HOLY COWBOY

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

Cody and his fellow riders say they have no intention of abandoning the PRCA circuit. They say the exposure Professional Bull Riders gets for bull riding will benefit rodeo across the board.

But the fledgling organization made its point at the National Finals. The PRCA has an exclusive contract with a company called Rodeo America, which creates and sells PRCA-approved shirts, hats, jackets, trading cards and so forth. Rodeo America makes the official jacket given to all National Finals contestants, and it bears the Rodeo America insignia.

But PBR members refused to wear the maroon jacket during this year's event. Instead, they showed up with their own red PBR jackets, making a subtle but significant statement: If Rodeo America profits because pro cowboys wear their jackets, the bull riders want a cut.

Cody speaks with urgency about PBR's mission. "I'm closer to the end than the beginning," he says of his career. "I've been rodeoing full-time for a third of my life, and I want to get something more out of it than saying I've seen a lot of country or met a lot of people. "Heck, I know former world champions who are mucking stalls," he says.

@rule:
@body:Cody Custer limped down the hallway of Humana Sunset Hospital in Las Vegas. He was on his way to fulfill a request from a patient, a rodeo fan named Valerie Wright-Giddings, 22, gravely ill with complications from a kidney transplant.

When she caught sight of Cody, her face lighted up perceptibly. "Oh, my gosh. Oh, my word," she gasped.

For the next hour, Cody and two fellow bull riders stood in the stifling hospital room, talking and joking easily with Valerie. Word of their presence spread, and curious nurses and patients strolled past the room and peered in.

Cody says he fears speaking in front of strangers more than riding bulls, but as he prepared to leave, he asked, "Do you mind if we have a prayer? We're Christians."

He removed his black hat and spoke without hesitation. "Lord, we pray for Valerie and ask You to send Your healing power. We know that all things are possible through You. We thank You for Valerie and we'll keep her in our prayers. Amen."

Then Cody put on his hat and limped off to ride a bull named Hurricane Hank.

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