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Meet The Member Slick Phelps
story by Lily Weinacht
Few 18-year-olds get to celebrate the year they become legal adults with a world championship, but Slick Phelps from Porcupine, S.D., defied the odds. The bull rider of Oglala Lakota heritage competed in the INFR in Las Vegas, Nev., for the second time in 2014. His competition teetered briefly when he bucked off his first bull, but regained its balance when he rode his last three bulls and was named the 2014 INFR Bull Riding World Champion, setting the record as the youngest competitor to hold the title. “There were only two other guys competing from my reservation (Pine Ridge Reservation), and to win the world title really brought up my confidence,” says Slick, known as JD prior to the birth of his nickname. “I want to do great things for my people and my tribe!”
Slick’s home on the Pine Ridge Reservation near Porcupine, S.D., is better known for its Sun Dances, sweat lodges – and unfortunately, its poverty – rather than rodeo athletes, but Slick is determined to change that. The SDHSRA member was introduced to calf riding by his dad, Ted Phelps, who had never rodeoed, but held a fascination with the PBR. “My dad put me on some calves when I was four or five,” Slick recalls. “He thought I’d buck off and change my mind, but I kept going and he took me to local rodeos, and I’ve been doing it ever since! My mom (Alice Phelps) gets nervous – I guess all moms do – but both she and my dad are really supportive of my riding.”
The first rodeo Slick won was the calf riding in 2004 at Little Wound Youth Rodeo School in Kyle, S.D. As he grew older, Slick competed in the bull riding in the NLBRA and local open rodeos, qualifying for the junior bull riding at the 2011 INFR, then taking a year off to adjust to the larger bulls before making a run at the 2013 INFR, winning the world championship last year. He also qualified for the NHSFR in 2014, placing 15th in the average with plans to qualify again this summer. Slick is also taking up bareback riding this year, and so is his younger brother, Justin, who is a freshman in the SDHSRA. Slick has another younger brother, Jaron, as well as two older sisters, Victoria and Ashley, who are powwow dancers.
A senior at Little Wound High School, Slick graduates on May 22 and hopes to attend Miles Community College in Miles City, Mont., for their college rodeo and diesel mechanics. He’s spending his summer qualifying for the NHSFR and the INFR, while also preparing to buy his PRCA permit. “I’m at the age where I jump in with my buddies and go rodeo, but I always call my parents to tell them how I did and post my rides on Facebook,” says Slick. Much of his remaining time is spent working out on his weight bench, helping his brother with his bareback riding, or practicing on bulls with his friends, one of whom owns Jimmy’s Bucking Bulls.
Slick’s ultimate goal is to join the PBR, and this year he is also working to qualify for The American Semifinals. His world championship with the INFR gave him an exemption to the 2015 Semifinals, and Slick was honored to ride with PBR riders Stormy Wing and Austin Meier. “I plan on going to the Semifinals again either through the INFR or PRCA and having another shot at that million dollars!” says Slick. “I’d like to travel around a bit. I know home will always be here, and I’d like to go travel and ride while I can, and just live!”