For many cowboys who dare try, a long career riding bulls isn’t in the cards.
The physical nature of the work, the relative cost and small financial gain means unless one reaches the top echelon of the sport, it won’t be something they can retire in.
If the average NFL player’s career is six years taking the shots they do, you can probably figure that for bull riders too.
Yet here’s Ryan Roberts.
Roberts has had a sniff of the PBR tour — the 2016 BlueDef Tour Finals in Las Vegas is a minor league level to the major league Pro Bull Riders — and since 2011, he’s been a regular in the Bull Riders Inc., circuit which holds its finals on Friday and Saturday at the Civic Center.
Over that decade he’s also competed near the top in the Indian National Finals Rodeo circuit.
Yet for this past year, his full-time job has been driving a truck. He also has a 6-year-old son, Taiten, to care for.
“There’s a lot of travel involved, finding sponsors and trying to take care of family at home,” said Roberts, now 27.
“But it’s always been a love for me. I started out wrestling steers. I’ve got a family of barrel racers but all us boys wanted to get on steers. I was the only one who carried on with it, then I went to bulls.”
Roberts played baseball at Okmulgee High. He thinks he might’ve been good enough to play college ball, but when given the choice of choosing baseball over bulls, he couldn’t. He tried to juggle both, but made it clear he wasn’t giving up the bulls.
“I wasn’t interested in high school. My teachers had to relate some lessons to me in bull riding terms,” he said. “I’ve had my share of injuries riding bulls, but it was an ACL tear my sophomore year that pretty much took care of baseball and I did that playing baseball.”
On the bulls, there’s been a broken leg, cracked ribs, fractured wrist, and even a skull fracture just behind the ear in the thickest part of the skull.
The latest injury, he said, was earlier this season on a BRI event in Stillwater — his leg was smashed against the chute and he suffered a torn muscle. Due to that he’s out of the running for the season championship — Decklan Garland of Foster leads the money race at $12,470, but Roberts, at $2,533 and ninth in the standings, can still pick up a good-sized check by winning the finals, which pays $2,000 per round of two bulls and $6,000 for best average, which will factor into the overall standings champion.
For Roberts, his biggest annual winnings have been around $20,000. But it’s still something he does for the love of it — even if by injury, as the song by John Mellancamp goes, “sometimes love don’t feel like it should, but it hurts so good.”
He’s had the opportunity to be in a 2019 movie entitled “Bull.” He has a short bio about himself in two rodeo museums in Texas — one in San Antonio, another in Orange near the gulf coast, through his association with Cowboys of Color, an organization dedicated to hosting the best rodeo cowboy talent while sharing often-overlooked stories of African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanic Americans, and European Americans in the sport.
Roberts is a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.
“I’ve experienced some things in life I would have never had the opportunity to if not for bulls,” he said. “I hope I’m doing this at least until I’m 40.”
And he’s had perfect attendance in the 11 years Muskogee has hosted the finals, 10 of those at the Civic Center with this being No. 11 there.
“It’s a great place to ride, and close enough to have all the family and friends there from home,” he said. “These guys who make the finals, we’re really all family too. We go at it all year and travel together and believe it or not, we all really get along like family.
The prime contenders for the overall championship are Garland, David Bartels of Kansas ($9,354), Ryan McConnel ($6,578) of Bloomfield, N.M., and Luke Mast ($6,359) of Hutchinson, Kan. The others ahead of Roberts, who is ninth, are Nathan Hatchel of Noble, Jeter Lawrence of Sapulpa, Sage Vance of Lincoln, Neb., the leading rookie, and Dillon Micheel of Ashton, Neb.
General admission is $15, $10 for kids 10-under, $25 reserved and VIP tables for $50 per seat. Action starts at 8 p.m. both nights.
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