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"Outrageous... repulsive..." enterprise piece

Discussion in 'Writers' Workshop' started by J.C. Wolf, Aug 11, 2009.

  1. J.C. Wolf

    J.C. Wolf Member

    An anonymous poster called this enterprise piece about bull riding an "outrageous cover story ... without a doubt the most repulsive accounting of an event I have ever read in your paper."

    I tried to take a human interest approach to appeal to the widest possible audience, but at the same time use that as a frame around an article that delivers a lot of information. I tried to touch on not only the sport of bull riding, but on the farming aspect and the lifestyle of a cowboy and the mindset it takes, etc., while providing a narrative tour of a local farm.

    There is SO MUCH good stuff I didn't use and other avenues I could have explored, but the story clocks in at nearly 3,000 words as it stands and I'm extremely grateful to have been provided that kind of newshole.

    I could probably write a book.

    The whole experience was surreal.

    I'm posting this looking for constructive criticism. Every time I finish a project like this I'm never quite satisfied. I did the best job I could given that this was turned around in a period of about four or five days, which included other responsibilities. I do think it turned out well, but I know there's room for improvement. I think having my best work ripped apart can only help me improve as a writer.

    Any constructive feedback is greatly appreciated.

    Oh, and if you click on the link, be sure to watch the photo gallery with your computer's sound on! I think the multimedia aspect turned out fantastic!


    Cowboy up: Bull riders face life and death out of the chute
    Source: http://www2.godanriver.com/gdr/news/local/article/cowboy_up_bull_riders_face_life_and_death_out_of_chute/13084/
    Gilbert dropped out of Liberty University after failing to make the wrestling team. Now he grapples with vicious bulls and his own mortality.



    Register & Bee sports writer

    Gilbert feels nauseated.

    His heart pounds and his hands tremble.

    His heavy breaths draw in the stench of bull manure and human sweat.

    Lug Nut nearly jumped the six-foot steel loading gate again. The bull cleared the structure, crashing onto its head, and needed to be captured after escaping into the Danville-Pittsylvania County Fairgrounds arena once already Friday night. This time, however, the better than half-ton horned beast gets stuck on top and teeters backward, crashing upside down into the earth with a frightening force and wedging itself between the steel bars on either side of the chute.

    Its eyes bulge and its horns dig into the clay. All four of the massive animal’s grapefruit-sized hooves hang upward into the air as it kicks wildly through the steel bars with a bone-crushing force. No fewer than 10 men put their lives at risk attempting to free the beast with ropes.

    After several minutes of being trapped and scraping wounds into its hide, the bull’s tongue hangs out and blood runs down its nose. The fading animal is within minutes of suffocating under its own enormous weight when it’s finally freed, only to stand and viciously hammer its horns into the gate, sending the cowboys scrambling.

    This is the bull that Gilbert is supposed to ride.


    Daniel McGee has been answering to “Gilbert” for about four months, ever since he started bull riding. He earned the nickname because, as another rider cracked, “Don’t he look like a Gilbert? … C’mon.”

    The 20-year-old recently dropped out of Liberty University after three semesters, having failed to realize his dream of walking on to the wrestling team. Gilbert wrestled successfully in the 130-pound weight class in high school, once nearly making it to states. He was a long shot to make the team at Liberty, however, and didn’t have a chance after posting a GPA 0.08 points below the eligibility requirement.

    “That didn’t work out. So I was mad at the world,” Gilbert said.

    Gilbert’s ears stick out under the brim of his cowboy hat as he smokes a wrinkly Marlboro Red down to the filter. The same collared shirt is tucked into the same tight jeans tucked into the same boots with spurs that he’s been wearing all week.

    The former environmental studies major, who always wanted to get into “wildlife management,” found work in a stockyard in his native Bedford County. It’s where he first thought about bull riding after meeting someone from the Broken Arrow Cattle Co.

    It’s only been a matter of months since, and Gilbert already finds himself as a rider at the Professional Bucking Bull Association rodeo in Danville this weekend, trying to record his first score in professional competition.

    “After I quit school at Liberty,” Gilbert said, “I found these guys, come down here and fell in love with this place.”


    Days earlier, Gilbert hangs out with a few others in the bed of a pickup truck as it lurches up a steep hill on the outskirts of Danville. The growl of the engine and smell of burning fuel mixes with the repeated thumping sound of 5-foot-tall plants hitting the grill and scraping along the bottom of the vehicle.

    The nearly 100-degree temperature and heavy humidity combined for an oppressive August afternoon, but dusk was finally approaching and the day was beginning to cool.

