WHEN someone speaks about "one of the winningest bull riders in Canada", it's safe to assume they would be talking about a Canadian.
However, that it exactly what Josh Birks, 26, from Coonamble NSW is; the most successful Australian bull rider to compete in Canada, since arriving in 2012.
Birks' success on Canadian soil includes a swag of Professional Bull Riding (PBR) Canada event wins and titles such as: Canadian World Professional Bull Riders Champion, Elite Professional Bull Riders Canadian Champion, Elite Professional Bull Riders World Champion, Canadian PBR Finals Champion, and most recently, the 2015 PBR Canada Reserve Champion. Birks also qualified for the Built Ford Tough Series PBR tour in the USA in 2015, of which only the Top 35 bull riders in the world are eligible to compete.
Birks finished second in the PBR Canada rankings last year, leading to him being invited to compete in the 104th Calgary Stampede this week.
With over $100,000 up for grabs for the champion athlete of each event (saddle-bronc riding, bareback-bronc riding, bull riding, barrel racing, tie-down roping and steer wrestling), Calgary is not only the largest paying rodeo in Canada, but also the most prestigious; athletes can compete by invitation only.
"It means everything to me, I know Troy Dunn [the only Australian to win a PBR World Championship] and a few others made it [to Calgary], they're some of my biggest idols, so it's amazing to be able to step up where they've stepped up."
While Calgary will be the biggest stage Birks has ridden on, with the largest winnings on offer, he says neither of those factors are going to change his competition strategy.
"I'm taking the same as I would any other event, if I get too excited I'm going to fall off everything. I'm going to go at it like it's a practice pen. I haven't been doing anything different, I've just been getting on lots of bulls and trying to stay healthy. I just try to stay calm and don't think about it [the ride] too much."
Birks, 26, made the move overseas after experiencing great success on home soil, including winning the Open Australian Bull Riding title in 2010, and 6 Junior Australian titles. Birks has been on the rodeo circuit since he was young, following in the footsteps of his father John.
"My dad always competed in rodeo, so it was just something I was born into and bull riding was my choice. I tried bareback riding, but it didn't work out as good."
Birks will surely have no regrets about his choice of sport when he competes against 19 of the best bull riders in the world this week, including two-time and reining PBR World Champion, J.B. Mauney (USA), as well as athletes from Canada and Brazil.
Each athlete will ride four days in a row, with the top 4 from each of the two pools progressing into the championship round. Those who don't qualify for the championship round have another shot through a Wildcard round the day before the championship.
The top 5 places of each event are paid out each day, ranging from $1,500 to $5,500, however it is the $100,000 available to each event winner on championship Sunday that Birks has his eyes on.
"I'd probably buy a beer, I think that would be the first thing [I would do with the money]. Then, I'd probably put it in the bank and go home [to Australia] and buy some land with it."
After Calgary, Birks plans to take a week off to recover before returning to the PBR Canada circuit, with making the World Finals in Las Vegas, the next milestone in his sights.
"I'm going to stick in Canada for a bit, and hopefully I'll get the call to join the Built Ford Tough Series tour [in the USA] and head down there and try to make the World Finals, and then start it all again next year."
The Calgary Stampede kicked off on July 8, 2016.
Josh Birks is competing in Pool B, July 12-15.
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