John F. Russell: I want to be a cowboy

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STEAMBOAT SPRINGS

He knows the odds are against him, but he just doesn't care.

This year, Andy Kurtz has chased his dream of being a saddle bronc rider across Texas, Wyoming and Colorado. He made the $1,000 he needs to fill his Professional Cowboy Association permit and plans to open his rookie season in January.

Like so many other rodeo cowboys, he doesn't do it for the money, or the glory. These are things that escape most first-year rodeo cowboys, anyway. Most will spend more money than they make and are lucky if people know who they are at their hometown rodeo.

There is no doubt the 24-year-old loves rodeo, but that's not his motivation, either. You might be surprised to hear that he climbs into the saddle each week because it bugs him.

Each week, he travels to rodeos across the Mountain States Circuit with the goal of mastering an unpredictable sport. Just like a golfer who plays three times a week seeking the rare hole in one or a bowler chasing the ultimate thrill of a 300 game in a Thursday night league, Kurtz seeks an elusive goal in his chosen sport. Only his sport pays its athletes back in broken bones and concussions.

Even if Kurtz never makes it to the Mountain State's Circuit Finals or to the Dodge National Circuit Finals, he has earned my respect.

I have to admire any athlete who is willing to pursue his childhood dream.

Unlike other professional athletes, cowboys only get paid when they win. They also seem to keep things in perspective -- I guess that's natural in a sport where you are only as good as your last eight-second ride.

Could you image how good some professional football teams would be if owners only paid players when they won? Forget the long-term contracts and the big money endorsements, we finally would get to see the game played the way it was supposed to be played.

In today's world, most of us can't understand the life of a rodeo cowboy. Most of them have regular jobs, but on the weekend's they pack up their cars, vans or trucks and drive hundreds of miles to places such as Rock Springs,Wyo., Monte Vista or Garden City, Kan., to risk their health on the back of a horse with a name like Show Me the Cards.

To play the game, cowboys must pay for gas, hotel rooms and food with no guarantee that they will make money -- or even break even.

The cowboy's chances of winning are only slightly better than his chances of not being injured every time he climbs onto the back of a horse or bull. The cowboy is famous for riding hurt rather than turning down the opportunity to win a paycheck.

Cowboys display a level of dedication and desire that is hard to find in mainstream sports. They ride for love instead of money.

I hope that Kurtz can find that perfect ride, and someday land in Las Vegas for the National Finals Rodeo.

The odds are not good, but thankfully most rodeo cowboys don't pay attention to the odds.

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