Ready to root for a team roper at the Olympics kicking off this weekend in Tokyo, Japan? It’s truly the ultimate all-around championship—and gold medal—that gymnast Brody Malone has in his sights.
Malone, 21, has been roping since about kindergarten, which was just a couple of years after his mother Tracy and her friend Penny Johnson decided to enroll their boys in gymnastics. Brody and his little brothers Cooper and Tyler and sister Briley, now 13, learned to swing a rope from their dad, J.D. Malone, who grew up with Penny’s husband, JX2 producer John Johnson. For years, J.D. and Tracy also owned The Roping Pen, distributed around the Southeast.
Brody competed in roping jackpots and junior rodeos throughout Georgia growing up, as well as at the National Junior High Finals Rodeo, all while playing baseball and competing in gymnastics.
“I can remember leaving a junior rodeo with him jumping off a steer he was riding and running to the minivan to get to a gymnastics meet,” recalls J.D. “We almost missed regionals, twice.”
But all the hustle was worth it. Brody broke his foot once when a bucking bull stepped on him, after which his dad made him stick to roping.
“I think the focus and competitive drive he got from rodeo helped with gymnastics – even from knowing to pay attention to the stock and being aware of what he was drawing,” said J.D. “And of course the balance and strength he got from gymnastics helped his roping.”
Starting as a sophomore in high school, the kid dedicated all his weekends to his Olympic dreams that Tracy had nurtured over the years. It worked. Brody was the top high-school recruit in the country. He chose Stanford, where the senior this fall has already won back-to-back NCAA national all-around championships. In June, he won the U.S. Nationals in Fort Worth and this month he won the Olympic Trials in St. Louis. As one of four men on the United States’ team, he’ll compete in every event including pommel horse, parallel bars, high bar, vault, floor, and rings.
“Brody when he comes home gets right back in the practice pen,” said J.D. “He went to the Perry Bigbee Memorial roping in 2020 and had a pretty good day – won a couple of buckles. He says he’s a heeler but he heads pretty well. His little brother Cooper is rodeoing for the University of West Alabama and went to a truck roping last weekend.”
J.D. is usually running kids to sports too often to have much time to heel steers, but rodeo was his favorite kid sport because he could load them all up together to compete. That time became even more precious when the Malones tragically lost Tracy to breast cancer in late 2012. She was just 37 and Brody only 12. The young gymnast still carries a pink bandana to competitions to honor her memory.
“I remember right after Tracy passed, we went to the 2013 NJHFR; I drove all the kids to Gallup, New Mexico in a freightliner,” recalled J.D. “It was awesome; one of the best times I’ve ever had.”
A while after Tracy died, J.D. moved the family back to his native Tennessee, where he became a realtor. But the Georgia school district has tried enough times to get him to come back that he finally relented. The Malones will move back to Rockmart, Georgia, in August, where J.D. has already been driving kids to daily volleyball and wrestling practice when they’re not breaking cattle to show.
As for Brody, he’s peaking just as NCAA officials have loosened restrictions on collegiate athletes’ ability to make money. He just signed a sponsorship deal to become the face of fitness company EndlessRope. And the kid who grew up burying his grief in the gym and aboard his roan head horse plans to dedicate some of his earnings to develop the Tracy Malone Foundation for cancer research.
No spectators are allowed at the Olympics, but events are carried daily on NBC and NBC Sports, starting with Malone’s first competition at 6:30 a.m. Eastern time on Saturday. China, Japan and Russia are the team medal favorites while the United States has finished fifth in the past two Olympics. TRJ