FRESNO, Calif. – Frank Newsom, Shorty Gorham and Jesse Byrne dug their toes into the dirt at the Save Mart Center and got into their normal positions on Saturday night during Round 1 of the Fresno Invitational like it was any other rider getting prepared to nod their head for the gate.
However, in these final seconds all three bullfighters were aware of who was about to come flying out of the gate atop California Kid.
Yes, Aaron Roy was medically cleared to return to action in Fresno, California, almost 22 months after he fractured his back at the 2013 Calgary Stampede, but the three Dickies® Bullfighters understood they had to bring a heightened awareness into the arena for Roy’s ride.
“It is a heightened awareness, but you have to be careful to not turn emotional,” Gorham said. “You have to stay even keeled and stay focused. It kind of puts a little pressure on you, but not in a scary, nervous way. To be a bull fighter, pressure causes a funnel effect on your focus and you really get dialed in. I don’t think you can make it to the top as a bull fighter and let your focus get scattered in high-leverage situations. That is why I am here and do what I do. I like those moments.”
All three bullfighters agreed that awareness is key. That kind of alertness doesn’t apply only to big moments such as Roy’s return or such as whenPaulo Crimber, who was a judge this weekend in Fresno, returned from back-to-back broken necks 31 months later in 2011.
Instead, it is a level of awareness that is necessary when all of the riders nod their heads.
Claudio Crisostomo (broken clavicle) and Marco Eguchi (sprained elbow) were returning to action from injury in Fresno, but there were also nine other riders competing with a variety of injuries at the start of the weekend.
“If you know a guy has an injury that is right now, or an old injury, you just have in the back of your head that if he hits hard or hits wrong he might be a little slow,” Newsom said. “We might need to keep this bull a little bit longer or make sure we got that bull a little longer.”
Byrne said it is especially important to be aware when a rider is competing with a lower-body injury that may limit his ability to escape from a bull following a buckoff or qualified ride.
“In general, you definitely need to be aware of what each of these guys are going through,” Byrne added. “When a guy hits the ground, he may not be getting up or could be real slow. That is what we are focused on, their ability to help themselves after the fact.”
It was one of the takeaways Byrne was looking for when Roy attempted to ride California Kid in the first round. Even though he bucked off in 4.78 seconds, Roy showed the ability to get away from any danger.
Roy eventually made the 8-second mark for the first time since May 12, 2013, when he rode Past Time for 86.25 points on Sunday afternoon in Round 2.
It was a memorable moment for Roy, and an aspiring one to everyone in attendance and watching the event.
“It is inspiring for the guy to have faced those kinds of odds, and it shows you how much he really loves it,” Newsom said. “That itself inspires a guy.”
Gorham added, “I know he didn’t rush to a decision. I think in life you have to live life or you are dying. If this is his dream, and this is what he wants to do, and he knows that one more foul up can change his life, than more power to him. It is a decision only he can make and we can’t judge it. All we can do is try and keep him safe.”
The fact that Roy, or any rider, is willing to put himself in harm’s way in one of the world’s most dangerous sports is a testament to the faith they have in their bullfighters.
Riders trust their lives with the three bullfighters, and it is a responsibility Newsom, Gorham and Byrne cherish and don’t take for granted.
“Things like that make you feel really good and make your chest swell up because that is the real proof those guys think you are doing a good job,” Newsom said. “At the same time, you just try and take care of your business and take things as they come.”
Byrne said it is a huge honor to receive the phone call at the end of the year telling him that the riders on the Built Ford Tough Series have selected him to return the following year as a bullfighter.
“That is what the best part of this job is,” Byrne said. “It is not the money or anything of that nature. It is the fact that you can help these guys do what they love to do. We love being able to do that for them.”
Gorham added that the three bullfighters don’t look for any attention or spotlight.
“That is not something we look for or whatever, but it does make you feel good that these guys have the amount of confidence in us that they do have,” Gorham said. “They put their full faith in us and there is not a feeling in the world like it when you are talking about something that can kill you.”
It is why the best moment for Gorham is when a rider is able to retire from the sport relatively healthy and head home to his family.
“Success feels good when that guy walks out healthy and gets to spend the rest of his time and life healthy with his family,” he concluded.
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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