Latter-day Saint cowboy steps away from professional bull riding to serve a mission

Kade Madsen, of Honeyville, Utah, has temporarily left bull riding in the prime of his career to serve the Lord for two years in Nashville, Tennessee

Professional bull rider Kade Madsen was watching the Cheyenne (Wyoming) Frontier Days pro rodeo behind the bucking chutes last July when he received the email with his mission call for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Surrounded by curious team members and other bull riding buddies, the 18-year-old cowboy from Honeyville, Utah, eagerly began to read the opening lines when a wise thought forced him to pause.

“I better call my parents and at least let them know what I am doing so that they don’t get mad at me,” Madsen said. “So I hurried and called them and said you got two minutes to get down here or I’m reading it.”

Moments later, parents Doug and Sonya Madsen had joined the group of 10 people. With their son, the Madsens were the only three Latter-day Saints in the huddle. Yet everyone knew how important the occasion was to Kade and seemed to lean in with anticipation as he resumed reading.

Kade Madsen hugs teammates and coaches at the PBR Teams Championship.
Kade Madsen hugs teammates and coaches at the Professional Bull Riders Teams Championship in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Oct. 21, 2023. Madsen is leaving bull riding to serve a Latter-day Saint mission. | Josh Homer, Bull Stock Media

When Kade announced he going to Nashville, Tennessee, the news was met with happy wishes and hearty congratulations, followed by an abundance of questions. He was more than willing to explain what it all meant and why he was stepping away from the sport he loved for the next two years.

“This past summer, being around all those good people in the Professional Bull Riders, it made me realize how blessed I am to live where I do, to be born into the fullness of the gospel, and to know there is a bigger purpose,” said Madsen, who started his mission with the home missionary training center on Dec. 4. “I decided to serve a mission for myself, because I would benefit from it, and to help others. I know I can make a difference.”

Riding bulls

Growing up in a family with years of rodeo experience, Kade Madsen said he started riding sheep around age 3 and climbed onto his first mini-bull when he was 4 years old.

“To be honest, it scared me quite a bit,” he said of the memory. “I didn’t know that I was going to be a bull rider. I wanted to be a bareback rider.”

In the years that followed, Kade watched his older brother, Briggs Madsen, become adept at riding the jumping, kicking and snorting 1,500- to 2,000-pound bulls. With persistence and will power, Kade said he overcame his fears and grew to love bull riding through years of practice on a variety of livestock.

At age 15, Madsen became the youngest person to win the Lane Frost Challenge, one of the premier bull riding events in Vernal, Utah, in 2021. He won the same event again in 2023.

He joined a bull-riding tour called the Challenge of Champions and won that in 2022.

Madsen only singled out those accomplishments, but there were many other rodeo competitions and victories that prepared him for what would come after his 18th birthday, and he did it while suffering relatively few injuries.

“I’ve been pretty lucky,” he said. “I broke both elbows twice when I was in junior high. I’ve torn a couple groins. But I have been pretty blessed and lucky in my career.”

Kade Madsen rides a bucking bull during the Professional Bull Riders Team Championships in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Oct. 21, 2023.
Kade Madsen rides a bucking bull during the Professional Bull Riders Team Championships in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Oct. 21, 2023. | Bull Stock Media

Missouri Thunder

When he turned 18, Madsen submitted his name for the Professional Bull Riders team series draft.

The Professional Bull Riders is an international professional bull riding organization headquartered in Pueblo, Colorado. There are eight teams that span the United States from Arizona to Florida, and each team consists of five riders. The teams compete against one another at rodeos and events during the year where the riders can earn significant amounts of money, not mention fame and glory.

Similar to other professional team sports, the PBR began holding an annual draft to select people for its teams. Briggs Madsen, Kade’s older brother, was selected by the Oklahoma Freedom in the 2022 draft (he was later released by the Freedom and picked up by the Missouri Thunder).

Earlier this year, Kade Madsen was the fourth overall pick in the first round of the draft by the Missouri Thunder.

“It’s the biggest stage of bull riding in the world and the most prestigious bull-riding tour to be on, it’s the elite of the elite,” he said. “I was very thankful to be drafted and grateful to know somebody had faith in my abilities.”

