Cancer Cure, Rodeo Rider Unlikely Partners

By Richard Weir
Updated: May 3, 2005

Lee AkinNEW YORK, NYWhen Owen Washburn hops atop 1,900 pounds of bucking beef tomorrow at the Nassau Open, he’ll be sporting patches on his Wrangler shirt typical of any pro bull rider.

Acme boots and American hats are to him what Pennzoil and Goodyear are to a NASCAR driver.

But in a sport where chewing tobacco, tractors and all things cowboy are the usual sponsors, this New Mexico rancher and bull rider wears one logo that sends a different sort of message.

It’s for TheraSeed, the tiny radiation seed implant used as an alternative to surgery in treating prostate cancer.

Washburn, the 1996 Professional Bull Riders world champion and one of 45 elite athletes who will compete this weekend at the Nassau Coliseum, said he was not immediately receptive to the concept.

“It just sounded so much different than the other things I’ve been approached with,” he said.

But Christine Jacobs, president of Theragenics, the Georgia-based maker of TheraSeed, won him over.

Washburn and Lee Akin, the top-ranked African-American professional bull rider – who also is sponsored by TheraSeed – serve as the league’s spokesmen for its prostate cancer awareness campaign.

Fans at tomorrow’s and Sunday’s competitions will be given blue ribbons similar to the ones the two bull riders wear on their shirts when competing.

Attendees also will be handed brochures about prostate cancer, a disease that is the second-leading killer of American men but can be treated effectively if detected early.

Dubbed “the toughest sport on dirt,” professional bull riding may be associated with bruises and broken bones. The majority of bulls, which also are scored, succeed in throwing their riders, with few two-legged contestants ever finishing the full eight-second ride.

But there are no known links between bull riding and prostate cancer. Instead, it was the expanding fan base of the extreme sport – Professional Bull Riders’ Built Ford Tough Series stops in 30 cities and claims to have 100 million TV viewers annually – that attracted TheraSeed.

“It’s not intuitive to link bull riding and prostate cancer. But professional bull riding is the second-fastest growing sport in America, and it’s popular with men, even in places like New York,” Jacobs said. “By teaming up with the bull riders, we’re reaching out to men across the country.”

Apart from a torn shoulder and some dings from bull hooves, Washburn is a healthy 32-year-old who previously knew very little about prostate cancer.

Now, whether at autograph signings or the supermarket, he said he tries to get the message out to men that removal of their prostate is not their only option if they develop cancer.

“It affects everybody, whether their uncle, their dad, their brother,” Washburn said. “I’ve had people all over come up to me and thank me for bringing this out.”