Stephen Nessen, Reporter, WNYC News
Stephen Nessen reports for the WNYC Newsroom and can often be heard live on Morning Edition.
Douglas Duncan has been grabbing the bull by the horns for half his life. The 24-year-old from Alvin, Texas, faced a different sort of bull Thursday afternoon. He was standing outside the New York Stock Exchange, waiting for the end of trading so he could ring the closing bell.
Digging his hands in his pockets and stomping his feet to ward off the cold, he admired the outerwear on the denizens of Wall Street. “I feel out of place without a pea coat, I want to go buy me one,” he said, pulling down on his wide, black felt hat and launching a mouthful of phlegm on the cobble stones.
Duncan is in town for the start of the bull riding season, which kicks off at Madison Square Garden this weekend. The sport is pretty straightforward. Riders have to stay on a bull for eight seconds, hope it bucks wildly and hold on tight. Riders are judged on how well they ride and how well the bull bucks — or kicks — its hind legs. Points are awarded and riders proceed to the next round. Money is also awarded on a point system, and the grand finale can net riders almost $2 million.
It’s Duncan’s second time in the Big Apple. He placed 5th in New York last year and walked away with about $16,000. Professional bull riders pay their own way, and swallow the cost of hotels and airfare during the 28-city season. He ended the 2011 season ranked number 16.
Despite concerns from family and teachers growing up, this third generation cowboy says bull riding is a childhood dream come true.
“It’s everything I want to do. People think that I’m crazy, but it’s like a kid growing up with a set of golf clubs, I knew what I was going to be from day one and there wasn’t no ways around it,” Duncan said.
He started riding the family dog when he was 2 or 3 years old, and graduated to sheep, then calves and finally big bulls when he was 12. His father, a former bull rider, broke his neck riding about six years before Duncan was born, but obliged his enthusiastic son by building a make-shift cardboard chute for him as a child to practice on.
Like his father, Duncan has had his share of injuries. He’s had multiple concussions, little fractures, MCL, ACL, a sports hernia and a fractured pelvis, but “nothing that’s required screws,” he said, optimistically.
Duncan, who’s longest recorded ride was 32 seconds, can tell by looking at a bull which one is a good bucker. “Bulls are just like people, some are real mean, some aren’t mean at all, just big ol’ pets.” He has about 25 practice bulls at home on his 200-acre ranch that he rides.
Duncan's not into social media or digital technology, but he does have a smart phone. He knows he won’t be riding bulls forever and laments the fact that the cowboy life is a fast setting sun.
“It’s dang sure fading away, but I’m a cowboy, it’s a way of life for me, it’s not just a title. It’s a way of living, it’s pure and clean, and I think a lot of people give a lot of respect to a cowboy,” he said.