GarciaLybbertRobinson: The journeyman team of Ramon Garcia, Jacob Lybbert and Wil Robinson won the journeyman division for the second time.

Rodeo Champs Win Top Honors for Safety and Speed

Jan. 10, 2020
Congratulations to the winning apprentices and journeyman teams. Here’s a look at a few of the top winners at the 2019 International Lineman’s Rodeo.

Before the sun even rises on the Rodeo grounds on “The Big Day,” linemen have already invested countless hours in practicing for the competition. They scale wood poles, rescue mannequins and practice skills like tying knots—all to be ready as possible for the International Lineman’s Rodeo.

For example, the world champion Southern California Edison (SCE) team spent hours of practicing on their own time. After working a long day as linemen, they spent nights and weekends competing at local and regional events and practicing after-hours during Rodeo season.

"It’s like the Super Bowl or the Olympics," says Wil Robinson, a journeyman lineman for SCE. "We all look forward to the biggest event of the rodeo season as competitors. Our year of preparation and practicing comes down to this."

Only a select few apprentice and journeymen linemen make it to the awards stage on the night of the banquet. For 2019, the International Lineman’s Rodeo Association (ILRA) honored the winners with plaques, trophies and championship belt buckles in different divisions and events. Some of the top winners shared their secrets to success at this year’s competition (but still saved some of their top strategies under wraps for next year).

Jacob Lybbert, a journeyman lineman for SCE, says his favorite part of the International Lineman’s Rodeo was the unity that brought everyone together. His teammate, Robinson, agreed.

"Everywhere you go, there is a good vibe," Robinson says.

World Champion Journeyman Team: Southern California Edison

For many journeyman lineman teams, winning the championship trophy is a once-in-a-lifetime honor. The SCE team of Ramon Garcia, Lybbert and Robinson, however, won the coveted title not once, but twice.

As a team, the members have been competing together for seven years, but Robinson and Lybbert joined the same team back in 2011. In 2016, the team had the drive to be the team to win it all, the next year, they had the pressure to win back-to-back, in 2018, the team had some back luck, and this year, the team decided to just have fun and enjoy it.

"We are a veteran team, and we still learn something every time we compete," Garcia says. "We strive to be efficient and stay in sync with one another."

Before the International Lineman’s Rodeo, the team competes in four to five rodeos to prepare. For 2019, the team competed in the SCE, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) and the Whiskey City Rodeo in Lawrenceburg, Indiana.

The Whiskey City Rodeo is about two to three weeks prior to the International Lineman’s Rodeo, which gave the team the chance to do some fine tuning.

"It gave our team one last opportunity to compete just before the biggest event, the final stage of the Rodeo season," Garcia says. "Though we did not do as well in the Whiskey City Rodeo as we anticipated, we highlighted what we need to work on for the International Lineman’s Rodeo."

In the past, the team placed self-imposed time pressures on themselves. This year, they made it a point to relax and to make every step count. The team also did a huddle before every event.

"We get together and tailboard every step of each event and reinforce communication amongst our team," Lybbert says. "We focused on staying consistent and enjoying the time competing together. We are family in and out of work."

To be a champion journeyman team, it takes a lot of pride, determination and teamwork. Each member of the team has a job and specific tasks and roles on the team. For example, during the hurtman rescue event when Lybbert is tooling up, he listens closely to communication from his team members, and without even looking, he knows when to start.

"It’s a reaction and knowing when to go," Robinson says. "This is an important piece. When we push too hard and try to take on more than we should as an individual, we defeat ourselves. We need to focus on the goal."

Another secret to success was breaking down each event and assigning a goal or a time market to each part of the event. The team also decided who would prep what part of the event and called each other out during the events to make sure they stuck to the tailboard. Each time the team practiced, they acted as if they were competing. As such, they learned how to work together on and off the clock.

"For us, it all comes down to chemistry," Lybbert says. "It’s easier to react than to think, so the more practice we have together, the more we are in tune with each other. When we react, we gain seconds, but when you must think about it, you lose seconds."

Because the team knew their times, as well as the times of their competitors, they had a good feeling that they would get on stage for at least one award.

