That’s much more than a cliché ’round these parts. It’s a way of life, partner.
If you don’t cowboy up, you’re not gonna make any coin in the sport of bull riding.
“If I was guaranteed so many millions like in other sports, I’d sit out with a sprained ankle, too,” says Texico High graduate L.J. Jenkins, who is competing in this weekend’s Professional Bull Riders’ Ty Murray Invitational at the Pit.
“But every dollar we make is because we have to ride. There are a few guys out here riding with a broken foot right now. Pain is just a part of the game. You’ve got to figure out how to deal with it.”
As does the crew of trainers and doctors who travel with the tour.
Dr. Tandy Freeman, head athletic trainer Rich Blyn and his assistants Dave Edwards and Peter Wong spend 30 weeks a year traveling with the PBR.
Prior to each night’s competition, they’re busy taping cracked ribs, sprained ankles and wrists, and dealing broken jaws, sprained shoulders and just about everything from head to toe.
During the competition, they are right there when a rider flies off the brutal beasts.
All have worked in the PBR and other sports for years. Freeman has been with the PBR for 20 years, and did double-duty for five years as the Dallas Mavericks team physician.
“There are a lot more similarities than differences,” Freeman said of bull riders and other athletes. “A lot of the mindset tends to be the same, although in basketball there are some guys who rely primarily on their physical ability, and there may be some social issues you have to deal with. But in terms of the actual sport – winning and being competitive and a champion – they all fit together.”
In many cases, the difference is toughness.
Freeman said some NBA players “like Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki , Michael Finley Cedric Ceballos were guys who played hurt, gave their best every day, hated losing and didn’t want to be out injured. That’s what (bull riders) are like. They want to compete. If you’re talking about a large group, bull riders are the toughest athletes we take care of.
“There are a number of reasons, but the main reason is the competitive drive to win.”
Another is making a living.
“If you don’t compete, you don’t eat,” Freeman said. “As long as I’ve been around, there’s always been the idea of ‘cowboying up.’ You bear down, do your job, don’t complain. But over time, a lot of guys have learned that there’s a limit to that.”
Oklahoma’s 24-year-old Ryan Dirteater, who has been to the PBR’s world finals five times in his seven-year career, knows those limits. He’s suffered a broken femur and tore his triceps, ACL (twice), MCL and PCL among numerous injuries.
“I’ve had two major surgeries with Tandy, and he’s amazing,” says Dirteater, who had one of the night’s best rides Saturday with an 86.2. “The whole crew is amazing. We’re banged up and bruised every day, and they’re there for us.
“I hope to get six more years out of this sport. But you’ve got to stay fit, and anything can happen when you’re climbing on 2,000-pound animals. We couldn’t make it without those guys.”
Blyn says the medical crew understands the importance of riders being able to compete after an injury, which can lead to some tough medical decisions.
“They know they’re going to get hurt,” Blyn said. “It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. But these guys have to get on a ride to make a living. It’s different than dealing with injuries in traditional sports. If a guy tears his ACL – tears his knee – in the sport of bull riding, that’s a manageable injury. It doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have to be fixed at some point, but he can still ride.
“… So we explain the situation, explain the injury, explain what happens if they don’t have it fixed and explain the possibilities, like taping and bracing. It makes it tough sometimes, but most of the guys are pretty good listening to us and will sit out when we tell them it’s best.”
NOTES: Two-time former world champion Silvano Alves leads the three-day event after two rounds. Of the 36 competitors, he and Kasey Hayes are the only ones to complete both rides. Guytin Tsosie, an invitee from the Four Corners area, was bucked for a second straight night. Jenkins is tied for ninth.
- The PBR’s top attraction, mega-famous bull Bushwacker, competes today for the first time this weekend. He is retiring at year’s end.
- Attendance Saturday was 11,437, just 63 tickets shy of a sellout.