Former rodeo rider Justin Rumford can't wait to get back to Rapid City for the upcoming Black Hills Stock Show & Rodeo, if only just to clown around a bit.

In fact, clowning will be his main focus during this visit. He competed here in the rodeo years back, but makes his entrance this time as the 2012 Rodeo Clown of the Year. He was hired for the job eight months ago.

"I've been ready ever for it ever since. It's such a neat, neat rodeo with a really neat tradition," Rumford said.

Rumford's meteoric rise as a rodeo clown took place in only the past couple years. Though he has worked in rodeo as a competitor for years, he only started as an entertainer in 2010 and already won the top honor.

"It's a very big accomplishment, as funny as it sounds:  clown of the year," Rumford said. "This is just my third year. There's guys who have done it 20 years and never won it."

Rumford's grandfather started Rumford Rodeo Company in the 1950s, and Rumford's father took over the family rodeo business in 1998 when his grandfather died. Rumford himself grew up in central Kansas and has worked as a contestant and pick-up man in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association since 1999.

He graduated from Northwestern Oklahoma State University in 2005 with a business degree and was a professional steer wrestler until he blew out his knee two years later.

From 2008 to 2010, he worked for a rodeo company before getting the offer from a friend one night at a Kansas rodeo to fill in as a barrel man.

"After it was over, they gave me $1,000 for one night," Rumford said. That settled him on pursuing clowning. "You get paid to have fun."

Within a month, Rumford had his Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association rodeo entertainer card.

Rumford has several acts he often performs, the details of which he did not want to give away. In one, he impersonates Steve Irwin, the crocodile hunter, and in another he does a "death-defying jump" on a motorcycle in an Evel Knievel get-up.

Another act he titles "bull basketball," though he wouldn't surrender any details of what happens in it beyond what the name implies.

These days, Rumford travels the country with his wife, Ashley — who handles the behind-the-scenes work — clowning at 45 to 50 rodeos per year. He negotiates his own contracts and says he can perform as much or as little as he wants.

"When you're out there clowning and you can tell the audience is having a blast, it's a good feeling," Rumford said. "I'm getting paid to do what I love to do."

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