By: Justin Felisko
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – There is an area of land in Hulbert, Oklahoma, that will soon be Ryan Dirteater and his fiancée, April’s, home.
Ryan can picture it vividly.
The couple already has seen the drawings for their future home as well, and Ryan is excited about all that is on the horizon for himself and April.
April will become a future registered dietitian in 2021, and Ryan will be working alongside his father, Randy, as a plumber, helping run the family business. Ryan envisions more early mornings with his cattle operation and becoming more involved in his local community.
There will be even more time for Ryan and April to hit up one of their favorite date spots – Chili’s – and to enjoy each other’s love and companionship for years to come.
Last weekend, Dirteater leaned back into his locker cube inside SNHU Arena in Manchester, New Hampshire, and brought himself back to the present while daydreaming about the next stage of his life.
The 11-time PBR World Finals qualifier then exhales.
2020 will be his last season, Dirteater – the 2016 PBR World Finals event winner – said calmly and publicly announced Thursday.
“I always have said I would ride until I am 30, and I will be 31 in April,” Dirteater explained. “It’s been great. I love the sport. It is why I am doing it right now. I just love being home. I love my cattle. I love my family. I love my friends. I feel like I have accomplished a lot of my goals, but I haven’t accomplished the No. 1 goal I always went for, which is to win the world.”
“This is going to be my 12th time to qualify for the Finals this year, I hope. I just feel like I need to be home. I have a lot of things back home that keep me busy. I plan on running my cattle operation and helping my father, Randy, with his plumbing business in Hulbert, Oklahoma, while also staying active in my community and the Cherokee Nation. Bull riding is a huge part of my life and I will continue to put on bull riding clinics to help the current and young athletes of the sport.”
Such begins the final objective for the Oklahoma fan favorite, who will retire following the 2020 PBR World Finals on Nov. 4-8 in Las Vegas at T-Mobile Arena.
2020 is Dirteater’s last hurrah, and his final opportunity to pursue that long elusive gold buckle. Dirteater has come to peace with that reality.
“This is not a hard decision,” Dirteater said. “I knew I wanted to ride until I was 30 and make a career out of bull riding. I am doing it. I am living my dream right now. I haven’t second guessed it. I am still here because I love what I do.”
The No. 9 ranked bull rider in the world standings is out of competition for this weekend’s Wrangler Long Live Cowboys Classic in Sacramento, California, with a broken bone in his left ankle, but he says he will certainly be ready for his home state event in Oklahoma City – the Express Employment Professionals Classic – on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1.
Dirteater is attempting to win the Oklahoma City event for a third consecutive season following victories in 2018 and 2019. Dirteater’s 2018 victory featured him riding three-time World Champion Bull SweetPro’s Bruiser for a career-best 93.25 points – one of his 14 career 90-point rides.
“It would be really special to win it three times,” Dirteater said. “It really would be. It is there. All I have to do is stay on my bulls. That is key in this sport.”
Following his retirement from the PBR, fans can still expect to see the newly engaged Dirteater in the arena as he looks to team rope with his father and compete at Indian Rodeos and Region 8 events, while simultaneously planning that upcoming wedding.
“I want to enjoy time with my dad, my mom, grandma, my aunts, uncles, my nieces and nephew. Being on the road all the time, you miss a lot of that stuff.
“My future, she is at home. I want to spend time with [April] and support her and her goals. Just being at home on my land, enjoying my cattle and enjoying that. That is where I am happy.”
DEBUTING IN AN ERA FEATURING PBR LEGENDS
Dirteater bought his PBR card in 2007 and made his Touring Pro Division debut on May 4, 2007 in Siloam Springs, Arkansas.
A little over a year later, the Oklahoman reached the premier series in Dallas on June 21, 2008, going 1-for-2 and riding Stray Cat for 87.75 points.
Thinking back to his major league debut is something Dirteater will forever cherish.
Yes, it was a dream come true for him to reach the highest level of the PBR, but it was also how lucky he was to ride on the elite series in that era.
That Dallas event featured World Champions such as Mike Lee, Chris Shivers, Justin McBride and J.B. Mauney.
In fact, Dirteater is one of handful of riders to have ridden with the PBR’s inaugural World Champion (Moraes in 1994) and the PBR’s youngest two-time World Champion (Jess Lockwood) over the course of the PBR’s 27-year history.
The then 18-year-old bull rider would qualify for his first World Finals in 2008, and witness Moraes and McBride ride for the last time.
“I got to ride with Adriano Moraes and Justin McBride,” Dirteater said. “I got to ride with them before they retired. Chris Shivers. Mike White. My first Finals was Justin and Adriano’s last.”
