Seldom does a day pass when bull rider Ryan Dirteater isn’t asked if that’s his real last name.
“They think it’s fake,” he said. “It’s ironic that I’m a bull rider. You don’t want to eat dirt. But it is my real last name. I grew up with it.”
Dirteater might be a cool last name for a cowboy, but it was ripe for getting picked on when the Oklahoma native was a boy.
“I’ve heard it since I was a kid growing up, especially in high school,” said Dirteater, 25. “Some of them made fun of my name back then, and now most of them want my autograph.”
Dirteater, who will compete in the Professional Bull Riders’ Last Cowboy Standing event today and Saturday at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, said his family name comes from his Native American heritage.
Known as the “Cherokee Kid,” Dirteater, who hails from the Cherokee County town of Hulbert, Okla., said his father, Randy, is almost a full-blooded Cherokee and his paternal grandparents spoke fluent Cherokee.
His two sisters tried unsuccessfully to trace the origin of their surname, so Dirteater can only speculate about it.
“Probably my great-great-great grandfather ate dirt. I don’t know,” he said. “Probably way back then, maybe he got bucked and he just picked up a handful of dirt and threw it in his mouth and they named him Dirteater. I don’t know.”
Regardless of its roots, Dirteater is proud of his name.
“I’m not embarrassed about it. I like it. They’ll always remember my name. It’s known all over the world now,” he said. “Ten years down the road, they’re going to remember Dirteater. I’d like to see Dirteater a world champion one of these days. That’s been my goal since I started this sport.”
While Dirteater is fortunate he hasn’t exactly lived up to his name since turning pro in 2008, he has dealt with his fair share of injuries.
He broke his leg and dislocated his knee in 2009, causing him to miss the 2010 season. Shortly after returning in 2011, he tore his triceps, and last year, he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee for the second time.
Despite his string of injuries, the driven Dirteater has finished in the top 15 in the world standings the past three years and is approaching $1 million in career earnings.
“I don’t ever want to get hurt, but it seems like I always bounce back strong,” he said. “I guess the time off makes me really hungry for it again. I’ve always had that drive.
“I love this game. I love competing.”
Dirteater has continued to battle injuries this year, which he began on New Year’s Day by again tearing his ACL and posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
He didn’t have his injuries diagnosed until a month after he suffered them and is putting off surgery so as not to miss up to nine months of action.
“It hasn’t really been bothering me, so I’m still riding with it. I’ve just got to tape it up and brace it up,” he said of his battered knee. “Bull riding doesn’t consist of a whole lot of running until you hit the dirt. You’re just sitting down and squeezing — that’s it — and hitting and rolling away and getting to the fence.
“I probably, eventually, will have to have a knee replacement, but not anytime soon. I can still compete with the best of them.”
Despite his bum knee, Dirteater managed to make his fellow PBR members eat his dust Saturday, when he won a Rider Relief Fund 5k road race.
Dirteater will try to outlast a field of the world’s top 50 bull riders in the Last Cowboy Standing, which starts at 8 p.m. today and continues at 6 p.m. Saturday, with $100,000 going to the winner.
Two-time PBR world champion Silvano Alves will gun for his third straight event title against the likes of reigning world champ J.B. Mauney and former world champs Mike Lee and Guilherme Marchi.
The event also will showcase colorfully named riders Chase Outlaw, Pistol Robinson and Stormy Wing.
But Dirteater’s name still reigns supreme.
“There’s not many Dirteaters out there,” he said. “If you hear Dirteater, I’m kin to him.”
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0354. Follow him on Twitter: @tdewey33.