What's Marty Eakin going to be like when he's a leathery ol' cuss of, say, 27? At 19 the kid from Amarillo, Texas, is the reigning National High School Rodeo all-around champion and tougher than a two-dollar steak. Five years ago, while riding a bull at a junior competition, Eakin got "hung up," as the cowboys say, in his rope. The bull dragged Eakin around the ring and stepped on his left leg, ripping a deep, six-inch-long gash in his shin. "Two guys held me down so my dad could pour alcohol on it," Eakin says in a drowsy West Texas drawl. Did he go to the hospital after that? "I wrapped it up and finished the rodeo," he says. "Then I went to the hospital."
Growing up in his flat and sandy Panhandle town, Eakin (pronounced AY-kin) learned riding and roping before he learned reading and writing. His father, Jim, is a farrier, and his mother, Wanda, trains barrel-racing horses. And Marty's three older brothers-Mark, Matt and Monty—all compete in rodeo. "When Marty wasn't two years old, we put him in the nursery at church one Sunday," Wanda says. "During the service a girl from the nursery came out and told me I needed to take him because he was trying to ride and rope the other kids." At age six Eakin earned his first saddle (rodeo's equivalent of a trophy), for winning an all-around title. Two months ago he won his most prestigious saddle—representing the national high school championship—in Farmington, N.Mex.
At 5'11" Eakin is tall for rodeo riding. (It helps to have a low center of gravity.) Still he excels at virtually every event and was a three-sport athlete at Caprock High. Last February, at the Texas high school wrestling tournament, Eakin advanced to the championship match in the 171-pound class despite having a broken bursa in his right knee. (He lost in double overtime on a referee's decision.) Last year, playing in his final game as middle linebacker and leading tackier for Caprock, Eakin broke his left thumb. Naturally, he taped himself up and played on.
Banged up or not, Eakin now a freshman at Vernon (Texas) College, plans to keep riding, all the way to the pro circuit. "There's not a better feeling than after having a really good ride and all the fans are hollering," he says. "It kind of makes your spine tingle."