Spc. Christopher Lewis, European rodeo president
October 29, 2012
SCHWEINFURT, Germany -- It will take you about eight seconds to read this and the next paragraph. For a bull rider, that's an eternity.
It's an American tradition like no other, and it's been around since the 1800s: Jump on an untamed, bucking animal and hold on for eight seconds while it does anything it can to throw you off.
This beast can weigh more than 500 pounds. But surprisingly, those daring to mount the behemoths don't fit the muscular mold of the tenacious athlete. The typical rider is skinny, with an average build, most weighing in at 180 pounds.
Spc. Christopher Lewis fits just the description. Lewis, a USAG Schweinfurt MP with the garrison's Headquarters and Headquarters Company, is the president of the European Rodeo Cowboy Association, an organization of American and European cowboys and cowgirls sponsored by Dodge Ram and the Stetson Clothing Company.
"Bull riding is like any other extreme sport. People like the adrenaline and being able to conquer something that powerful is every man's conquest," said the rodeo enthusiast. "It's really dangerous riding a bull, but I guess it would be just as dangerous jumping out of an airplane. You're taking a risk."
Considered the minor league of bull riding, ERCA currently has more than 30 members from Schweinfurt, including Air Force personnel and Army personnel of the 172nd Support Battalion and 1st Squadron, 91st Calvary Regiment.
Germans seem to love the western sport too, as a greater part of ERCA members are German nationals.
ERCA, originated by an American, has been building and maintaining foreign relations between the locals and Soldiers for about 40 years now.
During the spring, summer, and fall, ERCA members go wherever there's a rodeo -- Italy, Czech Republic, Belgium, France, Slovakia. It's not just about winning a nice cash prize either. They compete for the title to be considered the best of the best in Europe. And complete with a belt buckle to prove it.
There's an old saying: Once the rodeo is in your blood, you can't get rid of it.
"It's true. Once you start being involved with the rodeo, you'll always want to do it and you'll do anything in your power to do it," said Lewis.
The sport is as hair-raising as it is thrilling. But you don't have to take my word for it. Here's what Spc. Lewis had to say.
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE ABLE TO RIDE THE BEAST?
It doesn't matter who you are. If you want to ride a bull, they will help you. Some of our riders would lend out their equipment, give you a quick class on what to do, and let you get out there. Of course, you'd have to complete a liability wavier.
However, it's not for everyone. I've seen those that want to do it and come out and try, but they don't have the drive or spirit to do it. Then, there are others who, no matter how much they get thrown or knocked down, get right back up and want to do it again. While in Belgium, one 1-91 [Calvary Regiment Soldier] rider got knocked unconscious, but he got back up and wanted to ride again.
WHAT IF A SOLDIER GETS SERIOUSLY HURT DURING THE RODEO? WILL THEY GET REPRIMANDED (I.E. DEMOTED, UCMJ) BY THE UNIT?
Be truthful to your unit of what you're doing, where you're going, and when you're going. There is the ERCA here in Europe, but there is the Professional Armed Forces Rodeo Association back in the States which consists of nothing but military members that are competing. So, obviously we have to stick to certain regulations to protect Soldiers so that they don't get in trouble.
WHEN WATCHING BULL RIDING, I NOTICE SOME MAJOR JERKING MOTIONS OF THE BACK AND HEAD. SO, ARE WHIPLASH OR BACK INJURIES COMMON?
Not unless you land on your head or neck, but not when riding the animal -- usually not. It's mostly the rider doing all that movement to keep with the animal. For instance, a rider can't lay all the way back because the bull's powerful backside can throw you forward. Then, you're really in trouble because that's where the horns are.
You actually have to have strong legs while riding a bull to be able to grip the animal.
WHAT PART OF THE BULL DOES ONE FEAR MOST?
You have to be careful about any part of that bull. When you get thrown, it doesn't matter how much it hurts or not. You've got to get up, move, and be on guard for if the bull steps on you or turns around and charges at you. That's why there are bull fighters in the arena to keep the bull's attention on them and away from the escaping rider.
WHAT'S UP WITH THE BULL FIGHTER DRESSING AS A CLOWN?
The bull could care less what you have on. It's more to give the audience more of a show -- to be dressed up and acting crazy.
HOW DOES ONE TRAIN UP FOR BULL RIDING? WILL THE OL' MECHANICAL BULL DO?
A mechanical bull is nothing like a real bull [Lewis chuckles]. During the off season, many riders will train on the barrel or make their own training equipment to practice on. I've seen some of the gadgets guys here in Schweinfurt make to practice on. I don't know how they come up with it or where they get the time [Lewis laughs].
WHAT MORE WOULD YOU LIKE THE COMMUNITY TO KNOW?
We love it, and we always encourage others to come and become a member of the ERCA. You don't necessarily have to be someone who goes into the rodeo and rides the animal. There are other roles that you can assume that help with the rodeo such as judging or bull fighting.
The rodeo just isn't about the bull riding either. There are other events involved with it. You've got your Saddle Bronco Riders, Bare Back Riders, Barrel and Flag Racing, and the ladies with their flashy get-ups.
Yes, there are female members in the ERCA. Nonetheless, we'd like to see more join.