Tuesday, April 13, 2010 | 5:39 p.m.
A bull once stomped Austin Meier's face.
It was six years ago, when he was just 17 years old, during an event in Minnesota. Meier was thrown to the dirt, and before he could roll out of harm's way, harm happened. Both jaws were fractured, and he suffered a torn retina and several broken teeth.
"I was an ugly son of a gun there, for a while," he recalls.
The incident kept him out of competition for what he deemed an inordinate period of time.
"I was out eight weeks," he says. "That's a long time, for me. But injuries happen in this sport. I had an ACL tear, too. I've had a good number of injuries."
In the toughest sport on dirt, Meier is the toughest man on dirt, as the top bull-rider on the Professional Bull Riders circuit. The 23-year-old native of tiny Kinta, Okla., is in town as part of Team USA in the 2010 PBR World Cup at Thomas & Mack Center. The event starts (or, in rodeo-speak, bucks out) Thursday and runs through Sunday. The United States is defending its title, which it has won two years in a row, against the best bull riders from Brazil, Australia, Canada and Mexico.
Meier speaks with a distinct Wild West air. He's a cowboy first, a star athlete second. He hails from at least three generations of ranch hands and rodeo competitors.
"My whole family, my grandpa, cousins, uncles, have all ridden bulls," he said. "I've been doing it since I was still in diapers. I can't say I remember the first time I ever rode. Mutton-busting, probably."
Meier's hometown is a polar opposite of Las Vegas, a city he still enjoys visiting maybe for that very reason.
"I think that the thing that is such a draw to Vegas, at least for the cowboys, is it's a city that never sleeps," he says. "There is always stuff to do, the weather's generally nice. It's a happenin' place that has embraced us as cowboys, and when we're there it's like a cowboy hat convention is going on."
Compare that to Kinta, a town of about 260 residents in southeast Oklahoma.
"There is a stop sign, and if you go left, you don't see Kinta," Meier says. "We have a café, a gas station, a post office. It's very small. If you live in Kinta, you're probably a gas worker, rancher or old person. You might see a cop go through our town once a month. The nearest Wal-Mart is 16 miles away. There is some serious hunting around there. That's just how it is. For a lot of people, that's how they feed their families."
Meier hunts deer, bear, turkey and enjoys "a lotta fishin'."
This weekend the hunt is for a World Cup title. On each night of action, every member of the assembled five-man teams will compete in two rounds. That means each evening, fans will enjoy 50 rides at eight (or in most cases, fewer than eight) seconds apiece. Meier says the pressure is on the United States team, which hails from the country most responsible for the current competitive bull-riding format.
"I think, for American riders, we're proving that bull riding is our sport. I think that we want to show the world we're the best riders," he says. "The other countries have some serious competitors. Canada and Brazil have a slew of great riders.
"What it all boils down to, it's our sport, born and bred here. Americans were raised up doing it." Wise words, from the pride of Kitna.
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