I’ll also still be competing in the INFR, trying to defend my title. Once I go pro I think I’m going to stick with it and try to get into the PBR. (Professional Bull Riders Association)
Last year during the Lakota Nation Invitational the Phelps family sponsored the JD Slick Phelps Bull Riders Only, open challenge at the James Kjerstad Events Center in Rapid City.
“I have been riding bulls my whole life and I just wanted to give back. It was pretty nice,” he said.
Slick gives credit for his accomplishments in the rodeo arena to his parents Ted and Alice Phelps who raised him in an alcohol and drug free home. His parents provided entry money and drove him many miles so he could compete in rodeos throughout the country.
“I just seen them accomplish so much and they don’t have it easy either but they make it work and they provide as much as they can for me and my siblings. I just see what good people they are and I just listen and follow in their footprints,” he said. “They are always there supporting me. It’s pretty nice to have them around.”
He also gives credit to his Hunka father, Phillip Whiteman Jr. of Lame Deer Montana is also key towards Slicks approach to life.
“All his advice, philosophy, and attitude toward the sport parallels to that of everyday life. His teachings and the respect of the rodeo stock helps Slick with bull riding endeavors, learning that with great success comes some failure, but that this is part of it. He learned to get focused and ready for the next ride,” said his mother.
One of Slicks proudest moments was when he won the Bud Swallow Memorial Bull Riding 2014 at 3 Mile Creek.
“Bud was one of the great bull riders I looked up to and idolized when I was growing up and I will always be a fan of Bud Swallow,” he said.
(Ernestine Chasing Hawk can be reached at email@example.com)