A sportswriter, a feisty bull and one heck of a story
I'm an idiot. No, that's not true. Idiots are smarter than me. No self-respecting idiot would go anywhere near professional bull riding.
"You OK," an SI photographer asked me.
"Do I look OK?" I replied.
How could I be? Here I was, standing just outside a 5 x 10 metal cute in Martin, Tenn., waiting to climb onto the back of a 1,500-pound bull, whose purpose was to remove me from it. As I re-positioned my mouthpiece for the 47th time, my legs began to tremble.
"You ready?" a voice from the other side of the chute called out to me.
I nodded and mumbled something inaudible.
I stepped up onto a board just outside the cage and paused to consider -- again -- what I was about to do. As I gazed down at the bull, my eyes caught the smattering of blood that coated the seams of the chute. Bulls blood, to be sure, but I couldn't help but wonder how much of it was human. My legs continued to shake uncontrollably as I delicately stepped onto the bull's back. I gripped the sides of the cage tightly to absorb some of the pressure, hoping that perhaps the bull would not notice that I was there. It was my second ride of the weekend but in many ways it was far more frightening than the first.
Feeling my presence, the bull kicked its hind legs into the back wall, creating a vibration that reverberated throughout the cage. As I -- or more accurately the handful of instructors who had assembled outside the chute to assist me -- pulled my rope around the bull's midsection, it shifted its weight to one side and slammed its midsection against the wall, crushing my ankle against the metal barrier. I shouted through my mouthpiece in pain.
"Just push him over," said an instructor.
How? How was I, at 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, supposed to do that? As I pondered that, I attempted to jerk my leg away from the bull's side, but it was like trying to pull a toothpick from an ice cube. Moreover, my herky-jerk motions seemed to only enrage the bull further.
"Don't stick your spurs in him," warned another member of the gallery.
After a couple of whacks to its backside by another instructor, the bull finally released my leg from the wall. However instead of centering itself, it dropped straight down on its front legs and whirled its head towards me in an almost satanic movement.
"Holy sh--," I said to myself. "This thing is crazy."
It took another couple of whacks to get the bull on its feet, where it stayed as I continued to position myself. Bull riding, you see, is a science. While "hold on" is clearly rule No. 1 (and when you're in a chute preparing to ride, sometimes it seems like it's the only one), there is a certain amount of skill involved. Heavily rosined ropes designed for gripping must be painstakingly prepared and good positioning on the bull's back could be the difference between a quick toss and an eight-second ride.
After about five minutes, my preparation was complete. There was an eerie silence as the crowd around me dispersed. I sucked in a deep breath and grabbed onto the rail.
"Nod when you're ready," said an instructor on the outside.
I remained motionless.
"Chris, nod when you're ready ..."