Tragic Loss

Boating accident claims life of longtime rodeo standout

PRCA photographer Ric Andersen captured Wyatt Althoff’s last rodeo ride (right). The photo above is courtesy of New Mexico State University.

PRCA photographer Ric Andersen captured Wyatt Althoff’s last rodeo ride (right). The photo above is courtesy of New Mexico State University.

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A boating accident that killed a beloved cowboy on Roosevelt Lake this weekend has shocked the rodeo community.

Wyatt Althoff, 26, was riding on a boat with eight friends Saturday afternoon when he fell overboard. It is unclear what led to the accident, according to the Gila County Sheriff’s Office. On Monday, divers recovered Wyatt’s body.

Althoff’s family described Wyatt as a kind, positive person who was practically born with a lasso in his hand.

Wyatt roped up several local and national rodeo titles and competed in Friday’s Payson August Doin’s, tying for second in the first round of tie-down roping. He was set to compete in team roping Sunday afternoon with Trevor ‘TJ’ Brown, who was also on the boat Saturday.

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Wyatt Althoff

News of Wyatt’s death spread quickly over the weekend, hundreds of people commenting on Wyatt’s Facebook profile and that of his family and friends.

“God must have needed a helluva cowboy up there because he got one of the best hands he could have ever possibly got,” posted one person on Wyatt’s Facebook page.

Bo Althoff, Wyatt’s uncle, spoke to the Roundup Monday afternoon from the banks of Roosevelt Lake where dozens of family and friends had gathered.

Bo said Wyatt had a natural ability when it came to roping, which was no surprise considering both his parents were involved in rodeo.

Wyatt grew up in Oracle, a small town just outside of Tucson. His mother, Lynn, a calf roper, and father, Brent, a bull rider, would take him along to competitions.

“From the time he was born, they were traveling to rodeos,” Bo said. “He had a team roping rope in his hand practically since the time he could walk.

“It was really amazing to see a little kid so good with a rope,” he said.

Starting at age 5, Wyatt competed in junior rodeos. In high school, he entered calf roping and team roping events despite his small stature. “He didn’t start developing until he was a senior,” Bo said. “He had to learn the hard way how to do things because he was such a small kid.”

And despite being told he was too short for steer wrestling, he did it anyway and did it well. He competed in the national high school rodeo all four years of high school and went on to qualify for the national finals in college.

At New Mexico State University, Wyatt won several college rodeos, including the 2008 National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association All-Around World Champion title and 2008 DuBois Award, given to the highest points earned by an NMSU rodeo athlete.

By then, he had a growth spurt and was “just unstoppable,” Bo said.

In 2009, he took all-around honors at the Gary Hardt Memorial Spring Rodeo.

Recently, he’d taken a job as a field service engineer at Tokyo Electron in the Valley and while he loved it, was still pursuing a rodeo career.

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This photograph of Wyatt Althoff as a child competing in a local rodeo event has hung in the Payson Roundup's lobby for years.

He competed as the header with TJ Brown in team roping, while TJ acted as the heeler, roping up the hind legs. They had finished out in the fourth spot after Friday’s rodeo.

TJ was like a brother to Wyatt, Bo said. The two hung out at TJ’s parents’ ranch in Tonto Basin.

The pair had taken the top spot in team roping at the Payson rodeo in the spring and the August rodeo several years ago, he said.

Wyatt, the grandson of Ken and Nancy Althoff and the nephew of Robin and Bo Althoff, all longtime Rim Country residents, spent a lot of time in the area (his other grandparents, Bob and Jessie Miller, live near Tucson). He often brought his girlfriend, Kelsey Early, along. The two had met at NMSU and were inseparable, Bo said.

On Saturday, Wyatt went out with friends for a fun day at Roosevelt Lake. “He loved to be at the lake,” Bo said, adding he was an avid outdoorsman.

While the boat towed people in a tube, Wyatt fell out of the boat and never resurfaced.

The sheriff’s office responded to Salome Cove on the south side of the lake were Wyatt was last seen. Search efforts were quickly called off, however, when a severe monsoon thunderstorm moved in. “By the time we got on scene, the storm was in full effect,” said Sgt. Brian Havey with the GCSO. “There were 5-foot waves, hail and lightning.”

On Sunday, the GCSO dive team resumed their search, 52 feet below the surface. After hours of looking, 25 tanks of air and covering an area as big as a football field, Wyatt’s body was still missing.

The lake is incredibly difficult to search, Havey said. With no visibility underwater, it is like looking for a needle in a haystack, said Sgt. Terry Hudgens with the GCSO. The team picked up the search Monday and by the afternoon had recovered the body.

At Sunday’s afternoon rodeo, announcer Reed Flake paid tribute to Wyatt.

“It is never a right time in your life to leave this mortal existence and Wyatt was certainly way too young,” he said.

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