Bull riders, fighters are tough

As a professional bullfighter, Bill Bass has ripped his knee apart, cracked his sternum three times, broken three ribs, has a "bad dent" in his head, suffered memory loss, and has been gouged.

It's no wonder, then, why Bass said you have to be tough to be a bullfighter or bull rider.

"I'd like to think I am pretty tough," he said. "I have a high pain tolerance."

Mike Lee, the 2004 Profes-sional Bull Riders world champion, has suffered his share of injuries, including a head-to-head collision with a bull he was riding. Afterward, doctors told him he had only a 60 percent chance of surviving surgery to remove a blood clot.

Astonishing doctors, Lee proved his toughness when he made it back in only three months and won his first event back. Lee credits his quick return to action to his physical condition and God.

"I just kept praying," he said. "God healed me."

Lee said his head injury scared him, but he knew he had to get back onto a bull.

"I realize I can die from this," he said. "But I'm willing to make that sacrifice."

Lee, who works out two hours a day, said it takes a person with not only physical toughness, but also mental toughness to be a bull rider.

"You have to be able to take pain," he said. "You have to love being scared, and when you get scared, you got to turn it into aggression."

Lee said the mental part of bull riding is often what makes a great bull rider. Before he had his last ride at the 2004 world championships Lee said his mind was clear.

"I was thinking of nothing," he said. "I was not in this world; I was in my own little world. I just stayed calm."

Bass and Lee are instructors helping teach aspiring bull riders and bullfighters this week at the Yampa Valley Bull Riding and Bullfighting School.

Bass has been a full-time bullfighter since 1999 and said it has been something he has always loved to do.

"There is nothing I would rather do than fight bulls," he said. "My rush lasts all day."

Lee got into bull riding when he was 10 years old. He said when he and his father were doctoring cows he would always climb up on them and his father would get mad. Instead of yelling at his son, Lee's father took him to a buck off to show him what bull riding was really like.

"It scared me to death but I liked it," he said.

Lee, who will be out of competition for three more weeks after reconstructive shoulder surgery, doesn't call himself tough -- he said he just deals with pain well.

The campers disagreed.

"He's tough," said 9-year-old Casey Barnes, last year's World Little Britches all-around rodeo champion. "Out-of-the-chart tough."

"He (Lee) has a lot of heart and a lot of talent," said Eric Fleming, a camper from Craig.

Although Bass and Lee have come back from injuries, it isn't always easy on family members.

"It's tough to see them get injured," Lee's wife, Jamie, said. "But you know it's going to happen."

Jamie said although having a husband who is a professional bull rider can be hard, she enjoys it.

"It's cool to see him getting to do what he loves," she said.

Guy Urie, of Tuff E Nuff Rodeo Co., supplied all the bulls for this week's camp. Urie holds practices for bull riders every week said he sees bull riders from "all walks of life."

Urie said riding bulls becomes a craving -- often a craving riders can't give up.

"I rode bulls for 19 years," Urie said. "I got on the last one two years ago and I'm 57."

Bass, who got gouged at this year's camp and was wearing a leg bandage to cover the four-inch wide by inch thick gash, said bullfighters and bull riders just love to be in the line of fire.

"Chicks dig that," he said, "and so do I."

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