The Thunder had a slow start and finished in last place in the regular season, but Madsen helped the team claw back to finish in fourth place at the 2023 PBR Camping World Team Series Championship in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Other highlights of his first Professional Bull Riders season include riding a two-time world champion bull named Chiseled for a score of 86.75 in Las Vegas, despite hitting his head against the bull during the ride; and remaining atop another bull named Tulsa Time for a 91.5-point ride to help him win at a Professional Bull Riders event in Big Sky, Montana.

Kade Madsen shows emotion during the PBR Teams Championship in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Oct. 21, 2023.
Kade Madsen shows emotion during the PBR Teams Championship in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Oct. 21, 2023. | Josh Homer, Bull Stock Media

Serving a mission

After two big rides for the Missouri Thunder at the Professional Bull Riders Teams Championship in Las Vegas in late October to bring his team wins, Madsen was one of three riders selected to speak to news media, said Andrew Giangola, Professional Bull Riders vice president of communications.

Giangola said he was impressed with Madsen’s poise and confidence while speaking to reporters. Then he heard the young cowboy say the event would be his last for a while since he was about to serve a mission for his Church.

“I thought I’d heard it wrong and approached him after the press conference to ask. Indeed, Kade warmly confirmed I didn’t need to check my hearing,” he said. “As head of PR for PBR, my initial reaction was disappointment. We would be losing a blazing star for two long years. Then I realized this is what our sport is all about: a young cowboy following his heart to serve the Lord, putting aside riches and fame, to do what is truly important to him. What an amazing young man. We can’t wait until he’s back.”

Kade Madsen, of Honeyville, Utah, waits outside the rodeo arena.
Kade Madsen, of Honeyville, Utah, waits outside the rodeo arena. | Bull Stock Media

Madsen grew up planning to serve a mission. That plan wavered slightly during his high school days when he said he was focused more on “material things.”

Then a few years ago, Madsen watched his older brother leave bull riding to serve a mission in South Carolina. Seeing that example, along with having his own spiritual experiences and opportunities to share his faith and beliefs with others, influenced his decision to serve a full-time mission.

Kade Madsen knows he is leaving in the prime of his career, but “it’s for a bigger purpose.”

“I know there is a bigger purpose to life than bull riding,” he said. “I ran into a lot of good people that didn’t know the fullness of the gospel but were still really good people and doing all that they could with the knowledge they had been given, and that was a testament to me that I could make a difference by serving a mission.”

Luke Snyder, one of Madsen’s coaches, said the Thunder knew of Kade’s mission plans before they drafted him, and still wanted him. They said they look forward to his return in two years.

“We are going to feel his departure because he was such a standout athlete for our team,” Snyder said. “But as a team and a coach, we could not be more proud. ... He is a born leader and will have a whole new perspective on things when he comes back. He is a great young man, wise beyond his years, and it shows you his dedication to his faith, given all the opportunities on his plate right now.”

Kade Madsen stands with his parents, Doug and Sonya Madsen.
Kade Madsen stands with his parents, Doug and Sonya Madsen. | Provided by the Madsen family

Madsen’s parents says his decision reflects his love for the Lord.

“For an 18-year-old ... to be able to walk away from fame and money contracts is so humbling to me and our family,” said his father, Doug Madsen. “He truly loves the Lord and the gospel and wants to give that to other people.”

His mother, Sonya Madsen, agreed: “I am so proud of the decision that he has made to take the two years off from his professional career to serve his Heavenly Father and the people in Nashville, Tennessee. He truly is an inspiration and a great example to me.”

Since receiving his call, Kade Madsen said he has felt a powerful change in his life. He is thrilled to have a role in helping to “gather scattered Israel.” He summarized his feelings with a verse from the Book of Mormon (Alma 29:9): “I know that which the Lord hath commanded me, and I glory in it. I do not glory of myself, but I glory in that which the Lord hath commanded me; yea, and this is my glory, that perhaps I may be an instrument in the hands of God to bring some soul to repentance; and this is my joy.”

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