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The Cherokee Kid: Chatting With Professional Bull Rider Ryan Dirteater

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What do you do in the off-season when you’re a top ranked bull rider on the Built Ford Tough professional bull riding circuit? The same thing you do when you’re trying to stay atop a bucking bovine for eight seconds. You ride.

“Team roping is a hobby that I really enjoy,” says Ryan Dirteater, Cherokee, of Hulbert, Oklahoma. At just 23 years old, Dirteater is ranked 11th in the world for professional bull riding. “I’m a cowboy, not just a bull rider. And I like hanging out with my family because I’m hardly ever home.”

Team roping is a rodeo competition where two riders (single or mixed-gender teams) first rope a steer by the head or horns, then by the hind feet.

Hardly ever being home has been standard since Dirteater, whose nickname on the circuit is Cherokee Kid, turned professional when at 18. “If you’re good, then you get invited to the major leagues,” he says. “You get a shot at proving yourself and when you get ranked top 25, then you don’t get cut anymore. When I was 19, I made it to the Built Ford Tough (BFT) series.”

The BFT series is a 28-event competition in 23 states that draws upwards of 1.5 million people. Riders earn points at each event based on their ride scores, their finish in each round, and for their overall finish in the event. With just eight more events left, Dirteater has earned enough points to secure a spot the finals in Las Vegas in October. This is Dirteater’s fourth year in the finals.

“It’s a good feeling to have the finals made. But I’m looking forward to the August event in Tulsa, because it’s my home state. And I took second in Oklahoma City earlier this year. I had family and friends there and it was great,” he says. “There’s something about being in your home state that pumps me up more.”

Dirteater got his start in bull riding when he was young, growing up around rodeo. He’s been roping since he could walk, too. He watched his heroes on TV, including Micah John Calico and David Bailey, Jr. a fellow Oklahoman. He credits his father Randy and his late uncle Archie Dirteater as those who encouraged him.

“Uncle Archie always said if you’re going to do something, give it one hundred percent, and be determined,” he says. “I went through junior rodeo and junior bull riding and at eighteen went professional. It’s been a great career so far, and I’m going to keep riding to best of my ability.”

Sometimes, though, ability isn’t enough. Bull riding is a dangerous sport and Dirteater’s been hurt several times.

“In 2009, I was ranked top five in world and I had two severe injuries: I broke my femur and was out for four months and two weeks before the finals that year, I dislocated my knee. I missed the entire 2010 season,” he says. “Anything can happen. But I can’t worry about what could happen. I have to go at it with the right mindset to ride the bull and win.”

Growing up in Hulbert, a small town of 500 people in Northeast Oklahoma, rodeo, roping and ranching are daily activities. Dirteater and a friend, Mike Jones, are partners in the Rockin DJ Sports Arena, an indoor arena in nearby Tahlequah where they put on rodeos, calf roping and other events for the community.

“I don’t like to sit around inside, I like to be outside doing stuff. So I rope two to three times a week when I’m home,” he says.

Growing up in Indian Country, Dirteater identifies strongly with his American Indian roots. “My grandma was full blood Cherokee on my dad’s side, and my grandpa almost full blood. Being Native American is something to be proud of, and lots of people wish they were,” he says.

One of his mentors on the professional bull riding circuit was now retired Wiley Peterson (Shoshone-Bannock).

“Some of the younger riders are Native, too – small town kids from Oklahoma are Cherokee. They see me making it big, and I tell them that if they want it and are dedicated, they’ll be great at it.”

So what will Dirteater do when bull riding isn’t an option any more?

“I’ll go back to school and get a degree perhaps in business, so I can manage a ranch. But right now, I just want to ride bulls.”

Here's a list of upcoming events in case you want to catch Dirteater do his thing:

2012 Built Ford Tough Series Schedule

Jan. 6-8, New York, Madison Square Garden

Jan. 14-15, Anaheim, Calif., Honda Center

Jan. 21-22, Portland, Ore., Rose Garden

Jan. 28-29, Sacramento, Calif., Powerbalance Pavilion

Feb. 3-4, Baltimore, 1st Mariner Arena

Feb. 10-12, Oklahoma City, Chesapeake Energy Arena

Feb. 18, Atlanta, Georgia Dome

Feb. 25, Houston, Reliant Stadium

March 3, Arlington, Texas, Cowboys Stadium

March 10, Detroit, Ford Field

March 17-18, Glendale, Ariz., Arena

March 23-25, Albuquerque, N.M., The Pit

March 31-April 1, Kansas City, Mo., Sprint Center

April 14-15, Indianapolis, Conseco Fieldhouse

April 21-22, Des Moines, Iowa, Wells Fargo Arena

April 27-29, Uncasville, Conn., Mohegan Sun Arena

May 4-6, Billings, Mont., Rimrock Auto Arena

May 11-12, Boise, Idaho, Idaho Center

May 18-20, Pueblo, Colo., Colorado State Fair Events Center

Aug. 10-11, Tulsa, Okla., BOK Center

Aug. 17-18, San Antonio, AT&T Center

Aug. 31-Sept.1, Thackerville, Okla., WinStar World Casino

Sept. 7-8, Nashville, Tenn., Bridgestone Arena

Sept. 14-16. Springfield, Mo., JQH Arena

Sept. 21-22, Tampa, Fla., St. Pete Times Forum

Oct. 5-6, Philadelphia, Wells Fargo Center

Oct. 12-13, Columbus, Ohio, Nationwide Arena

Oct. 24-28, Las Vegas, Thomas & Mack Center