Originally published in 2017.
Because Broc Cresta was worth knowing—and future generations of cowboy kids won’t get the chance to do that for themselves, like we did—it’s the people closest to Broc who will tell his story now. Loving Broc changed a lot of lives. Losing Broc shipwrecked them. Broc will live in their hearts always and forever—until they meet again.
Fourth-generation California cowboy Broc, who was the Resistol Rookie Heeler of the Year in 2007, won his share of rodeos and more, including the Daddy itself in 2008 with Logan Olson. Broc roped at his first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in 2010 with Turtle Powell, then followed that up with a second NFR with Spencer the December before he died. Fittingly, Spencer and his fiancé, Whitney Lynn, welcomed baby boy Broc Alan Mitchell on Memorial Day, May 29.
“I didn’t think there was any other name to consider,” Spencer said. “As soon as we knew it was a little boy, it was pretty much set in stone. Nobody really needed to ask what it was going to be. It’s like Tuff Hedeman naming his boy Lane—somebody you grew up with and looked up to and respected—that’s what you want for your kid, to be respected.”
Yes, half a life before we lost Broc, I was there at the Daddy with my cowboy contemporaries when all the air left that arena and we lost Lane Frost at 25. As I sat with Broc’s cowboy peers at his public memorial service, and was honored to be asked to say a few words, I looked at that sea of sad, young faces and knew how they felt. It’s a pain and emptiness that’s really not possible to put into words. But—somehow, some way—we all must learn to live on.
“It seems like an eternity that we’ve been without him,” Spencer said five years later. “Other times it seems like it was yesterday. There are places I still expect to see Broc—like when I’m up in Cottonwood (at the Davis Ranch). Random memories come to mind all the time. It’s still hard to grasp that he’s gone. We just have to cherish the moments and the memories we have.
“Broc wasn’t quite as outgoing as Justin (Davis) and I. But once you got to know him, and became friends with him, you were always friends with him. And he was always there if you needed something. We pushed each other to be what we were. Broc was all about competition, trying to get better all the time and never settling for what you had. There was always room to improve, in Broc’s eyes.”
Broc, Spencer, Justin and Russell Cardoza were a four-man buddy group with a brotherly bond.
“We were all home schooled, so in the wintertime we’d stay at Cresta’s because they had an indoor arena and 400 Mexican roping steers,” Justin remembers. “They say you’re only as good as the people you rope against and practice with. It was our job to rope those steers, and we all four had the same dream in mind.”
Broc lived his last seven years with the Davises, and “when he started living there we shared a bed for three years,” Justin grins. “Kyle (Davis, Justin’s cousin) slept in the other bed in the same room. Broc’s Cheyenne saddle sits outside that bedroom. I rarely go up those stairs anymore, because I still get teary when I go toward that room.”
Davis remembers Broc as, “straightforward. He took roping very seriously. Broc was amazing with a horse and a rope. Once people got to know Broc, they loved him. He had a little bit of a strut, and always walked off with that little smile and smirk.
“I still think about Broc every day. We talked on the phone every single day when we weren’t together, and when you’re used to that your whole life it’s a big change. To this day, when I’m struggling with something my gut instinct is to ask Broc. I lost that person I always called. Now I have to figure it out on my own.”
Before Broc died, Jade Corkill was obsessed with winning a gold buckle. When Broc died, he looked outside that tunnel he’d been living in and turned out the week of Dodge City (Kan.; he was roping with Kaleb Driggers at the time). The world as Jade knew it stopped turning. Jade jumped in and rode with us from Broc’s church service to the cemetery for the private burial. I’ll never forget a moment—Jade staring down into that hole at Broc’s casket, which was covered in flowers, roping gloves from his pallbearer friends and a heel rope—that I knew at the time changed Jade forever. I put that picture away for five years, and when I finally showed it to Jade it took him right back to that afternoon in Broc’s now eternal hometown of Santa Rosa, Calif.
“I remember exactly what I was thinking right then,” Jade said. “That was the hardest thing. I was thinking, ‘we can’t throw dirt on him. This is not a dead bird or our dog or a goldfish. Broc’s in that box. How’s he going to breathe? We’re counting on his spirit going to Heaven, but he’s in this box in his cowboy clothes, with his rope and we’re all just going to walk away? We can’t leave him here. We can’t seriously say goodbye and leave him here.’ There were no words to make it make sense.
“I didn’t care about a gold buckle after that happened. And I haven’t been the same person since. I hate thinking that Broc dying was what made my life better and gave me the perspective I have now, but it really did change me. The little things that used to stress me out don’t matter anymore, and I no longer care what other people think or say about me. As long as I’m doing what I need to do and should do, the rest of it doesn’t matter. It’s made me content with who I am. Broc was just himself—the person it turned me into after he died.”
Jade went on to win his first of three straight gold buckles that December. His buckle of choice is still the same one he wore to Broc’s service—the 2010 Salinas buckle he won at the 100th annual California Rodeo that year with Chad Masters. Jade won the first annual Broc Cresta Memorial Roping with Clay Tryan in the spring of 2013. He only occasionally wears one of his gold buckles for formal occasions. Jade, Chad, Spencer and Broc all won matching 10th go-round buckles at Broc’s last NFR, by the way, when both teams were 3.6.
