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Published January 19, 2009, 12:00 AM

Bull riding: It’s all about the clean getaway

Being a successful bull rider takes more than staying on the bull for the regulation eight seconds, says six-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier Fred Boettcher. You’ve also got to make a clean getaway.

By: Paulette Tobin, Grand Forks Herald

Being a successful bull rider takes more than staying on the bull for the regulation eight seconds, says six-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier Fred Boettcher. You’ve also got to make a clean getaway.

“It’s not so much about doing it as it is getting away,” said Boettcher, who Friday and Saturday will be in Grand Forks to compete in the Professional Championship Bull Riders Tour at the Alerus Center.

Boettcher will be one of about three dozen bull riders in Grand Forks for the big show. Now 33, the Rice Lake, Wis., man has been competing since his teen years, when he won the 1994 National High School Championship Bull Rider title.

With career earnings of $766,664, Boettcher (pronounced BET-cher) currently is in the top 25 PRCA World Standings.

“I like to think I’m just getting better, but 33 for a bull rider is old,” he said, speaking on his cell phone as he visited a farm store to get a battery for his snowmobile. “It’s a lot like professional football. But, knock on wood, I’m healthy. I’m still fit.”

This will be the Professional Championship Bull Riders Tour’s first time bringing its competition to the Alerus. Last January, the event was run by the National Professional Rodeo Association Bull Riding Challenge.

Robert Sauber of St. Charles, Ill., is the man behind the PCB tour. He was a bull rider himself for about 19 years, quitting when turned 40 in 2005.

“But I knew I wasn’t done with it,” Sauber said. He began producing and promoting bull riding events (in addition to his construction business), has had good success and enjoys it. His events have aired on Fox TV sports, and the event at the Alerus will be filmed for television as well, he said. Feb. 6 and 7, he’ll bring the PCB World Tour Finale III to the Sears Centre in Chicago.

The show in Grand Forks will feature stock from Troy Meech of Nimrod, Minn., and Cory Check of Gays Mills, Wis., and top caliber cowboys including Boettcher, Chris Littlejohn of Tulsa, Okla., and Craig Sasse of St. Peter, Ill., Sauber said.

One of the bulls, called Toyota Torque, has never been ridden for the full eight seconds.

“Basically, you’ve got a bunch of good cowboys and a bunch of outstanding bulls that are just superstar athletes,” Sauber said.

And there will be women’s barrel racing for the athletes Sauber calls “divas of the dirt.”

Compared with riders such as Boettcher, Sauber said, his bull riding career was “hit and miss.” Boettcher makes his living riding bulls, and he has the damaged body parts to prove the importance of getting out of the ring quickly after you leave the bull’s back and hit the dirt.

“I’ve separated both my shoulders, had knee surgery, elbow surgery, titanium plates in my forehead. The everyday bumps,” he said.

Still, he’s proud of his career. Lots of people talk about being a professional athlete “someday,” he said. He is a professional athlete who has accomplished many of his goals — although he’d still like to put a world championship ring on his finger.

“I’ve been to every state in the U.S. except Hawaii” for bull riding events, he said. “I’ve shook the president’s hand. Actually, I like to say he’s shook my hand,” he said, laughing. “I’ve just gotten to experience a million different things because of bull riding.”

It’s a great job, but it’s still a job, he said.

“I’m my own boss, my own player and my own coach,” he said. “It’s just like anything. Everybody wants to talk to the winner. If I go to an event and I don’t win, I don’t get paid. I have sponsors and things like that, but if you don’t win, you don’t have sponsors.”

Boettcher has been home in Rice Lake since the holidays. Grand Forks will be his first competition of 2009. The following week he’ll be in Rapid City, S.D., for the PRCA Championship Rodeo at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center. Then he’ll be in San Antonio, Texas, for three weeks. After that: Tucson, Ariz.; Montgomery, Ala.; then Houston.

Bull riding is a rapidly growing sport these days, attracting lucrative television deals and lots of new “extreme sports” fans. Bull riding was always the biggest event at the rodeo, the one that was saved for last. Today, bull riders are being looked at in a new light, Boettcher said.

“It ain’t just a bunch of old ranch hands,” he said. “There’s some kids who have never rode a horse before who are some of the best riders.”

There’s more to being a good bull rider than growing up on a ranch or being a cowboy.

“You have to be strong, but fit is a better word,” he said. “The old saying was you want to be a small little short guy. But I’m 6 feet tall and weigh 170 pounds. You have to have a lot of coordination, but the bottom line is you have to have a lot of heart and guts and a ton of try. That’s what makes a champion.”