With only three weeks until the 2020 CINCH Timed Event Championships at the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie, Oklahoma, Wyoming's Clayton Van Aken, 28, got the coveted call to take the place of reigning champion Justin Thigpen because of a torn abdominal muscle that has Thigpen sidelined for eight weeks.
"That’s no fun," Van Aken said. "I feel bad for him. I had talked to Jessica from the Lazy E a couple of times, but it was exciting to finally get the, ‘Yeah, you’re coming.’ I have three weeks to figure what in the heck this is all about. It should be a lot of fun.”
Little does Van Aken know, but he had the likes of NFR heeler Dakota Kirchenschlager on his side. Kirchenschlager, who has headed and heeled at past Cinch Timed Events, put the bug in the ears of the Cinch Timed Event Championship hosts to add Van Aken to the list of top competitors.
"It's called the Ironman," Kirchenschlager said. "That guy—he likes to do all the events. He's one person that I know that would want to do it. He's told me before. I root for the underdog every time."
Van Aken, a Mountain States circuit header originally from Descanso Junction, California, is an active team roper in the PRCA. He heads and heels, has roped calves and tripped steers, but his main concern is the bull dogging.
"I’m going to go to the gym today," Van Aken laughed. "There’s not really much preparing for it. It was pretty late notice, but I’m just lucky that I’m getting to go. I’m going to go work on the bull dogging a little bit and go slide some when I get home. I’ll rope some calves and tie some calves—kind of get back in the swing of all of it."
With the last minute phone call early on the morning of Monday, February 24, Van Aken is working on figuring out which horses he will ride during the long five rounds of heading, heeling, bull dogging, tripping and calf roping.
"I am going to ride one of Trey Sheets’ in the busting—probably the gray," Van Aken said. "Calf roping—I’ve got a couple options. It’s kind of up in the air. In the bull dogging, same thing, I’ve got a couple options to get on a pretty good one but I’m not too sure I’m ready to get on a good one. The guy I roped with at Tucson, JC Flake, has a bull dogging horse that they rode in college that’s just easy. I’ll probably jump a couple on him. I don’t have anything over a 5-year-old in the heeling that’s remotely ready. I got a new bay horse that I just picked up that I’ll probably ride in the heading. I’ve got a pretty cool little sorrel heel horse that’s a 5-year-old. I don’t honestly know what I’ll team rope on yet."
Along with still trying to figure out which equine athletes that are going to help Van Aken during the Ironman, he also doesn't know who will be helping him during the 25-head marathon.
"I have to make some phone calls still," Van Aken said. "I don’t really know who’s getting help—who’s already down there. I’ve got to make some business calls on that." TRJ