Ryan McConnel hopes his trip to Tampa this weekend isn't as eventful as his last.
Last time, a bull named Voodoo Child hit him in the face with a horn, resulting in 20 stitches around his right eye, a broken nose and a lot of pain. The next day, he was back on a bull, hanging on for dear life but loving every second of it.
"Tough wreck," he says, but not his last. In May, a bull stepped on his head, hurting his jaw. In November, he rolled his pickup, puncturing a lung and injuring a rib.
McConnel and the top 40 bull riders in the world return to Tampa for the Professional Bull Riders' Built Ford Tough Series at the St. Pete Times Forum. Winners will earn points toward qualifying for the finals in Las Vegas and the PBR World Champion title.
McConnel, who turned 23 on Wednesday, has been riding professionally for five years and finished seventh last season. From his home in Colgate, Okla., he spoke about the sport and his nine lives.
After the car accident your doctors said it wasn't a good idea to fly, but you could ride a bull. Did people ask, "Are you crazy?"
They ask quite a few of us that every day. (Laughs.) I rolled my truck five, six, seven times. I had a punctured lung, a separated rib, all the blood vessels in my eye were all red from being busted, so it was pretty wild. But I literally got out of the pickup and walked away. The next morning they released me, and I went to my house and got all my stuff and started on my way (driving) to Vegas. They said I was allowed to fly, but there was a 50-50 chance of my lung collapsing. I said, "Well, I'm not going to take that chance."
That sounds very sensible. You're like a cat. You've got nine lives.
I've heard that a few times. It's kind of funny because the only tattoo I'll probably ever have on my body says "Badcat." I've always had that nickname since I was little. I wear a black cowboy hat with red leather on the top carved with the name, "Badcat."
So you've been a daredevil since you were a kid?
Well, I don't know if it's so much a daredevil, but between football and everything, they couldn't take me off my feet. And cats don't leave their feet much.
How did you come to be known as the tour's fan favorite?
I do a little celebration dance after I ride. It's not much of a dance, really. I don't know what to call it. It almost looks like I'm surfing. Me and the entertainer — the clown — we were in Vegas one year, and I did it one time and he's like, "Man, you've got to do that after you ride. That's funny. That's cool." I wound up doing it one time, and it kind of stuck with me.
How do you train for bull riding?
You want to keep on the calisthenics side of things. Pushups. Sit‑ups. You don't want to get thick and muscled up. It's about staying quick, catty reflexes. You want to stay lean, real cut. I do a lot of jogging. When you lift, you do it for the repetition.
Are you ever afraid of getting on a bull?
Every now and again, there's that moment. But you learn to respect them before you get scared of them. If you're scared of a bull, you probably don't need to be getting on them.
Do you eat beef?
Oh, yeah, absolutely.
Do you ever ride mechanical bulls at a bar?
No. (Laughs.) That's pretty rough, and it's nothing like the real thing. It's kind of bad practice, if you ask me. It's a metal machine. And bulls, yeah, they're hard and muscled up, but they aren't metal.