The roller coaster ride called life is currently on an upward trajectory for Meadow Lake’s Cody Coverchuk.
The 27-year-old bull rider recently earned his second PBR Canada Championship, but this is only his latest achievement and – if Coverchuk has it his way – many more accolades are sure to come.
“I could go until I’m 35 or maybe, if things don’t go the way I would like, maybe next month will be my last month,” Coverchuk said. “I live for the moment and love every second of it, but I know it won’t last forever.”
Born March 1, 1994, Coverchuk’s earliest memory of being around animals date back to when he was about five years old and he would “help” his father, Bruce, hook up horses.
“We were travelling every weekend to pony chuckwagon races at that time, but, honestly, I didn’t pay too much attention to the rodeo events we attended,” Coverchuk said. “I didn’t really get into rodeo until my older brother, Marty, started riding saddle broncs and we would go to watch him.”
In high school, Coverchuk played sports such as basketball and volleyball, but, at age 12, he rode his very first steer and – in spite of his future success – the experience was what one would come to expect from an inexperienced youth climbing on the back of a bovine.
“It was at the Sunshine Stables just outside North Battleford,” Coverchuk recalled. “It was at a Kakeyow Cowboys Rodeo Association (KCRA) event. I fell off my first steer, and I went home that night not knowing if I wanted to do it again. But, my dad talked me into it and, the next day, I ended up making the whistle and won about $40. At that time, $40 was a lot of money to me.”
Coverchuk would go on to compete at KCRA events until he was 15 years old. Around the same time, he attended his first of two Indian National Finals Rodeo events in Arizona as a Junior bull rider.
“I ended up in second place that year and, in the year that followed, would go get on tryout bulls in Vermilion each week,” Coverchuk noted. “I went to the INFR again the following year and won the Junior Bull Riding World Championship.”
As he grew older, Coverchuk began to compete on the Canadian Cowboys Association (CCA) circuit before debuting with Professional Bull Riders (PBR) Canada at the age of 18.
“I kind of just taught myself how to ride as things went along,” Coverchuk added. “Things were working, out so I didn’t really go to any bull riding schools. My very first PBR event was in Prince Albert where I bucked off, but, the next weekend, we were in Marwayne and I took second place after riding both my bulls.”
From that point on, Coverchuk knew he wanted to make a career out of being a professional bull rider and he began competing on various circuits not only to earn prize money, but also to sharpen his skills and to build a reputation for himself in the bull riding world.
“Anywhere I could go to ride bulls and to make money, I would go,” he said. “It was what I wanted to do for a job. Anywhere they let me get on and make money, I went – Bull Riders Canada (BRC), the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association (CPRA), you name it, but my main focus was always the PBR.”
When he was starting out, Coverchuk said two of his idols were fellow bull riders Chad Besplug and Tyler Thomas.
“I liked the way they both rode but I especially liked how Chad handled himself in and out of the arena,” he said. “He was my main idol for sure.”
Throughout his career, Coverchuk has competed at the Canadian Finals Rodeo (CFR) three times, has been to the PBR Finals on several occasions (in addition to this year’s victory he was also crowned PBR Canada Champion in 2018) and he has ridden at the Calgary Stampede twice. Closer to home, Coverchuk has also found much success at the annual Meadow Lake bull riding, an event he has won on three occasions, including the 2021 Under the Lights event in September.
Next year goals
“Next year, I want to make the National Finals Rodeo (NFR) or the PBR World Finals,” he said. “I’m not sure which route I will take – I will probably try both, but plan to be at one of them for sure next fall. The Calgary Stampede, however, is the one that really matters to me. I came close to winning it this year, but close doesn’t satisfy me.”
Coverchuk went on to say much of his success has to be credited to the support he has received from his family over the years.
“My parents have always supported my brother and I in anything we wanted to do,” he said. “My dad was aways a calm guy. He never said too much, but he would always encourage me to just be myself. He always told me not to try to ride like anyone else, but to instead ride like Cody Coverchuk. He told me to ride the bull and to just get the job done every time. I’ve come to understand and appreciate that. The ride doesn’t have to be perfect – just do whatever it takes to get to the eight seconds. I just like to stay square and try to make the whistle as much as possible.”
Bruce Coverchuk passed away in 2016.
Dangers of the sport
Coverchuk said, like anything, bull riding has its share of pros and cons.
