CASPER, Wyo. — Wrecks happen in rodeo. Injury is part of the sport. The excitement of each 8-second interval can’t happen without an accompanying danger. It’s a trade-off that never goes away, but can be sometimes forgotten.
The rodeo community got a jarring reminder of that Thursday night when Odessa College junior Bradie Gray was stepped on by a bull at the College National Finals Rodeo, leaving him in critical condition.
“That was pretty hard to watch,” said steer wrestler Kodie Jang, who, like Gray, hails from Australia.
Gray was left without a pulse, according to Odessa College rodeo coach C.J. Aragon. It was the first life-threatening injury to occur at the CNFR since it moved to Casper in 1999.
But in rodeo, the show must go on.
It was postponed Thursday for Aaron Williams. The Cal Poly bull rider was on his bull, preparing to ride, when he was told to get off, because there would be a wait. The medical team was coming out to take care of Gray.
After Gray was carried off the Casper Events Center’s dirt on a stretcher, Williams rode.
His bull wasn’t thrilled about the delay, he said, but he cleared his thoughts of the wait and the injury that had just occurred in that same arena.
“It’s not if you’re going to get hurt riding bulls,” said Williams, who was bucked. “It’s when and how bad. So we all kind of know it’s going to happen and it can happen. We just don’t want it to. If you let it bother you, it’s going to bother you, then it’s going to bother you, but it’s one of those deals where you’ve got to accept it and just go on with it.”
Williams knows something about wrecks himself. In 2014, he was stomped by a bull and left with a shattered femur.
“I don’t recall my own injuries,” Williams said. “I put stuff like that out of my head.”
It’s a common, and necessary, mantra among competitors at the CNFR. As negative as Gray’s ride Thursday was, there’s only one mindset that works in rodeo.
“You’ve just got to think positive,” said Panhandle State’s Cody Ballard, who also knows Gray from their time rodeoing in Australia. “I think rodeoing is 90, 95 percent the mind. You’ve just got to stay positive.”
“You can’t go about anything in this sport half-heartedly,” Williams added. “And being negative definitely does not make you go at something and give it your all. If you’re not positive, then you might as well not tie your hand onto your bull or get on your horse that night. Because it’s not going to go in your favor.
“Animals feed off that stuff. … It’s a different deal. You have to stay positive. You have to put good things out there into the world to get big things back.”
His positive mindset extends to Gray, whose condition has improved, but he is still in critical condition at Wyoming Medical Center, where he has undergone multiple surgeries.
“We’re cowboys,” Williams said. “We don’t quit. So he ain’t gonna. He’ll be all right.”
The college finals resumed Friday night, and riders continued to ride. The danger faced by Gray on Thursday remained. But in the moment of competition, it’s not what was on their minds.
Gray will be.
“It’s probably not something that’s going to be talked about tonight around the bucking chutes just because of the positivity aspect of it,” Williams said of Thursday’s wreck. “But it’s definitely something that everybody thinks about who saw it. Rodeo is one big family. To watch a member of the family get hurt like that, it bands us all together and makes us come to their aid and support them.
“I guarantee everyone that was there said a prayer for Brady and his family last night.”