THE CHEROKEE KID EARNS HIS FIRST WIN & THE HEARTS OF HIS NATION
Former PBR television commentator Justin McKee eventually nicknamed Dirteater The Cherokee Kid during his rookie season, and that nickname never left Dirteater’s side.
The name only came into more popularity as Dirteater began to evolve into a consistent Top 35 rider. Forever friendships were made with riders such as Austin Meier, Skeeter Kingsolver, Brady Sims and so many more.
“It has been great. My buddies. Austin Meier. Skeeter Kingsolver. Brady Sims. Cannon Cravens. Keyshawn Whitehorse. Cody Nance. I have made long-term friendships with those guys,” Dirteater said.
Dirteater earned his first of so far nine career event wins a year later in Dallas with a flawless 3-for-3 performance at the 2009 event.
“I am a lot calmer now,” Dirteater said. “To grow in this sport, you never quit learning, mentally and physically it is challenging. That is why I love the game. It is. You never stop learning. The bulls are different. The sport has grown ever since I started. The bulls are getting better. The riders are getting better. PBR is growing and that is what it is about.”
Dirteater often celebrates a qualified ride by firing an imaginary arrow in the arena, and he has always embraced his Cherokee heritage openly.
He often puts on bull riding clinics on various Native American reservations and he is an open ambassador for all Native Americans.
That will never change during his retirement either. Dirteater has every intention on continuing to give back to the Cherokee Nation and his local community.
“Justin McKee called me the Cherokee Kid and it stuck,” Dirteater said. “The tribe has been very supportive. The Cherokee nation. They are proud and supportive of me. The Chief, the councilman, the Cherokee citizens back me 100 percent.”
A CAREER ALMOST CUT SHORT
Dirteater remains thankful for all of those that have stood by and supported him during the past 14 years, especially when it looked as if his career was over before it really got going.
The No. 15 ranked bull rider in the world heading into the final regular-season event of 2009 in Uncasville, Connecticut, appeared poised for a breakout Finals.
That was until he caught his spur in his bull rope during his 87-point ride on Country Boy in his final attempt before the World Finals. Country Boy then yanked and stomped on Dirteater’s leg in what Dirteater still calls the most gruesome injury of his career.
Dirteater dislocated his left knee cap and tore his ACL, MCL and PCL, on that fateful day inside Mohegan Sun. It would take him nine months before he even attempted to ride a bull again – not to mention the 14 months it took for him to return to the premier series.
He missed the entire 2010 season.
If that wasn’t enough, Dirteater then had to miss eight events in his first season back because of surgery to repair a torn ligament and tendon in his right elbow.
“This sport is challenging,” Dirteater said. “It is hard on us. The travel. Getting on these caliber of bulls every weekend. The injuries we go through. All the adversity can either make you or break you. I just have had the drive for it. I kept the torch lit the whole time. Your head will play games with you if you let it. You just have to stay focused on the future and prepare for the weekend.”
Dirteater never thought about retiring then or giving up on his dream of one day becoming a World Champion either.
“It never crossed my mind,” Dirteater said. “Thank God I was young and hungry. I was hungry for success. That is the thing in this sport. You have to stay hungry. It is easy to get up here and get comfortable. It really is. PBR will spoil a guy because you are riding in these huge coliseums and stadiums. You have these nice locker rooms. You got the cameras. Everything is on you. It is easy to just forget how you got here. You have to keep working at it. That is one thing I always told myself. You have to keep working for it.”
Good friend Brady Sims said people underestimate just how tough Dirteater is. He has come back repeatedly from serious injuries and never lost a beat, just last year Dirteater sustained a collapsed lung and lacerated his liver in Tulsa, Oklahoma, only to return as confident as ever for one more season.
“I am happy for the old man,” Sims said. “He has had a hell of a career. I don’t care what he says. He has had a hellof a career. With all the injuries he has had to overcome, I know how hard it really is and he has handled it 10 times better than most people do. It is impressive. These weren’t little breaks or a collarbone, it was career-ending stuff and he handled it like a pinky being dislocated.
“I know he has always wanted a gold buckle, but even if he never does get it, he should be able to walk away with his head high knowing he had the opportunity right in front of him to give up and say, ‘I am done.’”
A RECORD YEAR ENDS WITH HISTORIC PBR FINALS VICTORY
Dirteater would never miss qualifying for the World Finals again once he returned from his injuries in 2011.
In fact, Dirteater is the only rider currently in the Top 35 with 11 or more World Finals qualifications. J.B. Mauney (14) and Cody Nance (11) are currently out because of shoulder injuries.
