Published: July 11, 2013
For all of us normal people with our normal fears, the idea of riding a malicious 1-ton bull is about as appealing as leaping off Royal Gorge Bridge.
For Clint Craig, riding a bull is a daily routine. It's how he earns his living.
"It's second nature," Craig said 75 minutes before he climbed on a bull named American Ride at the Pikes Peak Or Bust Rodeo. "You do it so much. It's just what you got to do."
I've stood on NFL sidelines during games, watching huge men crash into each with evil intent. I've stood beside racers a few seconds before they drive at ridiculous speeds along the winding roads of the Pikes Peak Highway. I've sat ringside at bloody boxing matches.
Nothing in sport is quite as terrifying as bullriding. Standing alongside the bucking shoots and looking at a snorting, surly, enraged animal is intimidating enough.
But climbing on one for a ride?
Bullriding is a battle between man and beast. Crowds often - and I'm not kidding about this - cheer with great gusto for the bull. Yes, thousands of humans join in applause for a beast.
Still, man usually wins this battle, taking an 8-second ride before leaping off to applause. There is an art to this ultra-dangerous pursuit. The athletes who challenge the bulls ride the beasts the same way an expert surfer rides the waves.
Sometimes, though, the beast emerges as the victor, and the rider is carried away as a bloody mess. This is where terror invades the sport.
Craig spends nearly every night during the summer months riding bulls. He must dampen his excitement and his fear. It's a requirement for performing his job with the required concentration.
But beneath his calm, just below the surface, is a lingering excitement about his chosen pursuit. He's endured the 9-to-5 routine, working as a welder's helper in south Texas.
"Every day you knew you were not going to have a whole lot of fun," he said.
He traded that boring life for a life of constant thrills and danger. He has never regretted the decision.
"I do this for the same reason guys jump out of airplanes," Craig said. "For the same reason some guys do backflips on motorcyles.
"There's a chance for serious injury, but when it comes out the way it's supposed to, it's the most magical feeling in the world.
"To do that, to take this chance and succeed and to make a living is the coolest thing in the world."
Thursday night was not one of Craig's better efforts. He never quite gained control of American Ride and was bucked in a little over 4 seconds.
"You don't get paid anything," he said, "but you get to go on and try again."
Craig will ride a bull Friday night in Casper, Wyo., before a Saturday ride in Laramie. There's always another chance just down the road.
He was covered with sweat after Thursday's failed effort to conquer a snorting, angry beast, but his smile had not gone anywhere.
"If this was easy," he said, shaking his head, "everybody would do it."