    Dozens of easily agitated, fly-coated cattle surround the pickup as it slowly comes to a halt in a pasture.

    “This is where it can get dangerous,” Greg Medley begins to explain. The cattle are extremely protective of their calves. “They will knock a hole in your tail” in this isolated area of the farm, he said, part of a 130-acre tract owned by the fledgling Broken Arrow Cattle Co., of which Medley is the founder.

    This field is also a breeding ground. Lesser bulls roam with the purpose of impregnating any cows the more prized bulls may have “missed.”

    Greg, as he prefers to be called, takes off his cowboy hat and sets it beside him in the back seat of the pickup’s cab. The middle-aged gentleman is by no stretch of the imagination a large man, but he nonetheless carries himself with a good deal of conviction. He looks you in the eye when he speaks and his cool, tough demeanor is matched perhaps only by his hefty belt buckle, the one with the words “Cowboy Up” engraved in silver and chrome.

    Greg rode bulls professionally for seven years, stopping shortly after the birth of his daughter in 1998. He launched the Broken Arrow Cattle Co. in 2005 with five head of cattle and his lifelong friend, Mike Bradshaw, as a way to remain involved in the adrenaline-pumping sport.

    Mike, driving the pickup, grew up on a farm. His father was in the business of registered Angus beef cattle and “pretty much all I’ve ever done is worked with cows,” he said. He’s the brains behind the farming aspect of the business and the president of the company, which in four years has grown to nearly 100 head of cattle. They also have three young bull riders in training.

    Chuck Morton, like Mike and Greg a graduate of Rockingham County (N.C.) High, joined the team in 2006.

    “These two boys right here I trust them with anything that I got,” Chuck said. “We’ve had our struggles. … We’ve had some tough, tough, really tough times, but as tough as everything has been, I turn around and look at the stock we got and the way things is going and people are talking about us from Mexico to Oklahoma to Texas … it’s been a good ride.”


    Broken Arrow Cattle Co. tries to operate on three premises.

    The first order of business is to breed some of the best bulls in the business. They want championship quality livestock.

    The second and third goals are intertwined — to develop championship bull riders and help kids.

    Winning, clearly, is the overarching objective.

    “Second place, you’re going to draw a check. But we don’t want second. We want to win,” Greg said. “It’d be nice to place; anything you do it’s nice to place in the money, but to be a competitor you’ve got to win.”

    The long-term plan for Broken Arrow’s success is to keep the bulls healthy and get them with cattle companies that already have a name for themselves.

    “Once we get to that point,” Greg said, “then we can make a name for ourselves.”

    Everyone wants to compete in the PBR, the Professional Bull Riders circuit, where top riders have won millions of dollars in prize money. There’s also another high-level circuit out called the CBR — Championship Bull Riding.

    Greg has been training Gilbert and two other young bull riders — Chris “Chia” Fox and Kevin “String Bean” Murdock — for several months at the farm in Danville. The men of Broken Arrow are looking to add more, and may in fact be getting their first female trainee.

    “We’re wanting to get more kids riding bulls, especially kids that have troubles, because it humbles you,” Chuck said. “What I mean by it’s humbling, is when you get on that bull, you know there’s a chance that you could die. OK? And it’s just like kids that have been in near-death experiences in a car accident. It humbles you.

    “It gets you down to where you can listen to Christ. … Or it makes you appreciate your parents more. It makes you appreciate your brothers and sisters more. It makes you just appreciate everybody around you.”


    “A guy from Texas was in my unit and I kept noticing him leave every weekend,” Greg said, pausing between sentences as he recounts his first bull-riding experience from his days in the Army. “He’d come back and he’d be hobbling along, and I’d said, ‘Boy, what’s wrong with you?’

    “He said, ‘I’m hurt.’

    “Well what hurts you?

    “He said, ‘I go to rodeos.’”

    Greg bursts into a smile.

    “I said, ‘Man, I’d love to try that!’”

    Greg, originally from nearby Reidsville, N.C., was by all accounts a thrill-seeker to begin with.

    The man was a paratrooper in the United States Army, meaning he jumped out of war planes from 36,000 feet with a mask on.

    The cracked windshield of the pickup rattles as the vehicle powers down a hill, past the 100-percent pure-blooded Mexican fighting bull and a group of yearlings stationed by a gate.

    Greg first climbed onto a bull while stationed in Watsonville, Calif. He went that day planning not to ride, but on simply watching to make sure that he liked the sport.

    He showed up in a ball cap.

    But things happened quickly, and when a bull rider failed to show, Greg’s Army buddy from Texas gave him roughly 20 seconds of instruction and said, “Here! Get on!”

