What does a 5-year-old boy do when his hand is slammed in a closing car door?
You know the answer to that, but young Richard Hedeman didn’t even whimper when that happened about 45 years ago, thus quickly earning him the nickname “Tuff.”
Later, he had to be tough: Hedeman, the president of Championship Bull Riding and in Rio Rancho last week when the CBR staged one of its “Road to Cheyenne” events at Santa Ana Star Center, said kids would tell him, “You don’t look so tough” and challenge him to a fight.
“It was like being a boy named Sue,” he joked, recalling an old Johnny Cash song.
But there’s no doubt that this guy was tough.
“I was riding calves when I was 4 years old and never grew out of it,” he said. “I had the same feeling at 4 as I did at 35. I rode professionally for 15 years.”
Even though he’s now 50 and has ridden an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 bulls, he said he gets up every morning pain free.
“I feel good. I never had a serious injury,” he said, adding that if an injury “is not life-threatening, it’s not serious. … I was never in danger of losing my life.”
And that’s after a rank bull named Bodacious, arguably the most dangerous bull of all time, broke every bone in his face in 1995 — leaving Hedeman with five titanium plates in his head.
“I never wore a mouthpiece — or a cup,” he confided. Nor a helmet, which CBR and PBR (Professional Bull Riders) riders won’t mount a bull without.
Growing up in El Paso, Hedeman attended Coronado High School and competed in New Mexico’s state high school rodeo finals, twice winning championships. He’s almost a New Mexico native: His grandparents had a ranch in northern New Mexico and his father worked the race track at Sunland Park.
Hedeman did well at the local level and the national level, qualifying 12 times for the national finals, and decided he wanted to stay in that world of rodeo.
Later, attending Sul Ross University (he’s a mere nine hours short of a degree), where he needed a job and got one, working a screw gun and earning $40 a day.
“I won a rodeo in Pampa (Texas) and didn’t go back (to the screw gun),” he said.
Although Hedeman, by his account, never suffered a serious injury, he lost one of his best friends, Lane Frost, who was killed by a bull in Cheyenne in 1989.
The 1994 movie “8 Seconds” chronicles the life of Frost — Hedeman named his first son Lane — the 1987 PRCA bull riding world champion, his marriage and his friendships with Hedeman, aptly portrayed by Stephen Baldwin, and Cody Lambert.
Baldwin’s depiction of Hedeman is that of a rough-and-tough, fearless, fast-driving, tough-loving cowboy: “That’s pretty much me,” he said, from when he was a young buck. Hedeman added that he had several run-ins with the writer and director during the filming of the movie, namely because of his desire for accuracy — and who knew Frost better than Hedeman and Lambert?
The movie, says Hedeman, “captured who (Frost) was and what he was; he was a great person. It’s been 25 years (since he was killed at the age of 25).”
A neck injury in 1993 led Hedeman to sit out the 1994 season, but he returned to the circuit in ’95 and had what he called his best year — he was the PBR world champion, winning $123,595 that year, and was the first bull rider to win $1 million in his career.
He stayed on the PBR Tour, which he helped found in 1993, in 1996 and ’97, and rode his last bull as a pro in Odessa, Texas.
“I came off on the back of my neck, blew a disk out,” he said. “I’d had the same (injury and) surgery in 1993. One more time, I could be ‘Christopher Reeve’ or dead.
“You don’t ride for the money, you ride for what you love to do,” Hedeman said, opting to retire before he died doing what he loved. (He had also done some stunts in the making of “8 Seconds.”)
Hedeman was the president of the PBR for 12 years, but departed after a difference in “philosophical stuff.”
The PBR, he said, was holding too many events; Hedeman felt quality was more important than quantity.
“I left under my own terms,” he said. “The CBR had been around two or three years and asked me to come with them.”
The CBR, he said, is made “of guys that want to go to the National Finals Rodeo, go to rodeos. The CBR is another opportunity for these guys to make money.
“What I do as a producer is, I know how to make it good for the guys. We only take the top 24. Better guys, more quality; it’s a fast-paced show, about two hours, and it’s fun,” he said.
The stop in Rio Rancho was the second and final event in the state this season; one week before, the CBR staged an event in Hobbs, where Hedeman said they’ve “been the last four years and get great support.”
The CBR has a simple format: 24 riders get on bulls, and the top-12 scorers get a second ride. Then the top four totals from the first two rounds advance to the shootout round, and the individual scoring the highest total in that round — regardless of his previous scores — is the winner.
Robson Aragao was the lone CBR rider to ride three bulls Saturday in the Star Center, although four others rode two bulls.
“The event sells itself,” Hedeman concluded.
“Come see us one time and you’ll like it.”