Saturday, February 11, 2006

Wisconsin Weekend Package

Wisconsin Weekend Package
MIKE LEVERTON
The Monroe Times
JUDA, Wis. - Cowboy blood runs pretty deep in the Swedlund family in Juda.
Chris Swedlund recently became a member of the Professional Bull Riders, his brother Gene is a former Wisconsin Roping Association champion, and their grandpa Harold Swedlund rode bulls years ago.
Now that he has his PBR permit, Swedlund has a year to earn his "card," by winning $2,500 at PBR events this year.
"Hopefully, I can fill my card in a few months and start going to the shows that you would see on TV," Swedlund said. "The biggest thing would be making it to the championships in Las Vegas."
Swedlund said if he wanted to he could ride at a PBR event every weekend. On Saturday, he will compete at the PBR Battle of the Bulls Enterprise Tour at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Madison. A group of three or four dozen family members, co-workers and friends plan to go cheer him on.
And a loud crowd is one of Swedlund's favorite aspects of bull riding.
"It's the best thing in the world to make a great ride and hear the crowd go nuts," he said.
Swedlund, 18, first became interested in bull riding when he was 11. Gene was involved in bull riding at the time, and Swedlund wanted to follow in his brother's footsteps. Within a few years, he started riding. When he was 13, he broke his leg and had metal plates put in his ankle. But that didn't stop him from getting back on a bull.
"I could hardly take it," Swedlund said. "I wanted to go back out there right away but I wasn't able to. It was hard."
Swedlund's mother, Clare, said she gets nervous watching her son but she's not going to ask him to stop doing what he loves.
Swedlund's injuries since his first broken leg includes a second broken leg, rope burns on his hand, a nasty nick from getting kicked in the head and a fall when he landed on his head. Swedlund said almost every time he rides a bull he can feel it a day or two later.
"Your arm and shoulder are sore from holding onto the bull rope," Swedlund said. "I've been thrown and landed on my head and on my neck. I've been hooked and tossed a few times. If it's a good ride and I get tossed, I don't really mind. The feeling of being 15 feet up in the air with the crowd going nuts is just awesome."
After getting thrown from a bull, riders have one thing in mind - finding the shortest path out of the arena.
"Most of the time when a bull rider gets bucked off they run as fast as they can to get out of there," said Rocky Swedlund, Chris's father. "Some of those bulls will get after you."
Swedlund said some bulls go out of their way to avoid riders because they are afraid, but the nasty ones will go right up to a rider on the ground.
"I've had bulls that have been snorting in my shorts. They put their horns up against your back and you feel them pressing up against you a little bit. You can feel them breathing. It's like, get me out of here."
In 2003, Swedlund competed in high school rodeo events across the state and a few amateur events in Darlington. Last year, he attended a bull riding school with PBR pros Rob Smets and Mike White out in Denver, where he rode eight bulls in three days.
"They were pretty impressed and told me that in a few years they should see me in the PBR," Swedlund said. "That was awesome to hear somebody say."
One important thing instructors emphasized at riding school was to stay at the front of the bull.
"They talked about getting to the front end of the bull and told you what to do with your free hand."
There are several common phrases in bull riding, such as snorting your shorts, slide and ride, sit up, chest out, and back on your pockets.
"As soon as you start leaning back, that's what they mean by sitting on your pockets," Swedlund said. "You don't want to get back on your pockets."
Swedlund prefers to go into his rides blind, not wanting to know a bull's tendencies.
"A lot of guys like to know a bull's tendencies but I like to go in blind. A lot of guys will say a bull tends to turn back and around to the right. But then when you get on him he goes back around to the left. That's what messes up a lot of guys. I like to think that a bull is going to do what he's going to do, I just react with him."
About a year ago, Swedlund began competing at National Federation of Pro Bull riding events. In April, he finally rode his first bull for a full eight seconds. He placed third at that event. A month later in Knoxville, Tenn., he also placed. At five straight events since then, he has missed the finals by one spot, a trend Swedlund is more than ready to stop.
On the day of his high school graduation party last June, Swedlund left his own party to compete in Pecatonica, Ill. Several of his friends came along to watch him as he earned first place.
Harold Swedlund said riding bulls is quite a bit different now than it was when he rode bulls. Two of the biggest changes are that riders wear padded vests and special bull riding gloves for protection.
"Back then, if you could get over the chute and get on, then it was a go."
Harold said one of his biggest thrills in riding was getting to meet Gene Autry. He calls bull riding a "thrill" that most people don't ever get.
"When you ride bull," Harold said, "it's you and him. And that's it."
The younger Swedlund is currently looking for local businesses and organizations to sponsor him. In addition to traveling most weekends to events, he works at Kuhn-Knight in Brodhead to pay for his trips.
Dangers notwithstanding, Swedlund said he plans to ride bulls as long as he can.
"As long as I can still walk and use my arms and legs, I'll be riding."

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