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Dutch Flat teen riding to success

Justin Hawkins to compete in rodeo world finals in August
By: Miranda Stanley
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Dutch Flat resident Justin Hawkins, 18, is one of 14 bull riders invited to the Western Regional Bull Riders Association World Finals next August in Fort Worth, Texas. “I’ve always wanted to do it. It’s always been my dream, and I finally went for it,” said Hawkins, whose inspiration can be linked to his father, Steve Hawkins and grandfather, Oscar Heard. Hawkins grew up around rodeos; beginning with his grandfather’s ranch where Oscar, one of the best known bucking bulls in the world, lived. His grandfather also held jackpot rodeos at the Modesto ranch, which were attended by Hawkins’ father and professional riders Jim Sharp and Donny Gay. Hawkins began to pursue his dream in 2007, spending three grueling days at Sankey Rodeo School in Oakdale. Three weeks later, he competed in a high school rodeo, walking away with $5 and the memory of being bucked off a bull. “The first time was a rush. I knew it was the real thing, and I was competing. I didn’t want to make any mistakes or let anybody down. I tried my hardest,” Hawkins recalls. Prior to competing, Hawkins must prepare –– both physically and mentally –– before giving the “I’m ready” nod. For Hawkins, it means checking his spurs, making sure everything is right in his chute, and holding on tight. After that, he says, it is all about making the right move. “Even riding my first bull I was never nervous,” Hawkins said. Riders must stay on the bull for a minimum of eight seconds. Hawkins said it’s more like a 20-second fight to clear the mark and get himself to safety. “You jump off. You run. You do whatever you can,” he explains. Determined to claim his dream, Hawkins rode in 15 more rodeos, placing in the top five for the high school state finals. He placed second and became the 2008 Finals Reserve Champion. On Oct. 25, while competing in Redding, Hawkins learned he would be riding in the World Finals of the Western Regional Bull Riders Association. When asked what it was like to win, Hawkins exclaimed, “It feels like you beat up a 2,000 pound animal! It feels good, like you’ve accomplished something and you fought.” Following in his brother’s footsteps, 17-year-old Cody Hawkins took up the sport of bull riding seven months ago. He began to practice with his brother and quickly found himself claiming the Champion of the Weekend at the WRBRA finals, $600 and a belt buckle. Although nervous and feeling the pressure to succeed, Cody pressed on. As his older brother Justin says, “He worked his heart out for it.” Since then, the brothers have competed at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, Red Bluff and Salinas. A senior at Colfax High School, Cody regularly practices on a bucking barrel and helps out at the family home in Dutch Flat. Other than pursuing his dream of becoming a world champion, Cody says he wants to earn a college degree. In the meantime, he stands behind his opinion that “it takes a real cowboy to be a world champion.” In addition to claiming the champion bull rider title, Justin would like to become a welder and join his father in establishing a cattle ranch in Montana. During the short off-season, the brothers continue to work out and stay healthy so they can stay on top of their game. Younger brothers Blake, 9, and Hunter, 12, haven’t decided if they will follow in their brothers’ footsteps. Regardless, they have two driven older brothers to guide and mentor them. In nine months, Justin Hawkins will be heading for Forth Worth, Texas with a winning attitude. “When you put your heart into something you always come out on top, regardless of what you bring home,” he said.