It’s bulls and blood, it’s dust and mud, it’s the roar of a Sunday crowd.

In my life, I’ve seen a number of displays of incredible toughness when it comes to sports. Writing a sentence like that makes me sound like I’m John Madden or some sort of clichéd sportscaster, but I can think of a few.

I was lucky enough to witness live what is now referred to as the pinnacle of Brett Favre’s career as an NFL quarterback, a man whom most sportscasters and media analysts will tell you is the epitome of toughness in any sport. The day after the death of Irvin Favre, his father, mentor, and high school coach, Brett Favre played a Monday Night Game against the Oakland Raiders where he flawlessly threw for 399 yards and four touchdowns, and I was there. Pure toughness.

Last year, I watched my roommate, the catcher for the APU baseball team, start every single one of the team’s 61 games, catching the majority of those games on two completely reconstructed knees. He led his team to the NAIA World Series on those knees, and ended the season with a .476 average, 26 doubles, 14 home runs, 70 RBIs, and 57 walks. This toughness also netted him a ticket to the MLB draft, where he was picked up in the 12th round by the Devil Rays, and was just recently voted MVP of his team in the minor leagues. If that isn’t toughness, I don’t know what is.

Today, I witnessed something else I’d put up near the top of that list. I went to the San Dimas Rodeo. I had never been to a real live rodeo before, and while I had seen it on TV before, I didn’t truly realize or appreciate the pure toughness of these athletes (yes, athletes) that compete in the Rodeo. The rodeo is a completely unique experience, and it’s an intriguing view into a completely different culture, but what stands out from going to the rodeo is the outright cajones of these cowboys. These are guys whose job requires them to stare down the face of death, put themselves in harm’s way, and risk trampling (or worse), and that’s just another day at the office. Every day, these guys wake up, pull on their Wranglers, punch in (figuratively), and then hop on a pissed-off, raging behemoth of an animal and hang on for dear life, while it violently tries to shake them off, similar to how we’d try to shake the dust out of a dirty rug. Lest we forget, if they do fall off this animal, they land on the ground, which incidentally is the exact location of said beast’s stomping, forceful, lung-puncturing hooves. And this is their job. And to take it one step further, if they don’t hang on for long enough, all those guts are effectively worth nothing, because in the world of rodeo, if you don’t win, you don’t get paid. At all.

In my job, I have to stay seated on an office chair (unless I get thirsty, or restless, or I have to go to the bathroom) for the day, and I have to do whatever I’m told, which usually involves the computer, or a filing cabinet. If I get bored and no one is watching, sometimes for a few minutes I’ll check my Facebook. Or ESPN.com. Or maybe I’ll do a Sudoku. Sometimes I have to wear a tie. Oh, and no matter what I do or how distracted I get, I have a consistent wage. And so far at my job, no 2,000-pound bull has tried to forcefully squish me into a bloody little Andy pancake.

After going to the rodeo, I honestly wanted to get punched in the neck. Really. I was so overwhelmed with, and maybe even inspired by the toughness of these cowboys that I felt the need to prove myself. Maybe it’s the office job, maybe it’s the nice-guy Christian stigma, or maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think that I’m as tough as a rodeo cowboy. And I really, really, really want to be. Watching it, I started having that boyhood fantasy– the starry-eyed, “what if that was me?” fantasy. I pictured myself racing out of the chute, chasing down and roping some speedy, horned steer, hopping off, manhandling it down to the dirt, and quickly tying its legs as fast as I can, then brushing the dust off my chaps as I rise to the cheers of the crowd watching. It’s exhilarating, just to even think of it. But then the doubt comes in.

“You couldn’t do that,” the red, pitchfork-wielding miniature Andy on my left shoulder says. “You don’t have it in you. That takes a level of guts, courage, and toughness that you can’t even think about, let alone possess.”

About this time, another miniature version of myself pops up on my right shoulder. This one has wings, a robe, and a halo (I watched a lot of Looney Tunes as a kid, okay?). “Don’t sweat it, Andy, you’re good at other things,” he says. “You’re kind of witty, you’re moderately intelligent, and people really seem to like your chocolate chip cookies. That should be enough.”

“Bah,” bursts out Leftie. “Who cares about that? Chicks dig scars, and not the kinds you get from pulling a cookie sheet out of the oven without an oven mitt. You’ve got nothing on these guys. …Nothing.”

And I wonder if it’s true… if he’s right. I’ve never broken a bone, I’ve never required surgery, and the only reason I ever had to go to the emergency room was because I had an especially feisty and resilient tick lodged in my scalp. I’ve always marked this lack of serious injury up to luck, or good genes, but after today, I wonder if it’s because I just never took the risks necessary to sustain those kinds of injuries. I had a pretty protective set of parents, my mom in particular, who one year for Christmas, after giving me and my sister each a pair of roller skates, immediately made us open our next gift– knee pads, elbow pads, wrist guards, and a helmet, all of which we would have to wear every time we even considered the notion of roller skating.

So somewhere in there, I became safe, and lately (especially now after the rodeo), I’m wondering if that’s an admirable quality anymore. Safe is how you describe the PETA members who protest rodeos (and consequently take all the fun out of them) by saying that it’s cruel to treat a little calf like that. Safe is the little kid who keeps one hand on the flagpole all of recess just so he’s never “It,” but by the time the bell rings, he hasn’t even really played the game. Safe is taking the road more traveled by, just because you can be sure it’ll get you where you want to go. And honestly, if that’s what safe is, I think I’ll go buy a saddle.


3 Responses to “It’s bulls and blood, it’s dust and mud, it’s the roar of a Sunday crowd.”

  1. 1 niikkkiiii
    October 8, 2007 at 4:58 pm

    i LOVED reading this! weird, because I’m going through the exact same set of feelings right now, which is why a few days ago I withdrew from Berklee. EEK! big changes here… I went through a “i’m just going to college because society says so, and i don’t feel like i’m actually LIVING my life” thing… and I also realized that most everything I’ve done in life has been “safe” and controlled and thoroughly analyzed prior to action. So now I am choosing to do things that I FEEL like doing, without thought or analyzation. I’m choosing to be spontanious and actually enjoy each day, and have adventures every day, until I figure out just who I am underneath this need-to please-society and do the “right thing” layer of mine.

    for example: since I was 8 and studied India at school and saw a picture of a lady with her nosed pierced, I’ve wanted a nose ring. That was twelve years ago almost. Twelve years of REALLY wanting a nose ring. Why haven’t I gotten it if i want it so bad? Incase employers aren’t into it. STUPID. I’m getting one the second I get home to mark my new philosophy and to start a change.

    i’m going to join you and go buy a saddle too. yee=haw!

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