"Once the investor-owned utility division was announced, we felt strong we would be in the top five," Garcia says. "Then as we were in line for the overall, we looked around and acknowledged we were amongst champions, so now, it was just knowing where we would be placed."

The three journeymen say it was a great feeling to win it all and be World Champions, but to win it a second time was a monumental accomplishment.

"Walking off that stage after being announced and to be recognized by your peers—there is no better feeling that that," Robinson says. "It’s an honor to represent your company on the biggest stage."

The team plans to compete together as long as they are still healthy. With a few years before competing in the Senior division, the three linemen plan to have a shot at winning the title again in the future. Looking forward, the team plans to use rodeos throughout the year to prepare and practice, focus on not getting deductions and continually learning new things at each competition. Also, the SCE linemen talk to other linemen and share their experiences and what works for them.

"We encourage and support each other," Garcia says. "We found that when we help people and share with our competitors, in return, we get it back from other competitors."

World Champion Apprentice: Ryan Rozendaal of Arizona Public Service

For Ryan Rozendaal, an apprentice for Arizona Public Service (APS), his first experience at the International Lineman’s Rodeo was a winning one. He competed at three smaller rodeos before competing in Kansas City.

"It was extremely exciting to get to compete at the international level," Rozendaal says.

Rozendaal gained interest in the line trade after working in the plumbing industry for several years for his father.

"By working for him I saw how working in a trade, you not only got to skip the college degree, but you could do something you loved doing every day," Rozendaal says. "I wanted to work with electricity since high school, and it wasn’t until I was about to graduate that I discovered what a lineman was and decided if I was going to do it, I should go big or go home."

Today, as an apprentice for APS, he is learning the trade hands-on. Currently, he is working in Flagstaff, Arizona, and he rotates locations every three to six months around the state.

"APS’s main goal is that their apprentices learn the trade the safest way possible by learning rules, techniques, and most importantly, keeping up on book work," he says.

To prepare for the International Lineman’s Rodeo, Rozendaal says he learned a lot from Oscar Gonzales, a fellow APS apprentice.

"It being my first year, I came in knowing literally nothing about how scoring worked or time, or even how to splice a rope," he says. "Without Oscar helping me on weekends and the days before the rodeos, I would not have made it very far at all. His help, along with the team’s help, is where the credit is due."

When his name was first called up on stage for winning first place in the apprentice test, he was surprised and excited to have won an award. When he was called up again for overall top apprentice, he was shocked.

"I knew I had a pretty clean run and did good on the test, but so had another competitor from Salt River Project, Shaun Rico," he says. "When it came down to the two of us before they announced second and first place, we both were both dying to know who had won, and I somehow came out on top. I’m excited to get to compete against him and the other apprentices next year."

First Place Journeyman Team in the Senior Division

A Duke Energy team had only three days to practice, yet their experience as journeymen linemen, combined with their focus on not getting any deductions, put them in first place in the senior division.

"We don’t let time pressure us into mistakes," says Mike Haynes of Duke Energy in the Carolinas. "We try to minimize our movements in order to save time. We make sure everyone is working, and no one is idle."

Haynes, a 30-year journeyman lineman in construction/maintenance and a first responder, was joined by David Phillips ("Fallguy"), a 40-year journeyman lineman in construction/maintenance and a member of the training crew and Neil Walker, a 32-year veteran and a supervisor of construction and maintenance for Duke Energy in the Carolinas. Haynes and Phillips both served as climbers while Walker was the groundman during the competition.

Haynes has competed in the Duke Energy Lineman’s Rodeo since 2005, and he has attended the International Lineman’s Rodeo nine times. His team finished third overall in 2013 and 2015 in the senior division. For 2019, the team’s game plan was to stay steady and smooth and “work out loud.” He says his team was surprised to get the win.

"By the way we were staged prior to the competition, it appeared like we were in fifth place, but we actually ended up in first place," Haynes says.

The victory was especially sweet for his teammate, Fallguy, who announced that 2019 would be his last Rodeo due to his retirement in 2020. He says he was proud to compete on the senior team.