“The good thing about bull riding is you can make good money,” he said. “But, it can also be dangerous. Bulls are big, scary animals that outweigh us at least 12-to-one. I personally try to not take too much time in the chute because that’s the most dangerous place to be. But, at the same time, you need to make sure everything is as it should be before that gate opens.”
Coverchuk was almost knocked unconscious following an incident in one of the chutes at this year’s Calgary Stampede.
“It was a bull I didn’t know and he was really fired up in there,” he said. “Suddenly, he slammed me into the front of the chute which made me really hatch my chickens.”
Once clear of the chute, however, Coverchuk said instinct takes over.
“If I clear the chute, that’s a big win for me right there,” he said. “After that I don’t think about anything – my body just reacts. My mind opens up and I stay focused. It’s after the whistle when the bull can make or break you. A good get-off means you get to go to next rodeo and be healthy, but if you get under the bull and stepped on, you’re going to be sore. It’s very important to get off the bull clean or to keep riding until the bullfighters give you a chance to get off.”
Throughout his career, Coverchuk has suffered numerous injuries.
“I shattered my jaw in Cold Lake, I shattered my kneecap at a PBR event in Nipawin, and I’ve dislocated my shoulder and hyper-extended my thumb,” he said. “Surprisingly, the thumb injury was the one that hurt the most, but thankfully it was my free arm. Still, that was the worst pain I ever felt in my life.”
The lowest of times
While the future looks bright for Coverchuk now, three years ago his career almost came to an end, and not because of something that happened in the arena.
On Dec. 14, 2018, he was arrested following a traffic stop near Loon Lake. RCMP discovered Coverchuk was actively subject to court ordered conditions as a result of another charge laid by Lloydminster RCMP earlier that same year. Coverchuk was in violation of a number of those conditions and was subsequently arrested. Further investigation led to the discovery of methamphetamine and cocaine.
On Aug. 20 of last year, Coverchuk pleaded guilty to possession of both. Initially, however, he proclaimed his innocence and was scheduled to stand trial. He changed his plea after agreeing to have the seriousness of the charges reduced to drug possession from possession for the purpose of trafficking. On Sept. 24, 2020, he was given a conditional sentence.
“I was at an all-time high in my life,” Coverchuk said. “I had just won my first PBR title and had everything going for me, but went from a high to a low pretty quickly. I was kicked out of the PBR for two years, but, thankfully, I was able to get my head back on straight. In the end I am thankful all this happened because I would probably be dead today if it hadn’t. I was using drugs every day, but I’ve overcome all that, have done my time and am now really happy to be back riding. I am grateful they gave me a second chance.”
Coverchuk said he remains on conditions until February 2022.
“If I stay out of trouble until then I won’t have a criminal record,” he said. “The charges will be stayed and I can go south (to the U.S.) again. Right now I can’t cross the border.”
Again, Coverchuk said, it’s his family that was there for him during this dark chapter in his life.
“My mom, Lorraine, has always been there for me,” he said. “She’s my biggest critic, but also my biggest supporter. I also need to give a lot of credit to my girlfriend, Katelyn. She took a lot of crap because of me, but also found me when I was at my worst.”
Coverchuk has since attended rehab as well as drug counselling.
Since making his comeback, Coverchuk said he has found a renewed love for something that has long been a driving force for him in life.
“I ride bulls because I love riding bulls – it’s all I’ve ever done since I was 12 years old,” he said. “I take pride in it. It’s my job and I want to take pride in it.”
It’s not his only job, however. During the off season, which isn’t very long, Coverchuk works as a pipeliner and recently secured his 1A trucking licence for future employment.
“You need money to get down the road, and to have a little something to fall back on,” he said. “I earned just under $90,000 in two weeks from bull riding, which is the most I have ever been paid in such a short time. But, again, this isn’t something I will be able to do forever, so, with prize money I won, I will be looking at investing it so I don’t have to ride bulls my whole life.”
And, just as his family has always been there for him, the two-time PBR champion hopes to be able to do the same for his three-year-old son, Nixon. He’s also proud to be a role model to younger bull riders from Meadow Lake and across Canada.
“To be a role model means everything to me,” he said. “At the same time, I will continue to be best version of myself I can be. I can’t do anything more or anything less, so if I can have a positive impact on some kid or on someone looking to have a career in bull riding, I will do whatever I can to help.”
by Phil Ambroziak with files from Terry Villeneuve