    The bull couldn’t have taken more than one or two steps before Greg was already coming off, and as he fell he was struck in the backside by the animal and flipped, landing square on his shoulder blades. While lying on the ground, he felt something else strike him.

    What Greg didn’t know was that after the bull bucked him off, it hit a riding dummy that was standing on a stick, launching it in the air, and the dummy’s legs ended up on top of him.

    “I had to get my bearings about me,” Greg said, “and I looked up and all I see is two boots sticking up and I think I’m broken in half!”

    The men, who climbed from the truck at the start of a quarter-mile dirt road, erupt in laughter. They stand in a circle near where the farm’s two prized 3-year-old bulls are individually penned.

    “So I can’t feel my legs, I can’t feel my feet. And everybody’s going, ‘Run! Run!’” Greg continues. “And I finally realized what was going on, and I tried to get up and climb out of his way. That was my first time riding.”

    Naturally, after this experience, Greg decided that he couldn’t wait to go back for seconds.

    “Yeah, so the next night we done it again!” he hoots, sparking another round of hearty laughter. “And it didn’t work out no better …

    “Bull riding, when you ride bulls, you either like it or you don’t,” Greg said. “There ain’t no middle ground. And I loved it. I still love it to this day. I just know that I’m too old to even compete any more. It’s a young man’s sport, that’s for sure.”


    Greg sustained his share of injuries over the years.

    “I broke my chest bone, got stepped on and broke it. I got permanent pins in my ankle from being stepped on.

    “A lot of head injuries.”

    Mike breaks into laughter.

    “A lot,” Greg smiles.

    “Busted knees, shoulders out of sockets,” he goes on listing wounds. “Stuff like that though, that ain’t really an injury in this sport. But you start messing around with your chest, your sternum and head injuries … stuff like that you don’t play with.

    “Bull riders, they know that they’re going to get hurt. And if they let that play in their mind they can’t be bull riders.”

    “That’s the part where you either love it or you don’t,” Mike said.

    Greg needed a solid year to get his basics down to where he was riding consistently.

    “And that’s a long, hard, broke road,” he said.

    Back then, there weren’t places like Broken Arrow Cattle Co. just anywhere. Riders had to pay big money to get into bull riding, and “if you ain’t riding you ain’t drawing a paycheck,” Greg said.

    Even if you do ride, there’s no guarantee of winning money. But the chance of injury sure increases, and that’s just part of the deal.

    Greg competed professionally from 1991 till ’98, when his daughter was born.

    He won that final competition he entered, too, on the same day his daughter turned two months old. It was his first time riding in nearly four months, and he drew a bull that hadn’t been ridden a whole lot.

    “Nothin’ fancy about him. Just a big arm-snatching black bull,” Greg said.

    “I got down in there and Mike was telling me, ‘Don’t think about nothing. Just cover the bull. Do what you’re supposed to. And just ride.’”

    Mike pulled the rope and everything worked out. Greg “covered” the bull, meaning he stayed on for 8 seconds, and ended up winning the competition.

    Back then, those winnings were right at $500.

    These days, to win, a bull rider could bring home $3,000 to $4,000 at a smaller event.

    That’s how much the sport has grown in 10 years.


    The PBBA came through Hillsville about a month ago, one of the circuit’s only two stops this year in Virginia other than Danville.

    Most spectators who show up, they’re just going to a bull riding, looking at the guys versus the bulls. Man versus beast. But in actuality, at this level, this is more a competition for the bulls. In a sense, the bulls are athletes, too, and they’re very well taken care of by their owners.

    When Broken Arrow Cattle Co. shows up, it’s competing against other contractors’ bulls and paying entry fees for its bulls to compete. They entered their two prized bulls into this weekend’s competition.

    “Our main goal is to breed buckers. We want to breed buckers,” Greg said. “We don’t want to breed trash. And we don’t want to sell people trash. We want to breed buckers, sell buckers and buck buckers.”

    Bulls that consistently perform well are allowed to compete at higher levels of competition, with bigger stakes on the line, both in terms of the money they can win and the danger they pose to riders. Some bulls win upwards of $300,000 a year and make their owners very rich in the breeding game.

    The PBBA puts on a rodeo in Danville each year, one of the reasons Broken Arrow chose to open a farm in this area in April 2008, when the group expanded from their beginnings in Summerfield, N.C.

    “The last two or three bucking bulls of the year come from North Carolina,” Chuck said. “The bucking bull industry is not in Texas and Oklahoma no more, it’s here and a lot of people don’t even know it. A lot of the bulls that you’re going to see in Danville will end up on TV somewhere next year. These are some bad cats coming. And most people think it’s just the bull riding.

