story by Siri Stevens Tony Keeton started his company, Rockin’ K Rodeo in 2017. It’s not his only full time job. Tony has worked for […]
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Meet the Member AJ Blaze
story by Lindsay Whelchel
The big city of Atlanta doesn’t seem like a natural origin for a cowboy, but it was for bull and saddle bronc rider AJ Blaze.
AJ grew up in the city playing travel ice hockey until the age of 14 when he was bitten by the horse bug.
Of course, not all of the horses he took to riding were calm, and AJ started getting on bucking broncs for fun.
The technicalities involved in saddle bronc riding steered AJ to put it off for a few years through high school when he focused on bull riding and high school rodeo competition. Soon though, he was back to doing both events and doing them well.
“After I started getting the hang of it I did a couple pro rodeos [in high school] then it just seems like in the past three years I’ve really stepped my game up,” he says.
Part of that push to succeed came from AJ’s father.
“My dad told me my sophomore year in college, ‘you know I’ve been dishing out all this money for you to rodeo, and I’m not seeing any results, so you might want to make up your mind what you want to do,” AJ recalls and adds, “then right after he said that it was just like a fire lit underneath me, and I started making money and paying for all of my bills, so I’ve been blessed over the years.”
Now 23, AJ is rising in the ranks of professional rodeo. He topped the 2015 IPRA standings for much of the season until a concussion set him back. Still, he made the International Finals Rodeo in the bull riding and almost made it in the saddle bronc as well.
“It was just a great experience,” he says of the IFR. AJ quickly explains why, listing what contestants were able to do outside of the arena. “I went to the children’s hospital and got to visit with some of the kids that were sick, and then we did the Children’s Day at the IFR at the arena, so it was just good to give back to that community.”
Inside the arena, AJ held his own and finished fifth in the average
“It was just a great time, great experience, and I met a lot of good people,” he says.
This season, he’s back up at the top of the leaderboard.
Helping kids must run in the Blaze family. In addition to his three older brothers and younger sister, AJ’s parents have adopted two foster kids, ages 6 and 7, and they’re trying to adopt two others that currently live with them.
Outside of rodeo, AJ stays busy going to college full time at Georgia Southern University, where he studies mechanical engineering. He’ll graduate in 2017.
Rodeo has impacted AJ’s life
“It’s shaped me as an individual, and I’m proud to say I’m happy where I’m at now in life because of rodeo. If I didn’t have it I don’t know where I’d be.”