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A 75-year-old rodeo cowboy is being inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

For the cowboys and cowgirls who compete in rodeo, there is no higher honor than a spot in the National Rodeo Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. Next month, there will be a new class of inductees. And Colorado Public Radio's Stina Sieg has this profile of one of them.

STINA SIEG, BYLINE: At 75 years old, J.C. Trujillo can still feel that moment he became a rodeo cowboy.

J C TRUJILLO: I remember it clear as day.

SIEG: His first calf riding competition for kids. He was 6.

TRUJILLO: I was scared as you could be to have to get on one of those calves, you know? End up hanging on the side. But I made the whistle.

SIEG: And got second place.

TRUJILLO: I won $10.80. And by golly, I thought I'd never see a poor day.

SIEG: Decades later, he'd use rodeo winnings to buy this remote 50-acre spread in western Colorado. Trujillo still rides his horse every day, but his 4x4 makes for quicker travel. He steps out in his straw cowboy hat and denim Western shirt with his tiny initials on the front.

TRUJILLO: You never get your eyes completely full of this kind of country.

SIEG: A vista of mountains thick with trees, so brightly illuminated by sunlight that their golden leaves look like they're on fire.

TRUJILLO: I guess I have to say everything that I have in one way or the other came from the rodeo business.

SIEG: Back down the hill, Trujillo sits outside an old log cabin he and his wife, Margo, have made their home.

TRUJILLO: I was born and raised in the Western way of life.

SIEG: In Arizona, the son of a ranch cowboy and a mother who was nervous about him competing in rodeo but always supported him.

TRUJILLO: They're the ones that paid the entry fees for my brother and I to go to these junior rodeos and bought horses and bought horse trailers.

SIEG: Trujillo's rodeo career advanced through college. After graduating from Arizona State University, he considered becoming a teacher but...

TRUJILLO: Went to riding bareback horses and never looked.

SIEG: When he hit the pro circuit in the early '70s, Trujillo ended up 17th in the world. He quickly made it to the national finals and would for more than a decade.

TRUJILLO: It was a lifetime goal of mine and dream to become a world's champion.

SIEG: In 1980, he got close until a horse bucked him off in competition. That lit a fire in him.

TRUJILLO: So I rodeoed hard that next year again. And in 1981, I won the world's championship in the bareback riding.

SIEG: Trujillo always knew his rodeo days wouldn't last forever. It's a tough life, he says.

TRUJILLO: You're driving, flying, hitchhiking, doing whatever you can do to get to a rodeo.

SIEG: And his wife and two daughters needed him to be home more. In 1983, he got a break, courtesy of a horse.

TRUJILLO: Great, big, old horse. They called him Tombstone, and he drug me around. I broke some ribs, punctured lung, dislocated my right knee. But other than that, I was OK.

SIEG: A few years later, after entering the national finals arena one last time...

TRUJILLO: That was time to hang her up.

SIEG: Now, almost four decades later, his name is about to be added to the National Rodeo Hall of Fame.

TRUJILLO: With all my heroes, you know? Unbelievable.

SIEG: There is that trope of the solitary cowboy. But Trujillo did not get here alone.

TRUJILLO: And my mom and dad I have to give a giant amount of credit for my success in the rodeo business. I always get a little emotional sometimes on that.

SIEG: Trujillo says that when he's inducted, he knows they'll be looking down with big smiles the same way he looks at his grandkids as they compete in rodeo. Two have already turned pro. For NPR News, I'm Stina Sieg. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Stina Stieg

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