HOLY COWBOY

IN THE WIDE-OPEN WORLD OF BULL RIDING, CODY CUSTER WALKS THE STRAIGHT AND NARROW.

At the same time, he's impatient with born-again friends who frown on his embrace of a sometimes savage institution. "A lot of Christian people try to separate themselves from the world," he says, "but you just can't do it."

Cody recently rejected a lucrative endorsement offer from Anheuser-Busch--$10,000 a year, plus expenses, to wear a small beer logo while riding bulls. Similarly, he abstains from drinking, primarily because he fears some youngster might see him.

PRCA rodeo fans like the clean-cut image. They selected Cody as their favorite cowboy for 1992. He won over cowboys much more in demand with advertisers.

"He's not flashy, but he's so sincere, he just draws people to him. Maybe it's that religion he's got," explains one woman who waited to get an autograph from Cody.

His born-again little brother, Jim Bob, a rising star in saddle broncs and bull riding on the PRCA circuit, says, "For the most part, you don't hear the snickers. Every now and again, a friend who knows better asks me out for a beer. 'Just checking,' they'll say."

Anyway, there are no atheists in a bucking chute. "Sometimes you'll see the wildest guys stop and pray before they ride," Jim Bob says.

@rule:
@body:Cody Custer--it sounds like a stage name for a matinee cowpoke, but it's his own. He was born to ride bulls.

A month before she gave birth, his mother rode in a cattle roundup. His father is a former bull rider and steer roper. Cody's formative years were spent on or near ranches in Arizona, around livestock. His earliest recollection is of swinging a rope. His father had 30 steers. For fun, Cody rode every steer, every day. When he was 8, he won $20 in a calf-riding competition. He rode his first bull when he was 13 at a junior rodeo in Payson.

"After that I just craved to ride bulls. I'd get on purt-near anything," he says. "It's hard to explain, but any athlete can understand the drive when you get something in your system. You just want more and more."
He's been on plenty of bulls--2,000 and counting.
Cody lives in the rolling-hill town of Wickenburg and talks with a soft twang. Family legend says his great-great-grandfather was a cousin of General George Custer. A maternal great-grandmother was a full-blooded Choctaw.

Cody played baseball as a youngster and wrestled in high school, but rodeo was all he cared about. He went to junior college on a rodeo scholarship, but spent most of his time partying and roping. He quit and got his Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association card, got religion, got disciplined, got a world title.

He's not a flamboyant or self-absorbed champion. He's frequently tardy for appointments because he likes to linger and chat with well-wishers. He's serious much of the time, yet a grin occasionally steals over his face, betraying a fondness for mischief. Gary Cooper would play the lead role in the Cody Custer Story.

Cody has dark, coarse hair, dark eyebrows and a ubiquitous five-o'clock shadow. His wire-rim glasses ride low on his nose, concealing rugged features. Like most good bull riders, he is not big. At five feet nine inches and 145 pounds, he's wiry all over with sharp corners--sharp chin, sharp nose, sharp elbows, sharp knees. At the same time, like all good bull riders, he has well-developed biceps, shoulders and thighs. And forearms by Rodin.

He walks slowly, tending to drag a leg. His hitched gait might be periodically aggravated by scrapes with bulls, but it's perpetual. One of the few places Cody looks graceful is on the back of a bull.

Cody married Stacey Dupuis, a striking Cajun brunette, two years ago. They are expecting their first child this spring.

They live in a small wood-frame house, not far from the highway through town, or their church, or the school where Stacey substitutes, or from Cody's parents' little eight-acre spread on the bank of Hassayampa Creek.

"In Wickenburg, everything's nearby," Cody says.
The house of the world-champion bull rider has no lawn. The only memorable decor in the tidy interior is a collection of belt buckles and trophies Cody has won riding bulls. The couple has neither the time nor the inclination for decorating. Cody travels incessantly--to 89 different PRCA rodeos alone in 1992. He puts 100,000 miles a year on his automobile, and probably flies a third again that far.

Cody and Stacey are a match made in heaven. She entered his life after he'd been rodeoing professionally for four years. He was weary of the nomadic and sometimes seedy lifestyle--the inexorable progression of rowdy towns, smoky bars, friendly girls. Cody stopped carousing in 1988, dedicating his life to Christ and beginning an earnest search for . . . well, for Stacey.

He found her living with friends, a married couple in Louisiana. The man of the house was a rodeo buddy of Cody's, but when Cody called, he got Stacey on the line instead. They hit it off. The calls became frequent. They discussed everything--rodeo, life, their faith in God--for a month before they met.

"It was really weird," Stacey says. "I knew when I met the plane, I was probably fixing to lay my eyes on the person I was going to spend the rest of my life with. We had both been praying for the type of person that the other person was."
Cody had to leave Stacey to go ride bulls. On the first night out, a friend set him up with a date.

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