U.S. Marine Corps veteran Tyler Wortman is teaming up with Kory Koontz and Charly Crawford to bring team roping to Colorado’s Western Slope … but there’s another warrior leading the charge in life’s other arena.
As Tyler Wortman explains it, he grew up seeing just enough of rodeo to know gold buckles aren’t for everyone.
“I know there’s a ton of talent out there, but they don’t have the money to go down the road,” said Wortman.
Where talent and opportunity meet
Wortman, 39, lives with his wife, Jennifer, and their daughter, Kennedy, on Colorado’s Western Slope, where the roping opportunities aren’t nearly as prevalent as they are in other parts of the state.
“We’re not in the path of a big rodeo,” Wortman said of his Fruita location, 250 miles west of Denver and an equal jaunt to Salt Lake City. “They aren’t coming through to go to Denver. They’re going on the other side of the mountains, so we don’t get the traffic here.”
Which is what makes his mid-May roping clinic with Kory Koontz and Charly Crawford such a coup. The school is open to 12 headers and 12 heelers and, by March 1, it was already setting up to be a success.
“I’ve only got a couple spots left and it’s two months away,” Wortman said. “We’ve had great responses.”
The clinic is capped at a 4+ to target a more beginner crowd and Koontz has tapped Smarty to aid in the efforts. Then, following the second day of schooling, Koontz and Crawford will be sticking around to co-host a goat roping jackpot to benefit the Colorado Mesa University Rodeo Team.
“I really like to give back to programs like that because that’s also fostering the generation coming up,” Wortman said. “They’ve got a great rodeo coach over there, Brandon Edwards, and he’s a roper, as well. I’m the Vice President of Operations at an oil and gas company, and we donate to their rodeo every year as a company, and then we’re going to do this fundraiser because I’d really like to help them out.”
A “Rocky” start
“I didn’t step into anything. I worked my way from the very bottom, all the way up.”Tyler Wortman
Wortman began his career with Rocky Mountain Wireline Service when he was fresh out of the Marines, nearly 20 years ago.
“I wasn’t even fully discharged from the military yet and I started changing oil on the trucks,” he said. “At this point, I run the whole operation and we’re a multimillion-dollar company, so I’ve come a long ways.
“I’m kind of proud of it,” offered Wortman, who describes his youth years as rough. “I didn’t step into anything. I worked my way from the very bottom, all the way up.”
Wortman credits his military career for the trajectory.
“The Marine Corps is more than just fighting wars,” said Wortman, who served with the 12th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division from 2002 to 2005. “That leadership that the military instills in you is with you forever.”
Wortman is the grandson of a highly decorated U.S. Airman who was killed in action in Vietnam.
“I never knew the man, but I saw the articles of my grandma taking pictures with the President, getting his medals and stuff like that.”
Then, referencing his childhood, “I was the toughest kid on the block so, naturally, the Marine Corps was the only branch I was going to go into. It was good for me to have that structure and to teach me that I’m not the baddest dude on the block.”
Of course, 9/11 preceded his decision to join the military by mere months.
“I’m a patriot to the bone,” Wortman affirmed, who spent most of his four years deployed.
Wortman was stationed in Japan, and then deployed to training exercises before a combat deployment to Iraq. But he managed to squeeze in an important trip home before he left.
“I married my high school sweetheart,” he said of Jennifer. “When I found out I was going to Iraq, we were just going to go to the courthouse and get married in case I didn’t come home. So, I flew in from Okinawa, Japan, [around] Christmas Eve, had Christmas, and we got married on Dec. 27.
“Her mom wouldn’t let us just go to the courthouse, so we had a beautiful wedding. I got married, flew out to North Carolina, back to Japan, and then to Iraq. We’d been married for a week and I was in Iraq and I didn’t see her for the first year.”
When Wortman’s contract with the United States military ended, he came home.
“I probably would have stayed in if it wasn’t for her,” Wortman said of Jennifer. “I felt lucky to get out of Iraq once. We had enough close calls and I thought, ‘Man, I don’t want to test my luck again.’ I love serving and I’d do it again in a heartbeat, but being married, I thought it was better for us for me to get out, so I did my four years and moved on.”
On the home front, the couple tried for 10 years to conceive, only to let go of the wish and then find out they were going to have a little girl. For the Wortmans, Kennedy keeps them focused on the present and gives them something to fight for.
[READ: Serving Those Who Served]
“She only has half her lungs left,” Wortman said of his wife, who is living with a terminal respiratory malady. “It’s the life we were dealt. It’s just part of our daily life. We have a 7-year-old daughter [and she’s] a little gift from God, for sure, and she’s an awesome kid. So, I think [Jennifer] is going to hold on for Kennedy as long as she can.”
In addition to bringing up their daughter—who he’s “dang sure” going to hit the jackpots with—the Wortmans are pumped to get these roping schools organized.
“Back in the day, it was more of a drinking sport for me, and I think she didn’t like it too much,” Wortman said of Jennifer’s take on his roping endeavors. “But I’ve been sober going on 2.5 years now. Going forward, she’s really excited about these schools. She’s really into helping out.”
Giving Back: Western Colorado roping clinics
In Wortman’s mind, a big-picture goal for the roping schools is to generate enough support to build scholarships to get kids mounted and down the road, but he’s also exploring opportunities to host schools for his fellow veterans, too.
“I was fortunate to come home,” Wortman said. “I have all my limbs. My mind is fairly squared away. But this last year, No. 9 [succumbed to] suicide out of our group. So, it’s something I really want to do something about. Whatever small part that is. It’s a real epidemic.”
No matter life’s constant challenges—be they access to roping, a terminal diagnosis or the weight of war—Tyler Wortman eyes them down like a true Marine: with a warrior heart. TRJ