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Putting it on the line

“Clowns”?take role seriously

September 2, 2012
By JOE SUTTER, lifestyle@messengernews.net , Messenger News

Cory Wall is listed in the 'entertainers' section of the Dayton Rodeo's website, and his job is related to the old role of rodeo clown, but Wall said he doesn't do humor.

As one of the rodeo bullfighters, his job is to put his own life in danger to protect bull riders from the bull when they fall.

"I don't tell jokes, I'm not funny," Wall said. "My job's pretty serious."

Article Photos

Barrelman Justin Rumford climbs to the top of the fence at the side of the arena and leads the crowd in singing, “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands,” In addition to making the crowd laugh, Rumford takes on a more serious role later in the rodeo when he helps protect bull riders.

Wall's job, and that of barrelman Justin Rumford, both grew from the old role of rodeo clown.

"They sort of branched out in the late 80s," Wall said. "The way they started breeding those bulls, the rodeo clown wasn't able to do job of the bullfighter. More young athletic guys came out of there and became bullfighters."

The rodeo's other bullfighter is Will O'Connell.

Rumford spends more time clowning around in the ring, but his job is serious too. During the bull riding events, he spends his time inside a heavy padded steel barrel.

"It's kind of a last-ditch resort for the bull riders. It's an island of safety," he said. "If a bullfighter gets down, I can maneuver (the barrel) into place to help out"

Though he's been hit plenty of times by bulls, he's never been injured.

"The barrel costs $3,000," he said. "They're padded inside and out, both for your safety and the bull's. If the bull hits the barrel pretty hard, it's nothing more than jarring you. As far as injuries, it's no different from motocross."

Rumford likes the job because it pays well and lets him pick his own travel schedule. A native of Ponca City, Okla., he said he got into the business when he had to fill in for a barrelman who didn't show up.

But a barrelman also fulfills a more humorous role.

"A lot of people told me, 'man you're funny. You're entertaining, you need to do that,'" he said.

The job is about being entertaining and putting on a show, not just telling jokes.

"You listen to the radio, you listen to the comedy channel," he said. "You listen to the local news and find out what's happening. People love to laugh at themselves. They'd rather make fun of themselves than hear jokes."

O'Connell, of Zwingle, Iowa, has been fighting bulls for seven years. He also got into the business after filling in once.

"I was raised around the rodeo my whole life. I rode bulls, and did some other things," he said. "One day I decided I needed a change. Then one day one of the bullfighters didn't show up, and they needed somebody, so I stepped in to help and I was hooked ever since."

After Dayton, O'Connell is heading out to another rodeo in Fort Madison, then one in Waterloo, then he's flying to one in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His schedule often keeps him living out of a camper.

"It's fun living on the road. You meet new people, see lots of places, and make lifelong friends," he said.

Wall is from Burlington, Colo. He rode bulls for a while before deciding that he could do the bullfighter's job. Most of his training happened on the job.

"I went to a three day bullfighting school, and I've been at it ever since," he said. "They just give you the basics."

One thing he's learned with experience is how to position himself at the right place at the right time.

"When those bull riders come off, you don't wait until they hit the ground to go help them. I have to anticipate where they're going to come off and where they're going to land, so I can get into position to put myself in harms way."

And of course, he has to take care of himself.

"It's like being a lifeguard. With a drowning person, you can't just go and let them grab onto you, or else they'll drown you too," he said.

"I have to outmaneuver those bulls. They have four legs, I have two, so I can out-turn them. That's only advantage I have. So I'm running in circles whenever I got them bulls on my rear end."

O'Connell explained how fast things happen in the arena.

"You don't have time to think, you just react," he said. "If you stop and take a second to think, you're going to get yourself or somebody else hurt."

Wall said it's a great way to make a living in spite of the perils.

"I've probably broken over 20 bones, I've had 15 concussions, been in a hospital several times, but I've been at it for 23 years," he said.

"It's something you expect," O'Connell said. "You don't have a job like this and think nothing will ever happen."

"It's rough way to make a living, but I thrive on it and I love it," Wall said. "When you love your job, you put up with the downfalls."

 
 

 

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