"I have felt the same every international competition,” Haynes says. “It’s an honor and privilege to represent Duke Energy and compete against some of the best linemen in the world."

Journeyman Hurtman Rescue Winner: Ameren Illinois

Before one of the journeyman teams for Ameren Illinois arrived in Kansas City, they spent their practice time working on their known events like speed climb and the hurtman rescue.

"Ameren Illinois put a lot of stock in it as far as giving us some practice time and really backing us with going to the Rodeo," says Zach Beaty, a journeyman lineman for the last 10 years.

The linemen met at the training center in the central part of the state to practice working with multiple dummies. The apprentices could also practice tying knots to prepare for the competition.

"Practice was a big part of winning the hurtman rescue," Beaty says. "Timing was very critical as far as opening the cutout, and the groundman did a great job of doing it quickly and getting the hand line into position. My tools also went on great, my knot went smooth and everything came together."

The early morning rain, however, threw a curveball at the Ameren Illinois team and the other competitors in the first few events.

"We had the first event, and it was a rough morning," he says. "When the poles get wet, the new fall restraints stick on the poles when you go up, which makes climbing tough going in the morning. Everything turned out well, but it would have been better if we had it later on in the afternoon."

All three of the journeymen linemen work out of the same operating center, and for seven years, they served on the same crew.

"Both of the other guys on my team are great linemen and do a fantastic job," says Beaty, referring to Paul Koehler and Jordan Vandewyngaerde. "This was our seventh year together at the Rodeo, and we finally got an event won out there."

One of their secrets to success at this year’s Rodeo was watching the other competitors.

"A big part of it is when you are waiting in line ready to go, you can pick up on little mistakes," Beaty says. "We had our own game plan going into it, but it was set up differently than in the past, which we weren’t prepared for. We watched five or six teams go before us."

Also, when Beaty was getting his tools prepped and set up, his teammates were asking the judges questions about what they could and couldn’t do during the competition.

"Asking the judges questions about what they will let you do is the main part of not getting any dings," he says. "You also need a little bit of luck, and if everything goes smoothly and no one cuts out on the pole, you can do well in an event."

Beaty says he got interested in line work after some of his friends talked about their experiences working storms and getting the power back on.

"There’s no better trade than line work," Beaty says.

Top Apprentice, Muni Division

Shaun Rico, an apprentice for Salt River Project, climbed to the top of the Muni division with just 10 deductions and a time of 33:09:78. "Going clean," or getting as many points as possible, is one of his top priorities during the competition.

"If I can run a perfect rodeo, then I know I’ve given myself the best chance to take home some awards," Rico says. "Any mistake can knock you out of a top spot, so I try to move as fast as I can while maintaining a controlled tempo to ensure I don’t make any mistakes in my events."

Rico learned about the trade from a friend on his college baseball team who started an apprenticeship.

"Seeing him planted a seed in my head, but it wasn’t until years later that I was given an opportunity to give the trade a try," Rico says. "I love working with my hands, the outdoors, and appreciate the sense of accomplishment when I see my work as you drive through the city. It’s been a perfect fit for me since the first time I put on a set of climbers."

As an apprentice for SRP, his responsibilities increase ever day. The more experience he gets, the more he receives.

"It can be as simple as preparing materials and planning for daily tasks or being involved in safety measures and procedures to ensure everyone goes home safely at the end of the day," Rico says. "The more we learn and absorb from our journeymen, the more we can share with other apprentices and trades helpers."

The 2019 competition was his third International Lineman’s Rodeo, and he says it’s bizarre to see how many people compete.

"As a former college athlete, I’m incredibly competitive, and I can’t think of a better way to mesh the two," Rico says. "Being given the opportunity to compete in events related to line work is icing on the cake. It’s a fun way to bridge my love for sports with line work."

To prepare for this year’s competition, he worked with the 2018 Apprentice World Champion, Cory Myers, who organized some effective practice events.

