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No Bull


Geographically, Danville sits farther west than Texas, but the East Bay burg largely forgoes cowboy mystique for upscale dining. Nevertheless, Danville native Lee Miller, a professional bull rider, is doing his part to keep the West wild.

With his leather boots, shiny belt buckle, and white cowboy hat, the 26-year-old might look out of place amid the haute couture of Hartz Avenue. But it’s quickly obvious that he’s as California as it gets: "I grew up in the ’burbs, dude."

The East Bay isn’t as unlikely a place for a cowboy as you’d think. The silhouette of Livermore’s Bill Ward graces the official logo of the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association. And the sport’s stereotypes are starting to crumble. "People are realizing it’s not a bunch of redneck, backwoods guys," says Miller. "I like to brag that this is the original extreme sport."

Most months of the year, Miller and his adrenaline travel to rodeo capitals like Calgary, Alberta; Cody, Wyoming; and Thibodaux, Louisiana. He placed in the final 15 in the 2004 California State Finals in Redding, and in January, he appeared on the Outdoor Channel.

Miller realizes the danger involved in putting a 145-pound human on top of a seething-mad 1,500-pound animal. "I could die out there," the Monte Vista High School grad admits. So far, Miller’s been, uh, lucky: bone grafts and titanium rods in each wrist, a reconstructed ankle, and four concussions. Broken ribs and feet are mentioned as afterthoughts.

Balance is, predictably, key to the sport, and Miller keeps his by riding at least two practice bulls a week and using the skills he learned as a young gymnast.

Even with rigorous conditioning, injuries force most riders to retire young. Miller is currently studying personal training "just in case." His rugged good looks are also fueling a burgeoning modeling career.

But those are Plan Bs. Miller wants to win a world championship. "You don’t have to grow up on a ranch to be a rodeo athlete," he says. "Charles Sampson, the [1982] world champion bull rider, is from Watts, in L.A. You cannot listen to people who say you can’t do something because of where you’re from." 

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