John Russell's sports column appears Tuesdays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs It was the early morning in 2002 on a highway just outside of Salida when I noticed the flashing red and blue lights coming up behind our van.
I was traveling from Vail to Monte Vista with bull rider Danny Jendral and his traveling partner Jason Watts for a story when we were pulled over by a Colorado State Patrol trooper, who informed us that they were exceeding the speed limit for that stretch of road. The trooper let us off with a warning, and we ended up spending the night in a park in Salida. By morning the encounter and most of the trip were behind us as we arrived at our next stop on the rodeo road.
For me, the traffic stop came in the middle of a trip of a lifetime: four days on the road with a bull rider making his way across Wyoming and Colorado.
It was the stuff of childhood dreams.
What kid in America hasn’t looked up to a cowboy at one point in his life, and who hasn’t watched a rodeo at Brent Romick Rodeo Arena and wondered — even just for a second — what it would be like to climb on the back of a 2-ton bucking bull and attempt to hold on for eight seconds?
That’s why in America the lifestyle of a rodeo cowboy is legendary. We see the cowboy as patriotic, trustworthy and brave. This is the time of year when most of us are reintroduced to that image at rodeos across the state and the country.
I’m not sure it’s always true, but it’s our heritage, and it takes center stage in places like Greeley and Steamboat Springs. In this part of the world, rodeo is as much a part of the Fourth of July experience as parades, barbecues and fireworks.
I have to admit that after traveling with Jendral and his friends, I considered running to F.M. Light & Sons and buying a good pair of cowboy boots and a hat and giving up the newspaper business for the sport of bull riding.
But my fear of bulls, and broken bones, convinced me that I should just stick to taking photographs and writing about the exploits of guys like Jendral.
But I walked away from the experience with a new respect for the cowboy. Before the trip, they were just the guys who rolled through town each summer in search of a paycheck. But after the trip, I realized it’s not that easy.
Cowboys put it all on the line to pursue the sport they love, and the rodeo fan gets to watch the adventure. Many times, they arrive at a rodeo on fumes and roll out with the wind. They get paid only when they win, and most of the time, they pay for their love of the sport with money, their health and sometimes their relationships.
It’s not an easy lifestyle to maintain, but lucky for us, the image of the cowboy still inspires children to dream.