Jake Sellers was practicing bull riding in the Three Rivers practice pen in mid-October when he was thrown from a 2,200-pound bull.
His spur got caught in his bull rope and he was stuck under the biggest bull Three Rivers has in its practice pen. Sellers was dragged around the pen and got kicked by the bull twice while he was stuck. The first kick broke three of his ribs. The second split his liver.
“There’s a lot going through my mind,” Sellers said. “I don’t really remember for sure but I couldn’t do anything. I was just stuck.”
Sellers was rushed to Cape Girardeau in an ambulance, where he spent a week in intensive care.
“The thing about riding bulls is there’s no timeouts with bulls. You can’t blow a whistle and stop. The practice makes it just as dangerous as competing,” Three Rivers coach Chad Phipps said. “... They said if he would’ve waited 15-20 more minutes to come, they don’t think they could’ve saved him.”
Sellers spent months recovering, and even when he was physically able to start practicing again in January, he had some mental hurdles to get through. During his first practice, he rode three times with no problems. Then, during the next ride, he felt his spur get caught in his bull rope again and the thought of the injury crept back into his mind.
“My biggest obstacle was for sure getting over my feet catching my rope,” Sellers said. “Anytime my feet would catch my rope I’d just lose focus of riding and think of what happened last time my spurs caught my bull rope. … I just had to work on blocking everything else out, which I’ll admit, I still have to work on some of that, but it’s not bad at all now.”
Sellers was still determined to get back in the pen and continue to do what he’s loved to do since he was 12. When he first started bull riding, he wanted to prove people wrong. He was told he shouldn’t do it because it was just asking to get hurt.
Now, he’s out to prove to himself that he can still keep experiencing the excitement of bull riding.
“Anybody that rides bulls, if they tell you they’re not scared, they’re lying,” Phipps said. “But that’s what makes you good at it, is the fear. You’ve got to learn how to harness that fear and energy to work for you instead of against you, so he did a great job of getting hold of his emotions instead of bringing them back.”
Last weekend, Sellers made huge progress toward proving to himself he could still ride bulls successfully.
Eight months after his injuries, he competed in the College National Finals Rodeo. Due to the time he missed, he was originally one spot out of qualification. The rider in third place was unable to attend the CNFR, so Sellers got the nod.
At the CNFR in Casper, Wyoming, Sellers was one of 19 riders to get bucked off his bull on all three of his rides.
“It was pretty cool. I did enjoy being up there,” Sellers said. “It was a lot of sights to see, and it was definitely an experience for that college rodeo. I do plan on going up there next year and actually doing good. Most of my rides, I kind of bucked myself off with my free arm. I kept my free arm too high and never got it down to where it needed to be.”
Sellers is a freshman, so he’ll have two more shots to appear in the CNFR with Three Rivers, chasing a win on the biggest stage.
“When you win an event, there’s no feeling like that in the world because, to me, it’s the hardest event in rodeo,” Phipps said. “If you ride 50% of the bulls you get on, you’re with the tops of the world. … You lose a lot more than you win, so when you do win, oh man, the victor is so sweet. It’s an adrenaline rush, like you say, but it’s an addiction; it’s a way of life.”
Nate Fields - Daily American Republic