Cresta, the son of an expert steer wrestler from Santa Rosa, Calif., had competed Friday in the prestigious Cheyenne event, held annually since 1897. His body was discovered by his girlfriend, champion barrel racer Brittany Pozzi, when she tried to awaken him Saturday morning, said his father, Daniel.
In 2007 the rodeo association named Cresta Rookie Heeler of the Year. His event, team roping, is considered the only true team pursuit in rodeo, involving two ropers — a header, who ropes the steer first, and a heeler, who comes in second and ropes the steer's hind legs. The event is timed, with the clock stopping only when no slack remains in the ropes and the horses of the ropers are facing each other.
The event is more complicated than it appears, involving not only strength and agility but exquisite timing.
In the 10th round of the National Finals in Las Vegas in December, Cresta and partner Spencer Mitchell, a childhood friend, roped a steer in 3.6 seconds, which tied for the round's fastest time. They finished 10th overall, roping five of 10 steers in 21.3 seconds.
Cresta teamed with champion header Turtle Powell in the 2010 finals and with Logan Olson to win the Cheyenne title in 2009.
Born on Jan. 2, 1987, Cresta grew up on a 500-acre ranch in Santa Rosa, Calif. His father and uncle wrestled steers on the pro circuit. His grandfather, William, raised horses for the sport and owned a champion steer wrestling horse.
When Cresta was 9, he started tossing a rope around an assortment of animals — ponies, donkeys, horses and goats — in the rodeo ring on the family's ranch. By the time he reached high school, he was missing so much school to compete in rodeos that he switched to an independent study program that did not require him to attend formal classes. He earned a degree from Santa Rosa High School in 2005 and turned pro two years later.
Cresta traveled 60,000 miles a year to compete in rodeos across the country. With Mitchell he won several rodeos in California this year — in Redding, Livermore, Oakdale, Bakersfield and Marysville —and one in Eugene, Ore. He withdrew from a rodeo in Oklahoma City three months ago when he injured his ribs but was otherwise healthy, his father said.
In addition to his father and grandfather, he is survived by his mother, Kelline Cresta, of Santa Rosa, and a brother, Brent, of Cloverdale, Calif.