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Nebraska native's rise as one of the world's top bull riders has him stopping through Lincoln
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Nebraska native's rise as one of the world's top bull riders has him stopping through Lincoln

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To live out his dream most weeks, Conner Halverson has to catch a flight.

The 20-year-old Nebraska native recently earned a spot on the Professional Bull Riders' top tour — Unleash the Beast — and it's taken him to places like Las Vegas, Sacramento, San Antonio, Nashville, and as far east as Manchester, New Hampshire.

The nearest major airport to his hometown of Gordon, Nebraska, is Denver, which is about five hours away. So Halverson will drive to nearby Alliance and hop on a small plane for Denver.

"I can pretty much walk through Denver's airport blindfolded," Halverson says.

But this week ...

"Yeah, it's going to be pretty nice not having to buy a plane ticket."

No sitting in airport terminals this time. Instead, Halverson will be driving to Lincoln for PBR's stop at Pinnacle Bank Arena, which is hosting the Cooper Tires Invitational on Saturday and Sunday.

Saturday's Round 1 will begin at 6:45 p.m. at PBA. Sunday's 12-rider finals are set to begin at 1:45 p.m. Tickets begin at $15 and can be purchased at the PBA ticket office or at Ticketmaster.com.

Though Gordon is about six hours from Lincoln, this is home for Halverson, who will likely receive a warm welcome from the PBA crowd. They'll be rooting for a bull rider who is making some early impressions on the PBR's top circuit.

Halverson, who joined the tour in May, is ranked No. 33 in the world, and he is the youngest rider in the top 35.

Just 18 months ago, Halverson was preparing to graduate from Gordon-Rushville High School. Now he's one of the top bull riders in the world.

It's been a fast ride to the top, but this is how Halverson envisioned it.

"I was going to do everything in my power to get to where I am today, and I'm still trying to work to get even further to be where I want to be," he said. "It's just something I've worked for since I was a little kid, so I kind of always expected myself to be here.

"But it's a super-big blessing to be here and achieve what I've been going after my whole life."

Though Halverson is one of the youngest competitors on the circuit, he has found a place with the veterans. The older riders have been very welcoming.

"It's all pretty much a big family once you get back there in the locker room," Halverson said. "They're all pretty helpful and I can turn to any of them for questions and for help and they'll be right there for me. It's pretty cool ... just a couple years ago watching them on TV, wanting to be there someday and then I'm riding with them."

Gordon is a small town, so one of the highlights is the summer rodeo — and rodeo had Halverson hooked at a young age. By high school, he wanted to make a career out of it, and by his senior year, he was entering events on the PBR's entry-level circuit.

The two-time Nebraska High School Rodeo Association champion then started competing on the PBR Velocity tour, which is a peg below the Unleash the Beast tour, and he had racked up enough points and a win in Sioux City, Iowa, to make his way up to the major leagues of bull riding.

In his first Unleash the Beast competition, he placed 16th in Las Vegas. A week later he was fifth in Bismarck, North Dakota. Two months later he won another Velocity tour event in Springfield, Massachusetts.

"It's been pretty good," Halverson said. "I've had some lows, but I have my share of a little bit of success, so it's been pretty good for the most part. I can't complain because it's been an awesome year for me."

Halverson is hoping his impressive year continues this weekend at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

Because he's not far from home, he'll be riding in front of some familiar faces.

"I can imagine it's going to be pretty fun having a bunch of friends and family there being able to watch and cheer me on and have that support behind me," Halverson said. "Usually the better the crowd, the better you ride. It kind of sets a tone."

Lincoln also is the final stop before the Super Bowl of rodeo takes place, the PBR finals in Las Vegas. The world's top 35 riders will head there in November.

Halverson, who works for a cable company when he's not on the road, has big goals for that, too.

"The main goal for everybody is obviously to become the world champion, so that's kind of what I'm looking at for years to come," he said. "But this year my goals are to make my first PBR finals and try to stay on every bull at the finals."

That's one flight Halverson is looking forward to.

Reach Clark Grell at 402-473-2639 or cgrell@journalstar.com. On Twitter at @LJSSportsGrell.

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