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Extreme sports Cowboy still riding into sunset


I was introduced to Cowboy Kenny Bartram on Wednesday morning. I almost didn’t recognize him. He wasn’t flying through the air hanging from the handlebars of a dirt bike; there weren’t a bunch of pretty girls in halter tops waiting for his autograph, or to have their picture taken with him.

There was only one pretty girl, his wife, Kimberly, and their 6-year-old son, Brooks. Good thing Kenny was wearing his cowboy hat.

Cowboy Kenny Bartram is one of those extreme sports guys, one of those X Games dudes. He’s a pioneer, one of the originals. He’s 35 now, in transition as they say, and there aren’t quite as many pretty girls lining up to meet him. Kimberly says traveling with a 6-year-old can cramp a guy’s style.

Kenny Bartram might have come along a little too early to truly capitalize on the extreme sports craze extremeness — he competed in the first freestyle motocross event ever, in Tacoma, Wash., in October 1998. But he has capitalized well enough.

He’s a 10-time X Games and Gravity Games medalist; he won the 2005 Dew Cup; he has been on “The Tonight Show” when Jay Leno was host; he has been on “60 Minutes”; he hung out with the Human Torch and played himself in that “Fantastic Four” movie.

“I’ve been through all of it, seen all of the changes,” he said. “I’ve seen all the ups and downs of the sport, and I’m still involved in it, so ...”

And so he rides, and so he flies through the air hanging from the handlebars. He still gets big air, and he still performs sick stunts. This weekend he’ll get big air and perform sick stunts at the annual Mesquite Off-Road Weekend, where he will perform a freestyle exhibition with his Steel Rodeo touring group.

He’ll fly through the air hanging from the handlebars with some other X Games stalwarts Friday night. After that, there will be a bunch of dirt bike races and other stuff. Such as a mud bog. They’ll be doing stuff on dirt — and in mud — for three days up there, next to the Eureka Casino Resort.

Kenny Bartram says he mostly rides in the Steel Rodeo these days, because it’s more relaxing than competing for medals in the X Games. He still has to focus, but he doesn’t have to focus 24/7. So he doesn’t have to spend as much time crashing into the pit of foam rubber out back.

“I don’t have to be perfect,” he says about riding exhibitions.

He doesn’t have to be as polished. When he does a stunt and holds onto the seat with three fingers instead of four, people still cheer. And he doesn’t get marked down for it by the judges, like at the X Games. Or at the Olympics. He said he can relate to those dudes flying around the halfpipe and the parallel slalom course in Russia on skis and snowboards.

“Obviously, the Olympics are just a massive stage; that’s a huge worldwide audience,” Bartram said. “Similar to X Games, though, and I’ve ridden in Winter X — they have freestyle motocross in Winter X — so I have done it on the ice.

“But I hate being cold. I’m glad I do a summer sport. But I can sort of identify with the pressure they put on themselves, and the training and that sort of stuff they go through.”

What he can’t identify with is the music those halfpipe guys listen to.

Unlike most X Games dudes, Bartram did not grow up in Southern California. He grew up in Stillwater, Okla. Hence the cowboy hat. Hence the nickname. Kenny Bartram prefers cowboy boots to skate shoes. He listens to country music; he has it played over the public address system when he’s flying through the air hanging from the handlebars.

He has been riding professionally for 19 years. He says he has broken 25 bones. Or about average for an extreme sports guy or an X Games dude.

“Seven knocked-out teeth,” says the Cowboy. “I actually have a couple of good dentists here in Las Vegas that have helped me out.”

Brooks Bartram, who had been playing a video game, looked up from his tablet when his dad mentioned having had teeth knocked out.

“Seven knocked-out teeth?” Brooks asked. You could hear the admiration in the little guy’s voice.

I mentioned to Brooks that he probably would have a couple of his teeth knocked out, too, what with kids usually following in their dad’s footsteps and tire tracks and whatnot, and this is when Kimberly looked up from what she was doing and said she and the Cowboy were pushing golf.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.