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Career Change

8/11/2006

As a four-time world steer wrestling champion and 1998 inductee into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame, Ote Berry stands quite tall in an elite list of bulldoggers during rodeo's long and legendary history.

Although Berry doesn't hold an event or single-run record in steer wrestling, he does lay claim to a mark that has endured the test of time. He's the last bulldogger to repeat as world champion, winning gold buckles in Las Vegas in 1990-91. Since then, every other event has seen a back-to-back champ.

He cherishes the run even more as time goes on.

"That was something special," Berry said recently. "At that time (1984-91), there was just John W. Jones Jr., Steve Duhon and myself who won titles for eight years in a row. It was real special to be that dominating back in the day, but it's hard to dominate one event. Steer wrestling is harder because of so many variables. You can have the best steer, but if you miss the barrier by 6 inches, you're not going to win a whole lot. In tie-down roping and team roping, you can make it up. With the margin so small, the only way to win is to have the best horse. It takes a special horse to take that kind of pressure."

Even with his lofty achievements, Berry wonders if he could have used all his talents to their full potential. Today, Berry still swings a rope like he has since he was a kid. Except now, he's not messing around anymore. He's in the box, nodding his head for the gate to open as a team roping header.

At 43, Berry years ago decided to curtail his full-time rodeo endeavors, figuring he has little to prove. Plus, he had spent too much time away from his wife, Jamie, and twins, Denver and Jayci, now 11.

As an ultimate competitor, Berry still has the fire of a 20-something rookie. Now, instead of taking down 600-lb. steers, the Checotah, Okla., cowboy ropes them, too. And he's pretty good at it, too.

It makes him wonder about the past, had he approached a few things differently.

"I wish I would have worked at it more when I was younger," Berry said recently. "I love the competitiveness of it. I'm not saying that I could have made the (Wrangler) NFR. I'm not going to step out and be that bold. But when you're younger, your reactions are keener and your hands are quicker. You never know how it would have turned out."

Instead, Berry specialized in steer wrestling when he became a PRCA member in 1983. He took his first NFR — also the first one in Las Vegas in 1985 — by storm by winning the average title en route to his first world title. He claimed three more world championship gold buckles, his last in 1995. He qualified for his 14th and most-recent NFR in 2000.

He continued to compete, mainly through the early-season winter run, in 2001-02 but decided the next year to cut back his schedule to selected circuit rodeos. Last year, some of his friends were practicing for the United States Team Roping Championships finals in Oklahoma City, which included a pair of tune-ups in nearly Guthrie.

There, a strange thing happened.

He won. Then he won again. His competitive juices took over.

"The first roping I went to last fall (in Guthrie), I won," Berry said. "I got competitive again. I called Steve Duhon (a fellow Hall of Fame steer wrestler), and I joked to him that if I had known team roping was this easy, maybe Ty Murray might not have won a (all-around) buckle. He knew I was kidding, but you never know. I don't know if I'll ever make a run at the NFR, but I practice a lot and want to get better."

Berry and Tooter Silver (Warner, Okla.), another steer wrestler in the Prairie Circuit, joined forces earlier this year and picked up their first check together at the Woodward (Okla.) Elks Rodeo, July 19-22. There, the tandem placed second on two head, then Berry finished second in the steer wrestling average to win the all-around title.

Only a recent knee injury has slowed him down. Ironically, he suffered a torn MCL in his left knee not competing in steer wrestling, but getting ready for a team roping run. His horse slipped and fell, injuring the inside of Berry's knee in the process.

"Yeah, when you think of knee injuries, you think of steer wrestling," Berry said. "I've had my share of bumps and bruises. In the past, you're young or resilient enough to play through it. Now, you notice everything. Right now, I'm rehabbing and not planning on surgery. I did OK for a couple of weeks then it swelled up again. I had to doctor release out of Dodge City (Kan.), Sikeston (Mo.), Phillipsburg (Kan.) and Lawton (Okla.).

The injury has put Berry's immediate steer wrestling future on hold. For team roping, all he needs is his old brace. Maybe his body is telling him something.

"The next noise I make will be in team roping."