    “Some bad stuff is walking off them trailers.”


    Gilbert’s been wrestling with his mind all night, the Mexican food he ate for dinner bubbling in his gut.

    The delays and uncertainty turn his thoughts nearly unbearable.

    “Gilbert fights his head a lot,” Greg said, “and I don’t know how to help him with that. … I never had that problem.”

    Originally scheduled to ride third, Gilbert was pushed to the back of the lineup after Lug Nut, the bull he randomly drew, first escaped. He again had to wait to ride, this time through barrel racing and children riding sheep, after the bull’s frightening backward spill, an episode experienced cowboys said they had never before seen.

    Lug Nut, bleeding, continues to periodically charge and crash against its steel pen as the PBBA judges line up a replacement bull for Gilbert.

    The brown beast loaded into the chute, ironically named “Short Notice,” is a PBR-level bull.

    Gilbert kneels to pray.

    He gingerly straddles the animal in the loading gate, tugs on his rope and has his gloved left hand tied securely against the bull’s back.

    He listens to some words from Greg, but before the gate releases Gilbert and Short Notice into the arena, the animal rears up above the chute, violently thrashing as gobs of its saliva go flying.

    Gilbert’s face fills with horror as his right leg is crushed between the bull and steel gate. The pain feels like someone smashed him in the leg with a baseball bat.

    He escapes with the help of several cowboys who rush to his aid, and actually walks away, albeit trembling, grabbing at his right knee, somehow holding back tears.

    “I thought I was dead. I really did,” Gilbert said. “I thought, ‘Oh Lord, I’m coming.’ It was one of those moments where you don’t see nothin’ coming and all you know is that it hurts.”

    Unthinkably, he plans to try to ride the bull again.

    “I’ll get on him,” Gilbert said. “I just need a minute.”

    The sweat on his face glows brightly under the arena lights. He breathes heavily and shakes his leg, and after a few minutes climbs back on top of the bull.

    The gate opens without a problem and the animal steams into the arena like a freight train, applying tearing pressure to Gilbert’s secured left hand as his head whips backward.

    Gilbert hardly makes it through the animal’s first turn before falling off the side and being shoved back into the gate. His ride lasts no more than 2 seconds.

    It takes 8 seconds of riding to “cover” a bull and score points.

    Gilbert receives pats on the back from several cowboys and judges.

    “Just beginner mistakes, I reckon,” Gilbert said, clearly emotionally and physically shaken.

    “I feel like getting back on his a— and trying it again.”
  2. Football_Bat

    Football_Bat Well-Known Member

    Liberty University? Are you freaking shitting me?


    "Around midnight, the sex begins."

    Methinks Dr. Falwell is at 30 rpm in his grave and rising. ::)
  3. J.C. Wolf

    J.C. Wolf Member

    This workshop was a far better tool and a much more engaging venue with the likes of Jones and jgmacg around... :(
  4. tdonegan

    tdonegan Member

    That's the true shame of it. It's not just that they're solid writers, but they gave a shit.

    I'm not those guys, obviously, but I'll give some feedback. For starters, I like the story a lot. It's one of the best reads I've had all week (I merely glanced at it back in August, sorry). I think the fact that you're introducing what is a pretty common sport elsewhere in the country to the VA area was a great idea for a story, especially with the Liberty University angle and the little eastern tie-in of the North Carolina bulls.

    Your general atmosphere work is great, as well. You really set a strong tone in the first couple grafs and let it ride out through the whole piece.

    I think you do great work introducing Gilbert early but lose him a bit through the middle third when you bring in Mike, Greg, and the whole farming aspect. I had to re-read some of it just to make sure I knew who was who, but I have that problem anyway.

    I also think you could have maybe ended stronger. I like ending with the scene you did but Gilbert's "victory" in the story isn't that he got bucked in two seconds, and it wouldn't be a better story if he lasted all eight. The victory is he got back on the bull after it crushed his leg and let it take him for a ride. Maybe ending with the gate swinging open and leaving the reader wanting more? I don't know how it would've played in reality, but it's an idea.

    It's certainly not outrageous or repulsive. The anonymous poster probably got six grafs in, read about the bull struggling upside down and decided to write that because they couldn't stand to read about an animal struggling. If so, that's great for them, but it's not your responsibility to take care of bulls.

    If they did read the whole story and still thought the same thing, well, you did your job and you hit home enough to make someone scroll to the bottom and comment. Yeah it was to complain and chew your ear off, but you can bet your ass they're going to remember that story for a long time.

    Either way, nice work.
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