Jan 20

For pros, bull riding dangerous but worth it


By: Tyler Estep 

Published: January 18, 2014

DULUTH — The thoughts — the dark ones — are there.

Just about anything can happen at the mercy of a 2,000-something-pound bull, and a whole lot of the possibilities are painful. The memories of crushed pelvises and fractured ankles and separated collarbones are fresh and stay that way.

Professional bull riders are tough dudes, and, from the outside looking in, more than a little crazy. But they’re also honest.

“That negative thought’s always back there,” Brant Atwood admitted Saturday. “But you’ve just got to … drown that negative thought out and overcome it with a positive thought.”

Atwood and 34 other competitors have invaded the Arena at Gwinnett Center this weekend as part of the Professional Bull Riders Built Ford Tough Series. The 26-year-old Texan is just starting his second season on the sport’s top tour and, like many of his colleagues, grew up around bull riding one way or another.

Twenty-five weekends a year, the competitions begin with booming pyrotechnics and boisterous, sold-out arenas and good-looking, leather-clad women, the initials “PBR” spelled out in flames behind them. It’s one heckuva a dirt-covered spectacle and, in its own tobacco-flavored way, glamorous.

Then again, trying to stay on the back of a flailing bull — even if the goal is “only” eight seconds — is not a lark.

Austin Meier, a nine-year veteran on tour, has “metal from my feet to my face.”

“It’s really weird, in eight seconds, the thoughts that can run through your head,” he said prior to Saturday’s festivities. “It’s always heart-revving, that’s for sure. And can sometimes be a little bit scary too.”

Bull riders do a lot of well-thought-out prep work to try and avoid disaster.

Core work and programs like P90X and Insanity are vital, because riders need to be strong but lean; bulkiness leads to tightness. Meier said he was one of the first on tour to regularly do yoga and pilates, a practice that’s since taken off. Among other things, it keeps riders in tune with their ever-important center of gravity.

Atwood said he reads lots of sports psychology books. Keeping a clear head, letting training and instincts take over, is crucial.

“You try to keep your mind right,” Atwood said. “And I guess let God take care of the rest.”

Meier, 29, was born and raised on a ranch in southeast Oklahoma. As far back as his grandfathers — both maternal and paternal — every male in his family has at least given bull riding a shot. He was thrown on the back of animals while still in diapers, but also excelled at more traditional sports like baseball and football.

He chose bulls.

From the outside, bull riding may seem like a foolish endeavor, a life full of unnecessary risks.

Men like Meier and Atwood, though, know exactly what they’re getting into.

“I’m sure there was a time when I had to sit there and think, ‘Is it really worth it?’” Meier said. “And for me, and most of the guys that are here, that thought came and then it went, with a, ‘Heck yeah it’s worth it.’”

The PBR Built Ford Tough Series resumes at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.