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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 30, 2006

Maui native prospers as rider

 •  Fans bullish on this extreme sport

By Christie Wilson
Advertiser Neighbor Island Editor

WAILUKU, Maui After five surgeries in 14 months, professional bull rider Myron Duarte was nearly ready to ride into the sunset. The Maui native was largely inactive in 2005 because of injury, and he lost sponsorships that had enabled him to make a living as a rodeo athlete.

As a relative old-timer at age 38, retirement loomed as large as the 2,000-pound monsters Duarte has fearlessly ridden in his 15 years as a pro.

"When I was beat up and injured, it wasn't fun. It made it more of a job for me," he said.

But Duarte wasn't quite ready to hang up his spurs. He contacted Peter Baldwin of Pi'iholo Ranch, who immediately offered to sponsor Duarte on the Professional Bull Riders tour.

"He's a genuine character, a real good guy," said Baldwin, who's been known to rope a calf or two in his day but is quick to add, "I have no intention of riding a bull."

So far this year, Duarte is "riding as good as I ever have," and two weeks ago he passed the $1 million mark in career winnings when he finished third at an event in Florida.

Duarte, who lives in Auburn, Wash., with his wife and two sons, is aiming to become a nine-time qualifier to the 2006 National Finals Rodeo, a feat claimed by only four other bull riders in the event's history.

Duarte grew up in 'Iao Valley and graduated from Baldwin High School. His grandfather had a hog farm and he was involved in 4-H, but Duarte didn't think much about the rodeo until an older cousin he idolized got into the sport. Duarte practiced on a mechanical bull, then rode his first adult bull when he was 14 at 'Ulupalakua Ranch.

"I didn't make the whistle and I got hung up and dragged around the arena. I hated to lose so I had to keep doing it," he said.

He turned pro in 1991 and moved to the Mainland. At the time, it was not considered a steady career. Now with the exploding popularity of the PBR, sponsorships and endorsements, "you can make a good living and be set up for life when you retire," Duarte said.

A good living, maybe, but not an easy one. Duarte rides about 300 bulls a year, crisscrossing the country as he competes in dozens of events. During the busy Fourth of July period, he's riding in 15 rodeos over 10 days.

Still, Duarte figures he's pretty lucky to have suffered only six broken ribs and undergone three rotator cuff surgeries on his left shoulder, three knee operations and an ACL procedure. He also has a 6-inch plate and seven pins in his left arm.

"It's an adrenaline rush. It's man vs. beast," he said. "In one sense you could say it's crazy, but in another sense it's about believing in yourself. Every time you get on the bull you could die. But if you put that aside and believe in yourself and do the job right, then you'll succeed."

Duarte said he's hoping the two Hawai'i events will put the state on the bull-riding map and inspire young paniolo. "I want to show people in Hawai'i that we can go up to the Mainland and compete on the pro level."

Reach Christie Wilson at cwilson@honoluluadvertiser.com.