Rodeo means more to Dino Loukas than the average cowboy; it almost killed him. Growing up immersed in agriculture and living on his mother’s ranch throughout his childhood summers and winters made joining the rodeo team a natural choice.
“With my first step into a CSU rodeo practice arena, I found my heart,” said Loukas. “I started out riding bulls and thought, ‘this is dumb, let’s wrestle steers.’”
Steer wrestling is one of the most dangerous rodeo events. A cowboy must leap from his horse onto a raging steer and pin him to the ground, racing against the clock.
After graduating from CSU in 2000, Loukas began to steer his way into the professional rodeo circuit. He one day hoped to join the Wrangler Tour, a million dollar competition that ultimately leads to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
However, Loukas’ plans were forced to change when he suffered a career-ending injury to the left frontal lobe of his brain. He had just made the leap for the steer when Loukas’ horse delivered a kick to his head that should have been fatal.
“I opened my eyes after three weeks in a coma,” said Loukas. “It took another month for my mind to catch up.”
Doctors told Loukas that only five in 1,000 people with his injury would ever walk again, but Loukas was determined. With the help of friends and family, he is now able to run and exercise with minimal difficulty.
“Family support got me through,” said Loukas. “From my mom telling doctors they were wrong to walking the hallways with my dad. For myself, I was doing whatever it took. Wearing a protective helmet for 11 months while I was missing a portion of my skull, going to speech therapy for six years and working out with a personal trainer.”
Loukas’ story is one of perseverance and inspiration, and it perfectly embodies the attitude of rodeo. Despite all he went through, Loukas says he would not change one thing about his rodeo career.
“Love your life,” he said. “Rodeo is more than the horse you are riding or the steer you are wrestling, it is the will to be the best you want to be.”
Even though Loukas is long graduated, the rodeo community at CSU carries on the legacy of rodeo. The problem is, they lack supporters.
“The rodeo scene is not as important as some of the other sports at CSU,” coach Opal Masters said. “It breaks my heart; rodeo is home for me. There is a community and a rivalry that you can’t beat in rodeo. Everybody has each other’s back, that’s how it has always been.”
A rodeo consists of nine events; three rough stock events, three girls’ events, team roping, steer wrestling and calf roping.
CSU’s Travis Jackson is the number one bull rider in the Central Rocky Mountain Region.
“I have been riding bulls for 10 years,” Jackson said. “I grew up around rodeo and my Grandpa actually competed for CSU way back in the day.”
Bull riding is one of the more well-known rodeo events and certainly one of the most exciting. But besides bull riding, steer wrestling and the other 7 events, rodeo has a lot to offer. There is a community there that cannot be replicated.
“My favorite part of rodeo is hanging out with my friends,” Jackson said. “They just have this passion for it and I love having them as part of my family.”
Regardless of the tough times, it is something that stays with you forever, too important to let go of.
“As things get older, they get forgotten or pushed down,” Masters said. “We want to brighten it back up, we won’t let rodeo die here.”
Sports Reporter Cali Rastrelli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.