Meet Maggie Parker, the Danica Patrick of professional bull riding

Last June, 21-year-old Maggie Parker became the first female bull rider in PRCA history to win prize money. Now, she's attempting to continue her success the same way she started, by holding on.

Maggie Parker only needed eight seconds to make history.

At the Bennington Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association rodeo last June, Parker managed to ride her bull for eight seconds, good enough for sixth place and a total of $430 in prize money. However, Parker’s victory was also priceless, because she is the only female bull rider to accomplish such a feat.  In doing so, Parker moved one step closer to becoming the first woman to buy a PRCA card, the requirement to be a bona fide PRCA professional bull rider.

Next week, Parker plans to build momentum for the 2013 PRCA rodeos.  PRCA senior public relations coordinator Jim Bainbridge told MSN News that Parker is currently recovering from an injury and hopes to ride in a non-PRCA rodeo on March 1 in Mobile, Ala.

Parker’s success puts her in an elite class of women who have broken the gender barrier in professional sports traditionally dominated by men. Danica Patrick achieved success in professional auto racing when in 2008 she became the first woman to win an IndyCar Series race. Recently, Patrick also made headlines by winning the pole position at this year’s Daytona 500. Professional bowler Kelly Kulick became the first female to win a Professional Bowlers Association title when she captured first place in the 2010 PBA Tournament of Champions.

"I think my story helps so many people," Parker told MSN News. "Just the fact that I’ve been doing this by myself with no help for the last few years, especially in a man’s sport with so much criticism and everyone watching you.

"I show people how important it is to stay strong and positive and work hard for what you want."

The 21-year-old Parker has embarked on a path that few people — men and women alike — would consider. Although the top 10 PRCA bull riders each took home winnings topping $100,000 last year, most riders make far less. And of course, regardless of the prize money they win, all of the riders must face what is frequently called "the most dangerous eight seconds in sports." Bull riders collect injuries as often as they collect checks.

"City folks think it’s crazy, but it’s just a way different lifestyle then they’re used to," Parker said. "I think sitting in an office all day is crazy. I’d much rather work eight seconds and get to travel the country and have freedom and meet people than [work] eight hours in the same office."

Nothing seems to stop the determined Parker, who at 5 feet, 5 inches is a fraction of the size of her bovine opponents, which frequently tip the scales at over a ton.

"I chose bull riding because it looked like fun and I love riding bulls," Parker said. "The adrenaline rush is addicting, and the lifestyle is fun. You have freedom."

Parker’s journey reads a little like a classic Western. A native of Shaftsburg, Mich. (you might call it a one-horse town), Parker started riding bulls when she was 16, driving two hours to the nearest pen to practice. She quickly outgrew her surroundings and moved south. Parker took jobs in Oklahoma and Texas, working at stockyards and ranches in order to pay for training, according to The Telegraph. She eventually found her way to world champion Gary Leffew’s training facility outside of Santa Maria, Calif.

At times, though, it’s been a bumpy ride for Parker, both literally and figuratively. "She was horrible when she first started," Leffew told MSN News. "She had been taught all the wrong techniques. They were dangerous for her."

Since then, "she’s come along real good," according to Leffew. "She’s still a work in progress. I’d like to have her practice another six to eight months before she goes out and rides professionally, but like most young riders, she’s eager to get out there and ride bulls."

Parker’s arrival on the professional circuit may have other riders feeling uncomfortable in their saddles. People have reacted to her emergence as a PRCA bull rider with "mixed reviews," Leffew said. "She has her supporters, and she has people who go, ‘What the hell is a woman doing in bull riding?’ Overall, most have accepted her pretty well. They admire her heart."

Parker has experienced objections firsthand, telling MSN News, "I’m friends with a lot of the guys, but I still hear criticism and comments every day. It’s not as bad as when I first started riding. I just keep a good positive attitude and keep pushing towards my dreams."

"My goal this year is to get my card," Parker said. "Long term, my goal is to make the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas."

Parker had better hurry back. "There’s such hoopla surrounding her," Leffew said. "Everyone wants to have her ride at their rodeo."

Read more at MSN Sports

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