Dave Shively: A brief thrill ride
Clark — You tighten your grip, wedge yourself under your hand, take a breath, tell yourself you’re as ready as you’re ever going to be and give the head nod.
The gate swings open and the bull suddenly explodes underneath you. Three seconds later the ground hits at the same instant the animal’s leg, searching for ground, steps on your back and slams you into the landing spot before barreling off : and then you start thinking again.
Let me back up.
About a month ago, while covering my first Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo, some local bull riders introduced to me to Guy Urie with the introduction that “this is the man keeping rodeo alive in the Yampa Valley.”
When Guy shook my hand, I felt like I was being sized up. “Who’s this kid wearing slacks and scribbling answers in a notepad?” His stare asked a question and communicated worn grit that demanded respect. After the introductions, he issued the challenge directly, “Come up and see for yourself,” and with a spry wink added, “we’ll make a man out of you.”
After watching one of his Wednesday night bull-riding sessions, Guy offered to put me on a bull the following week, reassuring me that, “we ain’t going to cow-kill you. No use breaking an egg like you if you’re trying to learn.”
An offer I couldn’t refuse.
During the next week, projected scenes of broken arms and c-spine impacts plagued my thoughts, friends tried to talk me out of it, and nobody seemed to have a pair of boots to borrow. Scanning my room, looking at a bike helmet, skis, climbing shoes, thinking about what life from a wheelchair would be like made me much more uneasy than the thought of actually being on the bull. This despite the fact that the last animal I had ridden was a horse named Kiowa 13 summers ago at camp.
When I saw Ironman rumbling through the chutes, he could probably tell how green of a cowboy I was. I could barely fit in the borrowed chaps, ones that belonged to “a much skinnier guy.” And I made the total rookie move of putting the spurs on the wrong feet.
Guy ran me through how to address the bull, climb aboard, adjust the rope and hold on with a crash course in body positioning – chin down, chest out, arm up, heels in and most important, the silent nod when ready.
One, two, three. That’s it. It’s not adrenaline pumping, but a much more basic form of focused awareness, trapped in that nano-second feeling you have knowing you’re about to hit another car. It’s not even a question of fight or flight. There’s no real fight. You know the answer, you cede control and try to put off the inevitable flight.
The real rush is hitting the ground, coming down to earth and standing back up. You take a couple steps, breathe again, see that you need no immediate medical attention and claim your personal victory, having survived the beast’s wrath.
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