"We are all great friends and also very competitive, so it made for a great environment to prepare for this year’s Rodeo," Rico says. "Having such a great group of linemen and apprentice competitors representing SRP gives us such an advantage because they are willing to take time and share advice from previous rodeos to help us avoid the most common and costly mistakes. On the day of the event, it’s just about going over every possible infraction with the judges so you know exactly what they expect from us in our events."

Rico says it was a rewarding feeling to hear his name called as a top apprentice in the muni division in front of so many people at the awards banquet.

"In all honesty, nothing is better than seeing how happy the other members of the SRP Rodeo team are whenever any team member wins an award," Rico says. "It’s a testament to how much they really care about us doing well. Our leaders put so much time and effort into organizing the opportunity for us to compete. They deserve the recognition in my eyes."

After each Rodeo, he says he learns something new, and he discovers what does and doesn’t work.

"It’s a process of refining your moves and being consistent," Rico says. "I’ll approach next year’s competition no differently than I have previous years – just enjoy the chance to compete and the time with the other apprentices and linemen and try to bring home some hardware."

He says he had a great time at the 36th annual International Lineman’s Rodeo.

"You get to meet a lot of people from around the country who all do line work in slightly different ways," Rico says. "Line work is an inherently hazardous career, so being competitive can get you in trouble out in the field – it’s an easy way to make mistakes, but the Rodeo allows us to blend our competitive nature and love for the trade in a safe and fun way."

Winning Apprentice, Hurtman Rescue Event

At the International Lineman’s Rodeo, apprentices must rescue a mannequin during the hurtman rescue event. Ted Ghyra, an apprentice for Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) won this event with a time of 00:50:67. To prepare, he set up the events as well as he could in the yard and practiced as much as possible.

"It’s hard sometimes with a busy schedule and working late," Ghyra says. "I’d say I probably practiced for a total of 15 to 20 hours. That’s counting preparing for the state rodeo at the end of August. I practiced more intensely heading into the International Rodeo."

Practicing the different parts of the hurtman rescue helped the most during this year’s competition, he says. For example, he worked on getting his stuff on and taking the dummy down.

"I practiced in segments rather than the whole thing straight through," he says.

He also studied the rules or the event closely.

"Study what they want you do to do, and then hope you don’t break the rules when you’re in the event and going fast," Ghyra says. "That can happen easily if you’re not careful."

He first competed in the International Lineman’s Rodeo last year, when he placed seventh in the rope event and 20th in the speed climb. This year, he competed in the Lineman’s Rodeo in late August before traveling to Kansas City for the international competition.

"I figured I’d do well in speed climb based on practice and comparing my times to last year’s winning times," Ghyra says. "But I didn’t have any idea that I’d do that well in hurtman."

As an apprentice for OPPD, he is responsible for getting material ready for jobs and doing a lot of preparation for the day.

"Whether it’s setting poles or installing pad-mount transformers, it’s something different every day," he says.

His cousin works in the line trade, but what really got him interested in being a lineman was going to the Nebraska Lineworkers Rodeo when he was a sophomore in high school.

"In the journeyman events, watching them work in two- or three-man crews, and the teamwork involved, sparked my interest," he says. "And since then, I’ve just fallen in love with the trade. That’s why I’m so big into going to rodeos. I know when kids watch, they think, ‘That’s so cool. I want to do that someday.’"

He wanted to thank OPPD, his managers and senior management for the opportunity to compete.

"With all the practicing for it, I was hoping to do well," Ghyra says. "Hearing my name, I knew that all the hard work had paid off. I feel honored being part of something so big and so well known, and so represented by different companies all around the world. It’s a brotherhood."

Editor’s Note: Visit to see a photo gallery of this year’s Rodeo champions.

About the Author

Amy Fischbach | Amy Fischbach, EUO Contributing Editor

Amy Fischbach is the contributing editor for the Electric Utility Operations section of Transmission and Distribution World. She worked for Prism Business Media (now Penton) for eight years, most recently as the managing editor of Club Industry's Fitness Business Pro magazine. She is now working as a freelance writer and editor for B2B magazines. Amy earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism from Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan.She serves as the national vice president of the American Society of Business Publication Editors. She can be reached at [email protected].

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