Living the cowboy life

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Nestled in the Yampa Valley hours from the closest interstate or shopping mall, Steamboat Springs is considered an isolated mountain town by many. But to rodeo cowboys, the location is ideal.

Pull out a map. Somewhere between rodeo stops in Wyoming, southern Colorado or eastern Colorado sits Steamboat Springs. And for those cowboys who thrive on cramming multiple competitions into short weekends, Steamboat fits conveniently between runs in places like Eagle County, Cheyenne and Rock Springs.

Rodeo cowboy Michael Sisk used to travel from state to state during his collegiate rodeo days at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Sisk, born in Rifle, started the team.

"I wasn't very good," Sisk said. "My coach sent me to Jackson Hole during the summer for their bi-weekly rodeo so I was on a horse twice a week and getting bucked off and getting hurt. I got to know their 'orthopods' really well. I liked their lifestyle. That's how I got interested in orthopedic surgery."

Sisk is a familiar face in the Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo Series, but there is nothing commonplace about his life as both a saddle bronc rider and a surgeon.

Sisk earns his living in the operating room. He gets his kicks in the Brent Romick Rodeo Arena.

"I get on these bucking horses because it's fun," Sisk said. "There are some who think I'm crazy to do that. I've done a lot of crazy stuff. It's such an adrenaline rush that I haven't found in any other sport."

Sisk didn't find the same thrill when he stood atop Mount Everest. He doesn't find the same thrill jumping snowmobiles or dirt bikes. The surgeon at Yampa Valley Medical Center feeds his inner animal by riding a bucking horse once or twice a week in Steamboat Springs.

Sisk compared rodeo to an infection that gets under the skin and makes a cowboy forget about escalating costs, broken bones and strained relationships at home.

The relationships built in the rodeo community last a lifetime, Sisk said. Cowboys don't compete against each other. They compete against an animal and a clock. They offer up advice and information. When Rowan Sisk was born prematurely and put on a respirator last summer, the cowboys were there to support her and parents Michael and Megan Sisk.

"My friends from the amateur, college or professional ranks are my very best friends," Sisk said.

The Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo Series has developed a faithful following of both fans and cowboys, many of them local like Sisk. But the quality of the stock and opportunity to spend a little time in a beautiful mountain town also attracts some of the best rodeo cowboys in the region and country to compete.

Brent Romick, chairman of the series, has been heavily involved in the rodeo series since the late 1970s. The arena bears his name and this year on Friday and Saturday nights and on July 4, the arena bears his spirit, as well. "I think I have the best job of any cowboy I've ever known," Romick said. "I get to compete, see the changes and put on rodeos 10 weeks a year. I love when we load the chutes."

Sisk remembers his traveling days well. He misses the camaraderie and the nights in small Colorado towns where the crowds were loud and rowdy. But his traveling days are over. He leaves that to younger cowboys pursuing prestigious world titles or berths in the circuit finals. Both have come and will come through Steamboat's chutes this summer.

For Sisk, competing every weekend for 10 weeks of the summer in Steamboat Springs is plenty. "Local guys are here. Circuit cowboys come who are just making a name for themselves," Sisk said. "The pro rodeo was one of the main reasons I moved here."

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