Tuesday, July 25, 2006

This Ain't My First Rodeo

I’ve got a confession to make.

I am secretly in love with a cowboy. Ok, there’s actually 45 of them and they ride on a weekly basis in the pro bull riding circuit. That’s right. I’m in love with PBR.

It started a few years ago when we moved into our home. We purchased basic cable and the only worthy channel – of all 8 of them – was OLN, soon to be VS. Every weekend night, OLN aired the PBR. A few weeks later, I was hooked.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m no cowgirl. I’m 100 percent pure New York City (Brooklyn!) born and raised. Bulls? Cowboy hats? Spurs? Are you serious? You show up in the city like that and you best giddy up and ‘git the other way.

But there’s just something about a cowboy. Maybe I saw too many billboards with the Marlboro Man, but girls - I’m just waiting for a tall dark cowboy to show up at my door on a high horse and gallop me away.

If you haven’t watched PBR, you are quite possibly missing the toughest sport on dirt. Imagine this, a giant dirt area, pens filled with bucking bulls, and a delectable assortment of deliciously handsome, masculine, rough and tough go ride ‘em cowboys. Forget about saving the horse, or the bull, I’ll take and ride the cowboy.

In my eyes, there’s two types of cowboys on the PBR circuit. There’s the Brazilians and then there’s everyone else. Bull riding is pretty big in Brazil. And not surprisingly cowboys from Brazil are pretty hot. Tall, dark, and handsome? You bet. And they wear a cowboy hat which is a sure shootin’ way to get straight to my heart.

And my heart just about stopped earlier this year when I found out that the PBR was coming to Chicago. That’s right – in April, Chicago would welcome the Jack Daniels Invitational. It wasn’t a matter of ‘if’ I was going, I was already there and I was bringing my lasso to rope me a cowboy.

Alas, my rodeo dreams might as well have been pipe dreams because I brought my husband along. He played along with me, acting slightly amused and amazed that I was honestly interested in this sport, but he knotted my lasso and hid my hat. No cowboys for me.

Of course, you could question whether or not it is a “sport”. But you’d be wrong. Watch a rodeo and you’ll see what I mean. It’s just as much or even more of a sport than any triathlon I’ve done. And the cowboys on the PBR are tough as nails. Compare this to Ironman in which triathletes train for an event that lasts anywhere from 10 – 17 hours. Cowboys – they train for an event that might, if they are lucky, last 8 seconds.

The only object of the game – to hang on. Physically I would imagine you could master it with a few years of practice. Psychologically, I bet it’s a bitch. Justin McBride, 2005 World Champion, once said “All it is, is holding on for 8 seconds.” Sounds fairly simple but you’ve got to think that there’s more to it than that. There’s a little voice in your head that doesn’t let you hold on hard enough, strong enough, long enough. At the same time, you overthink those 8 seconds and you’ll get just as hung up as your rope on the bull as it spins you like the blades of a mower into a rodeo barrel.

Take into account that you are trying to hang on an animal that weighs over 1,000 lbs. And these are no ordinary bulls. These are pure bred buckers. Some of these bulls are superstars, legends of the rodeo. There’s the now-retired favorites, Cash, Blueberry Wine, Little Yellow Jacket. The dearly and recently departed – Kid Rock. Mossy Oak Mudslinger – set to retire this year. The up and comers - Pandora’s Box, Deuces Wild. My perennial favorite, Coffee Time (go figure) and other beastly buckers waiting to send a cowboy flying through the air.

The pay off – if a bull bucks, his owner gets paid. If the cowboy hangs on, the cowboy gets paid. It’s a rich business with big time sponsors, Enterprise, Jack Daniels, Mossy Oak, Dickies, Copenhagen. For those of you that do not shop at Farm and Fleet, those are the Litespeed, Pearl Izumi, and Rudy Project of the rodeo world.

Back to the rodeo in April. We arrived at the All State Arena thinking who in Chicago would go to the rodeo? There can’t be a big market for it here. Were we wrong. The arena was surrounded by the most country collection of bleached blondes, cowboy boots, sleeveless shirts, and ten gallon hats. Clearly Wisconsin had opened the flood gates and allowed their most rootin’ tootin’ residents to head south for the weekend.

Once inside, we located our seats. Too bad our seats were smack in the middle of a family that collectively weighed more than the weight limit for the entire row. No way I was going to squeeze between them and their slurpee cups. So we found some other seats right on the edge of the balcony with an incredible view.

I looked around. Simply put, it was better than hee haw. We were right on top of the bull holding pens, a marvelous metal maze holding all of the biggest bull stars. There’s Smokeless Wardance! There’s Dueces Wild! Is that Pandora’s Box?! They snarled and stomped and waited for their cue to get out there and get ‘er done.

The cowboys were within close proximity too, including the most tantalizing piece of charred Brazilian steakhouse meat in the arena – Guillherme Marchi. He hung on for the highest scoring ride of the night. And I’ve got pictures to prove it.

For two hours, we watched the bulls buck and bend. The cowboys – some hung on, some got tossed like ragdolls flailing through the air. Overall, it was one of the most entertaining events I’ve ever seen, even more exciting than watching the monster truck rally back in 2003.

Now that the Tour excitement has simmered down, I can get back to the real important riding out there – bull riding on OLN/VS every Saturday and Sunday night. And every month when Pro Bull Riding magazine arrives in my mailbox, I steal away to the living room and read the latest news. Who held on, who’s leading the point series, who’s injured, who had a 90 point ride. In some ways it’s a lot like triathlon – somewhat of a fringe sport obscured from the masses. But to those involved, it’s larger than life – it’s a sport, it’s a lifestyle, it’s a way of living and a way of making a living. And to me, it’s just as true and real as any sport.

In the beginning, I bet you didn’t know if I was talking about the real PBR or a can of cheap beer. Right……tri-atha-what? Well, now you know.

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