By Kendra Santos, PRCA Director of Communications
Column originally published in the August 17, 2012 edition of the ProRodeo Sports News. To subscribe to the PSN, call 800.763.3648 or click here.
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|BIG WEEK: Broc rode his great horse Lynx at this year’s California Rodeo in Salinas. Broc especially enjoyed good times at the Wheatley-Lockett Camp there.
I love hearing from my Hall of Fame cowboy friends, but when my cell phone lights up on a Saturday morning with simultaneous incoming calls from Roy Cooper, Joe Beaver, Tuff Hedeman and John W. Jones Jr., my heart skips more than four beats. It happened the morning of July 28, and that’s how I heard the news of Broc Cresta’s unexplained and untimely passing at 25 at the Daddy of ’em All in Cheyenne.
Broc left this life in his sleep of yet unknown causes. It was a peaceful exit for him, but a nightmare for those who loved him most and are left to miss him and wonder why now and not 75 years from now.
Broc Cresta was a fourth-generation California cowboy, and a shining star whose young career was aligning on a path pointed at greatness. After earning the honor of 2007 Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association/Resistol Rookie Heeler of the Year, and winning rodeos the likes of Cheyenne, which he did in 2008 with Logan Olson, Broc roped with reigning World Champion Header Turtle Powell at his first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in 2010. Turtle and Broc were impressive, and placed in five of 10 rounds at The Show that year.
Broc’s second NFR appearance took him all the way back to the beginning, when he qualified with Spencer Mitchell. Broc and “Spank” teamed up to win saddles, buckles, bits and spurs when they were tiny tykes, and won California High School Rodeo Association state team roping titles together in 2003-04. After placing in three rounds at last December’s NFR, the lifelong dream team went out in style by stopping the clock in 3.6 seconds and splitting round 10 at NFR ’11 with friends Chad Masters and Jade Corkill.
“Broc and I were always a team,” Spencer said, and the family of friends who bolster Broc’s birth family still share an unbreakable bond. What was obvious about Broc’s inner circle the day they buried him was what made his short life so rich. Out on the road all these years, Broc, Spencer, Justin Davis and Russell Cardoza were an inseparable four-man unit. They lived together, roped together, and without saying so knew they had interchangeable access to each other’s all—trucks, horses, families, friends. Broc lived the last seven years at Jeff and Terri Davis’ house in Cottonwood as if he was Justin’s birth brother. Broc was blessed with that bond, too, in big brother Brent, who was start to finish his biggest fan.
Brent headed for Broc at the National High School Finals Rodeo when he was a senior and Broc was a freshman, and it was an unforgettable thrill for them both. Brent then took a different fork in the road when he married Jenny and chose to stick closer to their Northern California home. Regardless of what fires were burning on the home front, Brent always dropped everything to lead the cheering charge for his little brother.
So many of Broc’s cowboy friends turned out everything they had going on to make the sad journey to Santa Rosa to say goodbye. Hundreds more rode out into the far pasture of wherever they were at the time and cried until their tear wells went dry. Stephen “Gomer” Brandt, who grew up with these guys and loved hosting Broc, Justin, Russell and Spencer the last few winters at his place in Texas, spent the week helping Broc’s family make all the arrangements. York Gill helped Spencer drive Broc’s rig home, so he didn’t have to do it alone. Wes Adams’ boys Jay, Randon and Austin offered up their private jet to get announcer Chad Nicholson there to speak about Broc from the rodeo in Grace, Idaho. So many people went out of their way, because it felt like returning the favor to Broc for all he did for them in his life.
|BROC’S BROTHERS: Spencer Mitchell and Brent Cresta will always be Broc’s brothers, and they treasure the buckles Spencer and Broc won in round 10 at the 2011 NFR. Kendra Santos photo.
“My brother was always big in my mind and always will be, but it’s unbelievable in his passing how much he meant to so many people,” said Brent Cresta, 28. “It’s unreal. I’m sorry I had to find out like this, but it’s really cool to see what kind of impact my brother’s life had. It means a lot.
“We sit here and hurt so bad, but Broc doesn’t hurt. There are plenty of ways to carry on my brother’s name and I’m planning on doing every one of them. I’m already wearing his buckle. I’m planning on being at the NFR this year to watch Broc’s friends. For every one of those kids who makes it, Broc makes it, too. They had a chain going. There’s definitely a link missing now. But they still have a Cresta brother left. I might not travel in the same rodeo circle, but I’ll dang sure be there for those guys. There’s a lot to be thankful for. We have a lot more memories from 25 years with Broc than most people can muster in a lifetime. We just have to take those great memories and run with them.”
It’s been heartbreaking to see so many sincerely sad young faces trying to be tough enough to endure this blindsiding blow, but like I say to those guys, it hurts so much more and is so much harder when you love someone that much—but it’s worth it. There are people who get all the way through this life without ever being all-in the way Broc was with his family and closest friends. There are also those who never find their one true love. Not Broc. He got to experience that thrill, too.
Broc’s last evening on this earth was spent in style, at the Hank Williams Jr. concert at the Daddy of ’em All, with love of his life Brittany Pozzi and some of his best buddies. “After that night there was no question about how we felt about each other,” Brittany said. “Broc died knowing I loved him to the fullest. Everything was perfect.