Jade stays in touch with Broc’s brother, Brent Cresta, and mom, Kelly Balistreri. “We lost a family member together,” Jade said. “My brother talked about Jade all the time, and in a lot of ways idolized him,” Brent said. “Jade staying in touch with our family means more than he’ll ever know.”
Brent was three years older than Broc, and the best big brother. You won’t see Brent without his BC necklace, and a BC shirt or ballcap.
“With Broc passing so early, it left me with a lot of life to live and a lot of milestones without him,” Brent said. “I wish he could see my kids (Brent and Jenny’s Makenna will be 4 next month, and twins Maci and Madison just turned 2). I enjoy telling people about Broc, and I don’t let anybody forget about him. But I wish I didn’t have that job. I take it day by day, and try to be as happy as I possibly can and look at what I do have instead of what I don’t.”
Like Broc, Brent tells it like it is. “I tell everybody what happened,” he said. “My brother died from mixing Coors Light and Vicodin. He went to sleep and never woke up. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Broc made a mistake. But that didn’t make him any less of a person.”
Broc had the pain pills from when he broke some ribs practicing bulldogging before that year’s Timed Event Championship. Ironically, “If Broc would have had a few beers and a pain pill all the time, he’d still be here,” Brent said. “He’d have built up a tolerance, like so many people do. This was a terrible accident.”
It’s true. I spoke with the coroner in Wyoming after the final verdict was reached on Broc’s autopsy. He confirmed that millions of Americans mix alcohol and pain meds all the time and live to think nothing of it, but that a variety of factors including the altitude in Cheyenne created “the perfect storm” for Broc.
The distraction of his young family is Brent’s salvation. There’s a cardboard standup of Uncle Broc in Makenna’s room, and she swears he “keeps the bears away.” When they recently told her they had to put down the family dog, they told her, “Sam’s going to Heaven and he’s not going to be here anymore.” Makenna’s first words upon hearing the news: “He’ll be there with Uncle Broc!”
Staying busy helps. “But when I lay down at night and everything gets quiet, I think of Broc,” Brent said. “It’s not the same without him. And it never will be.”
Brent received a text from Broc during that last NFR in Las Vegas. Broc told his brother he loved him and that he knew he was his biggest fan. Brent hurts. But he treasures those words. “I’d trade my life in a heartbeat if it’d get Broc back, but he’d just kick me for doing it,” Brent said with a Broc smirk. “So there’s no winning there.”
Brent was born three months premature, and with hydrocephalus, which is water on the brain. He had one operation as a baby, and seven more brain surgeries from 2008-2010. “The only time my brother was ever in the hospital was to come see me,” Brent said.
“After eight brain surgeries we finally got Brent healed up, and a year later we lose Broc,” Mom Kelly said. “Nobody thought it would be Broc. Neither did I. I lost my baby. My beautiful, healthy baby boy. It feels like yesterday, and 10 years from now I’m still going to feel like I do today. You learn a lot about death when you lose a child. It changed me. I’m more caring and understanding now.”
Gathering for the Broc Cresta Memorial Roping each spring is therapeutic for Kelly, as is giving out the Broc Cresta Scholarships.
“The friends who’ve pulled us all together mean the world to me,” Kelly said. “We can’t get Broc back, but we can honor him by making life better for other people. That’s why this roping is so damn important to me. I get to connect with Broc’s friends. We celebrate Broc by getting together in his name and giving back to kids. It helps keep me going. I have to think about being thankful for the time we had with Broc. I had a good kid who touched a lot of people and is still touching them. I don’t understand why God chose him, but that’s the way it is.”
In our most recent conversation—between Mother’s Day and Memorial Day—Kelly told me about her hawk, and that “hawks are from Heaven.”
“He first showed up when I was sitting in my house calling the kids that won Broc’s first scholarships,” Kelly said. Goosebumps. My baby boy, Taylor, was one of those lucky kids. “A birdfight broke out right outside my window, and there was this big hawk sitting on my grandkids’ swingset. He’s been around ever since. When I’m sad, I’ll see him perched in my tree. I go to my girlfriend’s house and we’re canning, and my hawk sits on her fence. Everybody knows I have a hawk. He follows me. And I talk to him a lot.”
We all marvel at all Broc packed into his 25 years, which as Kelly says, “was more than a lot of us will do in a lifetime. He saw a lot of states and made a lot of good friends. He loved to rope. He rode motorcycles, and ran a kickoff back for a 99-yard touchdown playing Pop Warner football.”
Like Lane Frost, Broc was a talented, handsome, popular young cowboy when he headed to Heaven. So his legend will be forever 25. What would his mom like people to remember about Broc?
“That he was great,” she said. “Broc left this world early, but he left with a lot of friends and love and respect. Adults liked him. Kids liked him. His family and friends loved him. God must have wanted a good one is all I can tell you. People say time heals. Not really.
“But we don’t bury people and forget about them. I have grandbabies who are never going to meet Broc, but they’ll know him. Broc was wonderful. We all miss him so much, and always will. But we’re never—ever—going to stop telling everybody about him.” SWR