Champion rider returns to host rodeo
Today's definition of extreme sports is drastically different than what it was 30 years ago.
Before skateboards, roller blades and bicycles began launching off of ramps and grinding along rails, there were men who got on the back of a bull with nothing more than a rope and tried to stay on for eight seconds.
"This is the original extreme sport," Don Gay, an eight-time world champion bull rider, said. "A skateboard won't chase you down when you fall off."
Gay knows a thing or two about bulls. He rode them successfully for two decades and won eight world championships (1974-77, 1979-81, 1984), a record that still stands today.
The Mesquite native was in Victoria this week for the Victoria Pro Rodeo, the first professional rodeo to be held in Victoria in more than a decade. Gay - who is hosting the rodeo Thursday and Friday nights while his company, Frontier Rodeo, is providing the livestock - took some time before the rodeo to talk with the Victoria Advocate.
Q: When was the last time you were in Victoria?
A: This is the first time pro rodeo has come back to Victoria since the late 90s. I had a company called All Star Rodeo, and it put on a show for five or six years. I sold that company, and the rodeo came one more time, I think, with another stock provider. I just felt like the right thing was to bring the rodeo back, and with Atzenhoffer Chevrolet, we're excited to make it happen. We hope the businesses in and around Victoria will support us.
Q: What do you enjoy the most about hosting a rodeo?
A: Showing people something that they don't readily have available. You can't just turn on the TV on the weekend and see the rodeo. There is more than there used to be. There are also little kids who live in the state of Texas and have never seen a live horse or bull up close and personal. They think milk comes from the carton at the grocery store. It's an amazing thing when people go, "I heard this was inhumane, and I just didn't want to go," and they find out we take better care of our livestock than most people do their poodles.
Q: Being so close to the action, do you ever get the urge to hop back on and ride a bull again?
A: There is an affliction they don't have any medicine for called "a legend in your own mind." I do believe I could go make a great ride. That song that goes, "I'm not as good as I once was, but I'm good once as I ever was." Well, there is some truth to that. You have to ride a bull for eight seconds, and I always felt that you can do anything for eight seconds. It's the only way I know how to think. But I'd sure hate to have to ante up and do it. I look out there and see guys have a really good ride on a bull with a lot of good timing. You can't replace that feeling. It doesn't matter if you win $100 or $100,000 for eight seconds of work, when you make that ride, it's like hitting a 135-yard shot to the pin, and you have a tap-in for a birdie. That is fun.
Q: Do you think anyone will ever break your record of eight world championships?
A: There is a guy in the Victoria Pro Rodeo who is a three-time world champion bull rider, a guy named J.W. Harris. He'll probably win the rodeo. I think he'll post the highest score with the bull he has drawn. I talked to him last night, and he's looking forward to coming. Mathematically, he has a chance.
Q: What's the scariest moment you can remember from riding bulls?
A: I broke my neck one time. I wasn't so scared about having a broken neck. I was a junior in high school, and I thought to myself "Oh my gosh, what if I can't ride anymore?" That was scary.
Q: What do you see as your biggest accomplishment?
A: I think my biggest accomplishment was making the transition from the rodeo arena to the announcer's booth. I think that probably helped my longevity. I've been able to stay in the business. But I think being able to promote the rodeo is my single biggest accomplishment. It's a lifestyle. I never have to take my uniform off, and rodeo is my life. To be placed in a position where I can promote it and scratch out a living is just great. Ever since I got out of high school, a long time ago, I've been on a vacation.
Q: That must be really nice.
A: It really is, and I'm thankful for it every day.