PUEBLO, Colo. – There have already been moments in Rodrigo Melgar’s less-than-two-year journey in the United States when he has run into other Guatemalans as he was traveling across the country pursuing his dream as a professional bull rider.
“Many people are aware of me,” Melgar told PBR.com on Friday night via a translation app. “I always share my life as a bull rider on my social media networks, and I keep people informed of when my next event will be and where. In most of the PBR events that I have been, I have seen Guatemalans who said they have come to see me.”
The outpouring of support and encouragement, including from many of his fans back home in Guatemala, is something Melgar has never taken for granted, and the 23-year-old certainly made his family, friends and fans proud on Friday night.
Melgar continued to be a pioneer for his native country when he became the first Guatemalan native to record a qualified ride on the premier series in PBR history by riding Sugar for 85.75 points inside Gila River Arena.
“The feeling is indescribable,” Melgar said. “I am very happy, excited and anxious to know God has prepared me for this year because, without a doubt, I will give it my all like I did tonight.”
Melgar may have been unable to earn the first event win of his career when Airborne bucked him off in 4.7 seconds in the championship round, but his career-best ninth-place finish in the conclusion of the previously postponed Del Rio, Texas, event from Feb. 14 propelled him up five spots in the PBR world standings (No. 31) and closer to a full-time draw spot on the Unleash The Beast.
“I really liked riding Sugar, but I also liked riding the second one a lot, but a small mistake cost me dearly,” Melgar said. “I’m really happy because the (world points) today are going to help me a lot.”
Melgar will turn his focus to the PBR Built Ford Tough Invitational, presented by Cooper Tires, on Saturday night in Glendale. He has drawn Two Socks (9-2, UTB) for Round 1 (8:45 p.m. ET RidePass / 11 p.m. ET CBS Sports Network).
The potential 2021 Rookie of the Year contender may be the first Guatemalan to reach the PBR’s highest level of competition, but he is no stranger to the Western way of life. Melgar is the son of a bareback rider and the grandson of a saddle bronc rider, and the third-generation cowboy had a special love for bull riding from an early age.
Melgar told PBR.com in January before making his premier series debut in Arcadia, Florida, that his original bull riding idols were his hometown heroes at the annual Chiquimulilla Rodeo in Santa Rosa, Guatemala. Melgar would often sneak off from his mutton-busting competitions to watch a group of Guatemalan bull riders prepare their bull ropes and gear for competition at the rodeo in Chiquimulilla – a city in southern Guatemala just 12 miles from the Pacific Ocean.
He would take the lessons he learned there and then run off with his brother, Renato, at home to get on the family’s mini bulls for practice when his father was out running errands.
“My family are ranchers, and this has always been a lifestyle for us,” Melgar told PBR.com in January with the help of his girlfriend, Diana, translating.
Three, four, six mini bulls were never enough for Melgar to practice on.
He craved it.
He loved it.
“My dad owned mini bulls, and I would secretly go to where they were at, and I would ride them without his permission,” Melgar recalled before laughing. “No one was there to tell me to stop, so I would ride as many as I wanted. My dad didn’t like when I would do that behind his back because something bad could happen. But me and my brother would still secretly go riding.”
Melgar’s father, Rene, was a successful bareback rider and helped build his son’s bull riding foundation.
“My dad would put me on small calves since I was very little,” Melgar continued. “Every year, there is a carnival in Chiquimulilla, Guatemala, and they do a rodeo. I would enter the contest for little kids, and I would always go to the back where the chutes are at, and I would go see the professional bull riders there and see how they would do stuff.”
Now, Melgar is hopeful he can inspire a new generation of Guatemalan bull riders who may hear of his story and journey.
“I am really excited and really focused right now,” Melgar said. “Since I was little, this is something I have always wanted to do, and I am looking forward to it. My family and everyone in Guatemala are very excited.
“Kids need to know to fight and to never give up on their dreams because there will always be up and downs. And sometimes you are going to feel like you have done nothing, but out of nowhere, there will be a great opportunity. From there, you go on.”
Melgar began to dream of competing in the United States when he was a teenager scrolling through Facebook.
He would come across videos of World Champions Guilherme Marchi, Silvano Alves, Jess Lockwood and Kaique Pacheco, and he began to wonder about what his future could be.
Melgar would practice tirelessly and enter rodeos throughout Guatemala in any association he could ride in. He began to develop what he describes as a hybrid bull riding style.
“I don’t use a lot of force like the Brazilians do, but I also do not do use a lot of style like Americans,” Melgar said. “It is a mixture.”
In 2018, he finished runner-up to Erik Rosa, who Melgar considers one of the best bull riders in Guatemala, for the Jinetes Profesionales de Guatemala (JPG) bull riding championship.
Melgar, looking to perfect his craft further, then packed his bags and went to Brazil for two months to compete alongside bull riders from the South American bull riding powerhouse.
“I look up to the Brazilians because, in order for them to ride on the big events in Brazil, they have to go through a lot,” he said. “They have to force themselves to do more and more each and every day. I have seen that.”
Melgar decided in 2019, at 21 years old, it was time to chase his dreams further, and he traveled to the United States for a brief introduction to the PBR and the American way of life. He rode Stole the Show for 70 points in Belton, Texas, at his debut Touring Pro Division event on March 15, 2019. He would compete at one more event, going 1-for-2, before heading back to Guatemala for a few months.
Melgar decided it was time to fully take the plunge into the PBR, moving to Texas full-time in late 2019, even visiting with Alves at his ranch that fall.
Last year, Melgar competed where he could during the COVID-19 pandemic-riddled season. He would go 1-for-2 in three PBR Touring Pro Division events and 2-for-6 at a few PRCA rodeos, winning the PPCLA PRCA Rodeo with an 88.5-point ride on Market Garden last September.
“At first it was difficult, but then I started seeing how it is and how to do it,” Melgar, who also credits his bilingual girlfriend for helping him enter events and adjust to the U.S., said. “Then, within time, I got the hang of it all.”
Melgar is 5-for-14 this season at all levels of competition, and he won his first-ever PBR event during the 2021 PBR Touring Pro Division season-opener in Fort Worth, Texas, just 20 miles away from AT&T Stadium, where the Top 35 bull riders in the world were competing at the 2020 PBR World Finals at the same time.
It’s been a long journey for Melgar from those days as a kid at the Chiquimulilla Rodeo, and one that is just beginning.
“This is just something I really love, and I will love it for the rest of my life,” Melgar said in January. “I really loved it since I was little, and I would get very excited. From there, that inspired me to keep on going and follow my dreams and do what I have to do to get here and now.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
Photo courtesy of Andy Watson/Bull Stock Media