“Broc was the most loyal person I’ve ever known in my entire life. Once he was your friend, he was your friend forever.”
Two-time World Champion Barrel Racer Brittany Pozzi has a commanding lead in this year’s world championship race, but you won’t see her at a rodeo anytime soon. She’s turned out everywhere of late, including Cheyenne the day Broc died, and will spend her days at home in Texas riding colts until sometime this fall. Total heartbreak is the pricetag of a true love taken away too soon, but this last year with Broc is worth the hurt.
“I cannot pull up to a rodeo and see all those people and Broc not be there,” Brittany said. “It hurts so much, but I’d rather it happen the way it did than not to have had that time together. It’s impossible to understand why this happened, but when everybody’s born you have your day. None of us knows when it is. It was just his day. For whatever reason, it was Broc’s time to go.”
It’s hard to make sense of that, but Brittany is, of course, right. “I can’t imagine not being able to turn around and talk to Broc,” Spencer said. “I can’t imagine not roping the dummy with him and talking to him about everything. We’ve always been there together, from the very beginning. The only thing that’s saving any of us right now is each other.”
I don’t know if Broc’s dad, Danny, mom, Kelline, or stepdad, August Balistreri, turned around from their front-row seats to see that Broc packed that Wells Fargo Center for the Arts, where a celebration of his life was held on August 3, with people of every age who were friends and fans all his life. As I looked around the cowboy crowd, and cried with them, I kept catching myself smiling thinking about all the little side stories behind the curtain.
|FOUR-MAN FORCE: Spencer, Broc, Russell and Justin, shown here at Russell’s wedding to Sammy Jo, have been inseparable since back when they were boys. Davis family photo.
Clint Cooper, who’s Roy’s oldest boy, flew in between rounds at the rodeo in Sidney, Iowa, which he won, to be there for Broc. But I’d seen a picture of Broc riding into the box at Cheyenne to rope the last steer of his life behind Spencer on July 27, and there was Clint in that heeling box with Broc. He was there to help keep things lined out and help Broc get the best possible go, and he took it like a man when Broc’s yellow horse, Snoop, tap-danced all over his toes. But Broc would have done it for him—and had.
It took a very long time to make my way through the parking lot to leave Broc’s service. By then, guys had broken out into smaller cowboy camps to exchange Broc stories. Two of the most memorable I talked to were Texans, previously best friends who hadn’t talked in four years for reasons they chose to forget that night. It just didn’t matter anymore.
Even before that Hank Jr. concert, Broc spent the daylight hours of his last day having fun with friends. Broc and Brittany had lunch with Justin and his wife, Emy Lou, who once smiled as she told Justin, “When I married you, I married Broc and Spank, too (Russell had recently moved to Oregon after marrying his wife, Sammy Jo).”
“We had lunch at Sanford’s there in Cheyenne, and Broc ordered a Cajun cheeseburger with lots of jalapeños,” Justin said. “Broc loved hot, spicy stuff. We got fuel, went to the feedstore and just got to hang out. We had no idea it was the last time, but it was a good time. Broc was going to accomplish so much more in his life. He was just getting started.”
My son Lane (named after a 25-year-old friend we lost at Cheyenne 23 years ago by the name of Lane Frost) and I made it home in the middle of the night, took a short nap, then continued on down the California coast to the Santa Barbara Old Spanish Days Rodeo. They stopped the rodeo right before the team roping all three perfs, and while the team ropers gathered round the bottom of the big screen, hats in hand and heads bowed with the rest of the crowd, they watched a short highlight-reel tribute to Broc. There was no way that soundman could have known to follow that up with Miranda Lambert’s “Over You,” which is the song Brittany played for Broc at his service, but it did give me goosebumps.
I saw Denny and Cathy Watkins in the parking lot before the Sunday afternoon perf, an hour after they got the call that son Justin and his wife, Jessie, had a brand new baby boy. A California heeler with 19 NFRs under his belt, Denny is the kind of roping warrior Broc was working to be—in it for the long haul. Denny and Cathy had just seen Broc at Cheyenne the day before he died, and were fondly remembering Broc’s all-in attendance at one of Denny’s roping schools when he was 14. “You could see it coming then,” Denny smiled. “What a talented kid and what a good kid.”
Broc’s family dropped red roses and yellow sunflowers into his grave at the private burial. His pals and pallbearers, including Spencer, Justin, Russell, Brent, Stephen, Kyle Davis, Robert Staley, Domenic Cianfichi, Craig Fehlman and Paul Saure, sent Broc off with ceremonial cotton roping gloves. Finally, after carefully going through the ropes in Broc’s ropebag, Spencer—wearing the NFR ’11 round 10 buckle he won with Broc that matches the one on Broc’s belt when he left this world—tossed Broc’s best feeling heel rope down onto his partner’s casket.
|GOOD TIMES: Broc Cresta, Russell Cardoza and Justin Davis at Davis’ wedding to Emy Lou. Davis family photo.
It was fitting that the last words spoken at Broc’s memorial service later that day were from big brother Brent, who now proudly wears that round 10 NFR buckle of Broc’s. “I am your biggest fan,” Brent said. “I know I’m going to see you again someday, Broc, so this isn’t goodbye, but see you later.”
|WALK OF FAME: Broc walking up the contestant tunnel at the Thomas & Mack Center during the 2011 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.