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Community Portrait

Former professional rodeo bulldogger lassoes a new life

By: Michael Kirby
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Editor’s note: This is one in a series of community portraits published in this space Fridays. Auburn is blessed to have many individuals and civic groups that give back to the town in many ways. There is no exact right way to put energy back into a community. Helping can be everything from working in a food bank to participating in large projects like building a home through Habitat for Humanity. Giving back can be as simple as helping someone that just needs a little boost, building a park bench for an Eagle Scout project or picking up litter along your favorite walking route. For one Auburn man, giving back is simple. “This is my community, this is where I grew up, this is the place I love, and when they ask me if we can we get something done the answer’s yes,” said Chris Whitehead, owner of Whitehead Painting. Whitehead, 49, was raised in the Auburn area after moving here with his family at the age of 4. The 1978 Placer High grad grew up on a ranch off of Dairy Road where he was around horses and cows. He later spent 19 years as a pro rodeo steer wrestler or bull dogger on the PRCA circuit. “I loved rodeo and one day I said, ‘I want to be part of this.’ I’m not a very good spectator,” he said. “I found the right people to train me and I qualified for the pros after the first year of my training.” Whitehead would sometimes spend 30 weeks a year on the road going from rodeo to rodeo, competing in 60 to 70 rodeos a year, and admitted that there were more than a few wild times during his rodeo days. “I was a little late getting into rodeo, 24 years old when I started,” Whitehead said. “We traveled all over the United States, gone weeks on end, living out of campers and motor homes, hotels, and sometimes sleeping in your truck.” Whitehead made it as far as the Grand Nationals. “My goal was to make it 20 years in rodeo,” he said. “I made it to 19 before I finally snapped my shoulder.” Retiring from rodeo, Whitehead settled down in Auburn to run Whitehead Painting full-time, doing quality interior and exterior painting. Whitehead is always ready to help when asked to give back to his town by participating in many local projects. Starting with a Rotary Club project called “This Old House,” Whitehead helped by fixing up and painting homes belonging to elderly citizens not able to afford the work themselves. Also, Project Auburn included painting homes on Chamberlain Drive one year, painting one of two historic buildings in Old Town, improvements at the Auburn Recreation Park in 2007, and in 2008 helping with the painting work on the exterior of the renovated State Theater. This spring Whitehead and his crew will be painting the outside of the Auburn Chamber of Commerce. “Giving back to the community, I enjoy doing it,” Whitehead said. Whitehead is part of a very active group of people who believe that taking care of Auburn is what needs to be done. “I feel like when you live in a community like this every person needs to give back, some form, some way somehow,” Whitehead said. Whitehead lives in Auburn with his son, Joshua, and enjoys watching him play football and basketball at Placer High. He still has a few horses and rides a little but his days with the rodeo are over.