Kollin VonAhn is a two-time world champion heeler who’s won well over $1 million in his professional rodeo career. He’s also a three-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo team roping average winner. The 39-year-old Sac City, Iowa, native now lives in Blanchard, Oklahoma, with his seven-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo barrel racer wife, Angie Meadors, and their little girl, Steele, who’s 6.
Q: To take us all the way back, what was it like growing up a team roper in small-town Iowa?
A: I didn’t know any different. I had a great family, and we had a lot of horses. For Iowa, we had the coolest little horse ranch around there.
Q: At what age did you leave Iowa, where’d you go and why?
A: My friend JW Nelson and I graduated high school early, and went to Texas. We lucked into living at Kevin Stewart’s for a month, and rented a little trailer house from Martin Lucero for another month. We had one cell phone between us, and they charged by the minute back then, so it was for emergencies only. A big ice storm came through Texas, and we looked at each other and said, ‘It does this sh*t in Iowa.’ So we loaded up and went back home.
Q: You won the 2005 National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association team roping title heeling for Ryan Carter while rodeoing for Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant, Oklahoma. Was that your first big win?
A: Yes, it was my first major title. I remember that was important to me, and thinking, ‘We only get four chances at it.’ I won it my junior year. Those were good times.
Q: Did you graduate from college?
A: No. A teacher told me if I went to the US(TRC) Finals and missed the final exam, he would not let me make it up. I skipped out anyway, and between the prelims at the Lazy E and the US ropings right there in Oklahoma City, I won $50,000–$60,000. That gave me enough dumb confidence that I went back to that teacher, and told him I’d just made as much in three days as he made in a year. I lacked 12–13 hours to graduate. But I left there not really wanting a back-up plan. Either it will work or I’ll die trying was my mindset.
Q: Name your NFR years and partners.
A: I had a double-wide trailer house and a portable arena in Durant that I bought on the chip-away plan when I had the chance to rope with Nick (Sartain) in 2009. I told him I was willing to run myself to zero dollars and go bankrupt to make the Finals one time. I’ve roped at the Finals five times—with Nick in 2009-10, and Luke Brown from 2013-15. Luke taught me a lot about treating team roping like a business.
Q: You won both the NFR average and your first world championship with Nick at that first Finals in 2009. Nothing like making a mighty splash.
A: Honest to goodness, some of it was just lucky. We roped good, and we worked hard at it. We were naïve enough that everything just fell our way and we had a great Finals. It was a great experience, but it was almost too easy. I legged the very first steer at that Finals, and Nick broke a barrier. We had 15 seconds in penalties, and ended up a tenth of a second from tying Jake (Barnes) and Clay’s (Cooper) record (of 59.1 on 10 from 1994). I left there with more money than I’d ever had in my life. We didn’t rope very good in 2010, and I made a mistake on the first six steers at the 2010 NFR. That made me realize that fairytale years like 2009 don’t just happen all the time.
Q: You’ve won three NFR average titles—2009 with Nick, and 2013 and ’15 with Luke. That makes you the perfect person to ask about what it takes to win the NFR.
A: Most of it is on your header, and how he ropes and handles the steers. When headers do it right, the shots are easy. When that doesn’t go right, the heel shots can feel impossible. That’s a 3- and 4-second setup. I never went out there thinking about wanting to win the average. Averages are won with a run that places in a lot of rounds.
Q: When you won your second gold buckle in 2015, it was one of those split-title situations. Aaron Tsinigine won the world heading for Ryan Motes, and you won it heeling for Luke. How hard was it for you to take center stage without your partner?
A: I felt terrible. The gold buckles meant more to my close friends and relatives than they meant to me. Junior (Nogueira), Ryan, Luke—they all had a good chance, and I was pulling for them. That’s when it touched my heart that God’s plans for me were greater than I had for myself. Since it hit me that I should use this platform to help other people, it’s helped my whole life. I swear stuff falls in my lap. Roping with Brandon Webb from 2017–22 taught me a lot about keeping your priorities straight and being a good person.
Q: You’re heeling for Jake Cooper Clay at the rodeos this year. What do you like about your team?
A: That guy’s young and hungry. I’m going to get credit for making him good, but he’s already great. I’m getting close to the end of my career, but I have good horses and a young guy breathing fire who wants to make the NFR. I love his intensity, and he’s super fast. I’m kind of just along for the ride.
Q: You’ve won about all there is to win. What motivates you to keep climbing in that truck at 39?
A: I love horses, and I love to rope. I believe there’s something about age and perspective that makes a person better. I believe I’m better now than I was before, because I understand the game better. And I still expect a lot out of myself.