RENO, Nev. (AP) - The 93rd annual Reno Rodeo that kicks off Thursday is a bit of a homecoming for bull rider Tony Mendes.
Mendes, 34, grew up in Sun Valley and attended Hug High School
just down the street from the Reno Livestock Events Center.
Along the way, he was voted the Professional Rodeo Cowboys
Association 1996 rookie of the year and qualified twice for the
Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. He hasn't been on top of bull in his hometown for more than a decade but that should change Thursday
night at the Reno Rodeo outdoor arena.
"I'm excited," said Mendes, whose older brother, Scott, was the PRCA World Champion bull rider in 1997. "I'm coming down early and going to spend some time with my folks."
Mendes spent much of the past 10 years riding exclusively on the
Professional Bull Riders circuit and raising a family in Fruita, Colo.
He's no longer the teenager who took the ring by storm, winning the amateur world finals and the PRCA rookie honors. But he still gets excited over successful rides and shows a little of the "Wild Man" image he developed during the nationally televised PBR events.
"I'm getting older, but I think I've also got some wisdom to how everything works," Mendes told the Reno Gazette-Journal this
"When I first started, I could ride and then go hang out and drink with my buddies and do it all again the next day. Now, I've got to go to the gym. I can't drink," he said.
"There's a lot of preparation that goes into it. And to tell you the truth, I'm riding better than I've ever rode. I'm more confident, more secure. I know how things work."
Dubbed the "Richest Rodeo in the West" with a $550,000 purse, the 10-day event opens with the Xtreme Bulls. Attendance through June 23 was expected to top 140,000.
Mendes enters this week's competition ranked 20th in the PRCA
World Standings with $19,110 in the bank. His strongest showing of
the season was a second-place finish at the Seminole Classic Xtreme Bulls event in Florida, a payday he celebrated by taking his family to Disney World.
While only the top 15 in the final regular season world standings qualify for the NFR, a win in either the Reno Xtreme Bulls event or the Reno Rodeo would vault him well into the top 15.
"I've been working my butt off all year, and I'm in pretty good position," he said. "It's been a long time, but I'm back to my roots, back to why I love riding bulls."