South Winn senior, Alex Upton from Ossian, can remember even as a small child wanting to ride the bulls. His dream came true at the Winneshiek County Fair last summer during the Bulls and Barrels event put on by CC Bull Company from Gays Mills, Wis. It was one of the things he wanted to check off his bucket list before he goes to boot camp in June, serving the United States Army.
The intrigue of bull riding began at a very young age for Alex, while helping out on his grandfather’s farm. Already at age four or five, he had the makings of becoming a “bull whisperer” by being able to pail feed his grandfather’s bull out the window of the barn door. “I thought riding them would be cool,” explains Alex.
A week before the event he got the owner, Cory Check’s phone number from the fair office in Decorah. “I called him and told him I wanted to ride a bull and wondered if he would consider letting me do it. His response was, ‘Yeah I suppose we can hook you up since it’s your home area.’ ”
But there was one more hurdle, his mother Patty Stammeyer. Because of this hurdle, he didn't actually know if he was going to get the opportunity to actually ride a bull until the night before. Alex explained, “The biggest challenge was getting my mother convinced to let me ride. I had asked her on several different occasions and the answer was always NO. I did not ask Mom until Friday night. I had to strategically reason with her. She did not answer right away, but eventually said yes.”
The evening finally arrived. The cowboy a couple turns ahead of Alex was knocked out, but was luckily dragged to safety. Everyone who knew Alex watched in the stands horrified as the bull almost stomped on the poor cowboy, knowing that inexperienced Alex would soon be next in line to ride the bull. But would he after seeing what could happen in a few seconds? After only a quick five minute bull riding lesson, he waited anxiously for his turn no matter how nervous he was.
Nervous? “Not nervous enough to keep me from doing it. The bull rider who lent me his equipment said his twelve-year-old rides bulls also and told me how much fun they have doing it, I was excited for it,” says Alex.
Known as the toughest eight seconds in sports, the anticipation tugged at his nerves. He wasn't alone. His mother, Patty, relived the anxiety she was feeling, “Once I saw the guy before him get knocked out I was a nervous wreck. I cried a little thinking God keep him safe. What was I thinking saying yes? Then the shakes came...”
Alex ambled up to the chute, climbed to the top and lowered himself down on the bull called Grim Reaper and the chute opened. The mighty Reaper violently pitched forward as Alex remained centered, his right fist held high above his head and his eyes fixed on the bull's shoulder muscles. Two seconds, three seconds … yes, he only got a three second ride from the Reaper. Alex held on tightly until the bull bounced him off at 3.4 seconds. But it wasn’t over yet, the bull was coming after him and it took the clowns to distract the bull as Alex staggered to his feet and out of the arena. The crowd erupted with deafening cheers as Alex was called back to the arena with pride on his face for what he had accomplished.
Patty went on, “When he was off the bull and the bull was still coming at him, I was standing in my spot in the grandstand with pins and needles (some said I was going ooh ooh ooh.) I was never so glad to see him climb that fence. When Alex was all done riding, he came up in the stands to talk to me. He gave me a big hug and thanked me for letting him ride. Then he asked ‘are you calmed down now?’ I told him I was getting there. A huge grin spread across his face and he said ‘Good! Cause that was freaking awesome! For me it was the most terrifying, nerve racking-- yet exciting 3.4 seconds of my life!”
For Alex, it was probably the greatest 3.4 seconds of his young life and he wants to thank everyone who came to watch him and took care of his mother during his first bull riding experience. He proved he is a cowboy with true grit and the U.S. Army is lucky to have such a courageous young man. His bull riding career, however, may not be over with quite yet. Alex would love to try again for a better time, but no one is sure if his mother is ready to let him climb up on a bull anytime soon!