SLOAN COLUMN: Remembering the ride of a lifetime
Saddle up, partners. The rodeo is coming to town.
On Feb. 3-4, the Florence Stampede & Pro Rodeo will bring out bull riders and barrel racers for an action-packed night of broncs, blood, steers, and mud. Pull on your boots, grab your Stetson, and head out to the Florence Center.
I’m hoping to be there, and I can assure you it will not be my first rodeo.
Having worked in the newspaper business for three-plus decades, I have been blessed with dozens of opportunities to get my adrenaline jacked up by doing something a little on the “crazy” side so that I could write about it in the paper. I’ve done aerial acrobatics in a Red Baron open-cockpit biplane - as a passenger, not a pilot. I’ve climbed into a Plymouth Roadrunner and been hammered again and again and again while competing in a demolition derby. I’ve even worn a skirt and high heels while taking the stage as “Bobby Sue Buttercup” in a womanless beauty pageant. And no, I did not win.
Of all the adventures, however, none is more memorable, or thrilling, or dangerous, as the time I threw caution to the wind and climbed on the back of a 1,500-pound bull to raise money for the Special Olympics. It was during the summer of 1994 at the Robeson County Fairground. I don’t need to tell you that was one heck of a joy ride.
I was sitting at my desk at the Sports Department when I overheard a gentleman from the Southern Ranch Cowboy Association talking to an advertising rep about taking out an ad for an upcoming show at the fairgrounds. I introduced myself and collected the information I needed for an article.
I then told him I thought it would be fun to promote the show by doing a first-person story on what it would be like to perform in a rodeo. I asked if it was possible that I could be a clown. His response left me in shock.
“Being a rodeo clown is a lot more dangerous than you think, but how would you like to ride a bull?” I’m pretty sure my initial reaction was, “What? Are you crazy?”
He then explained that other inexperienced people had ridden a bull in an effort to raise money for a local non-profit. He assured me they would make every effort to ensure my safety, but that I would still need to sign a waiver to release them from any and all liability in the event the bull decided to use me as a pin cushion.
The idea of doing something that insane had me stoked. I also served on the board of directors for the Robeson County Special Olympics and this would be a grand opportunity to raise some money.
I told him I was all-in. I had two weeks to prepare
I began searching for a local bull rider who could give a few pointers on what to do and what not to do. I found a fellow in the small town of Orrum, N.C. He laughed and told me he’d be happy to oblige. I think his name was Billy.
I made three trips to Orrum, each time spending about an hour riding a horse bareback. I held on by way of a bull rope around the horse’s midsection. My instructor informed me that I could either wrap the bull rope around my hand so that it would slip off easily if I were thrown from the bull, or I could use what he called a “suicide knot,” which would not release if I was bucked off. The choice to not use the “suicide knot” was not hard at all.
I actually felt comfortable and confident the night of the rodeo. Not as scary as it seems, I thought. Then I saw the bull. He was a big fella, and I mean B-I-G. His name was Mickey Mouse. He was beige in color. One of his horns appeared to have been sawed off. The other was curved, about a foot long, and had a sharp point. He looked menacing. So much for the confidence and courage.
When the time came for my ride, I gathered all my courage and cowboyed up. I climbed over the back of the gate and straddled the steer’s back. Three or four guys tried to hold him still, but with no luck.
“You good?’ my instructor asked.
“Let’s do this,” I answered.
The next few moments are pretty much a blur. What I can tell you is that once the gate opened, Mickey Mouse came out bucking. Rather than heading straight for the center of the arena, he decided to make a quick right turn. As he bucked, his enormous hindparts shifted to the left. I went right and held on for dear life. The next thing I remember is flying throug the air and landing with a thud and a cloud of dust. Did I worry if I was hurt? Did I check to see if I was bleeding? No and no. I was up off the ground and running for the fence quicker than you can say John Wayne.
People have told me the flip I did off the back of the bull was rather impressive. I’ll have to take their word for it.
The ride lasted 1.8 seconds. That’s it. If you’re laughing, remember that’s 1.8 seconds longer than you’ve ever ridden a bull - and I did raise close to $700 for the Special Olympics.
There is a framed picture of me riding Mickey Mouse hanging on the wall in my home office. My black cowboy hat is pulled on tight. I have one hand in a tight grip around the bull rope and the other flailing high in the air. I actually look like a real cowboy.
I’m indebted to photographer Steve Humbert for being quick enough to capture my big moment for posterity. That’s 1.8 seconds I’ll certainly hang on to forever.