It did not take Dirteater long to get back on top of the shark cage as an event winner in 2011 when he rode Clam Digger for 87.25 points in Wichita, Kansas, on Sept. 23 after riding Jack Daniel’s After Party for 90.25 points.
However, it would take him five more years to get that next victory.
What a year did 2016 end up being for Dirteater.
Dirteater did not just win three regular-season, premier series events and finish a career-high fourth in the world standings, but he crushed it at the 2016 PBR World Finals.
He capped a dominant week in Las Vegas by riding Brutus for 89.75 points to finish Finals a perfect 6-for-6 and win the first World Finals event held at the state-of-the-art T-Mobile Arena.
Dirteater won a career-high $317,916.67. He earned $250,000 for winning the event, as well as an additional $67,916.67 in round money. The total payday pushed him past the $1 million mark in career earnings, and he hopes to surpass the $2 million mark this season before retires.
Dirteater began Championship Sunday with an 87.25-point ride on Minion Stewart. He previously rode Swashbuckler (87.75 points), Jack Daniel’s After Party (87 points), Billy Bat Skat (86 points) and High Test (86.75 points) on his way to the event title.
“Ryan just took care of business,” PBR Director of Livestock Cody Lambert said at the time. “There were some guys that came in here and the stage got to them. Some young guys and stuff like that. Ryan is a veteran and he has been here so many times and it was about riding bulls and it was about making the whistle every time. He got it done.”
Dirteater is one of five riders in PBR history to ride all of his bulls and win the PBR World Finals event average.
Dirteater joined 2013 and 2009 World Finals event winner J.B. Mauney (6-for-6, 8-for-8), 2014 event winner Silvano Alves (6-for-6) and 2001 winner Luke Snyder (5-for-5) as the only riders to be perfect at the World Finals before Jose Vitor Leme went 6-for-6 in 2017.
Mauney was the first to accomplish the feat when he went 8-for-8 to win the 2009 World Finals.
“That is a big feat,” said Mauney. “These are the greatest bucking bulls in the world in one week, and you ride all of them in one week that is saying something.”
Alves also went 6-for-6 on his way to his record-tying third World Championship.
“Oh, he was great,” Alves said. “He was very impressive. He rode all six bulls and was perfect. He had good scores for all. It is a good job for him because it is hard to ride six bulls in the Finals. Only three guys have done that now. I am very happy for him. I am proud of him. He is a good guy. I like him a lot.”
Dirteater also stayed stuck on his bovine opponents a career-best 44.59 percent of the time. He posted a career-high 33 qualified rides in 74 attempts.
He finished only 1,382.09 points behind 2016 World Champion Cooper Davis.
“He always kind of scared me being right behind me,” Davis said. “You never knew when, but he could step up at the right time and stay on. He won a bunch that year.”
LOOKING FORWARD TO HIS FINAL SEASON – A GOLD BUCKLE AND GLOBAL CUP DOMINANCE
Dirteater has known since the 2019 PBR World Finals that 2020 was going to be his final season.
He already come to that conclusion before he was packing up his gear bag inside T-Mobile Arena.
The plan all along was going to be for him to announce it publicly around Oklahoma City so that his home state fans would be able to know that the opportunities to see him ride in person were beginning to dwindle.
Even with his final rides coming upon him, Dirteater says he is feeling better than ever when it comes to winning his first World Championship.
“It was close in 2016, but I am focused on this year. I am going to take it one bull at a time and one event at a time. I am going to keep putting my time in at the gym and be ready and prepared for every event I go to.”
At the World Finals, Dirteater explained he also has unfinished business when it came to the 2020 WinStar World Casino and Resort Global Cup USA, presented by Monster Energy, on Feb. 15-16 in Arlington, Texas.
Dirteater is excited for what the Team USA Wolves may accomplish following their third-place finish last year. The team featuring Stetson Lawrence, Cody Jesus, Keyshawn Whitehorse, Colten Jesse, Cannon Cravens and Wyatt Rogers are not only teammates, but good friends too.
“I am more excited about this year now than I have ever been because I know the opportunities we are given are there and they are huge. My No. 1 goal is to win the world and to extend my career earnings to $2 million. I am knocking on that door. To win 10 UTB events, I am knocking on that door. I got nine. I am going to give it all I got this year.”
Most of all, Dirteater knows he could not have had he kind of career he has had thus far without the support of those around him.
“I would like to thank my family, friends, fans and all my sponsors, Cooper Tires, Ariat, Cherokee Casinos, Sheppard Hills Cutlery, Cactus Ropes, Mechanical Bull Sales and XD Sports, that believed in me and still currently believing in me throughout this season,” Dirteater concluded. “I am going to give it all I’ve got.
“I plan on making this the best year of my career. Thank you.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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