Outdoors: One giant buck for mankind

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 27, 2003

FERRIDAY, La. &045; Throw a challenge in Joseph Armstrong’s face and he cannot say, &uot;no.&uot;

It is not that he lacks the willpower &045; hardly &045; or need to flex his bravado. It is more a crossroads to see where, or if, his limitations end.

&uot;He’s always been the type to rollerblade or wanting to build a ramp in the yard for skateboarding, but this shocked us,&uot; said Jan Armstrong, Joseph’s mother.

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What exactly was the news that forced Jan and Bobby Armstrong to clear their ears, and ask Joseph to repeat?

In the summer of 2001 Jan said on a dare, while Joseph is more modest about his indoctrination Joseph rode his first bull.

Very promptly the bull sent Joseph sailing, but the seed was planted that day and it led Joseph Armstrong to the Louisiana High School Rodeo Association state finals last month in West Monroe, La.

&uot;Me and a bunch of my friends were out in Liberty, and they were all doing it, so I had to do it too,&uot; Joseph remembered that first time. &uot;They dropped out after the first year. I got hooked and couldn’t quit.&uot;

He may not have been able to wave goodbye to the sport, but the sport came close to biding adieu to him, with slim resources in the area.

A resident of Ridgecrest and a 2003 graduate of Vidalia, Joseph had to travel to Alexandria just to be a part of a high school club.

The first Monday of every month Jan and Joseph loaded up and headed west to attend a Central Louisiana (CENLA) High School Rodeo Club meeting.

Most weekends were either spent practicing an hour-and-a-half away at the Kinchen Ranch in Kentwood, La., or at youth rodeos in either Liberty or Jonesville, La.

&uot;More people are into it over there,&uot; Joseph said of Kentwood. &uot;Like in Lake Charles, there is a rodeo community, but around here nobody really does it.&uot;

It is not that people aren’t supportive or interested in Joseph’s passion when he informs them what he does on the weekends.

But with baseball, basketball and football forever holding the trump cards, Joseph is like a tumbleweed rolling through a ghost town.

&uot;I haven’t talked to anybody that doesn’t support me or the sport,&uot; he said. &uot;They look at me like I’m crazy, and usually ask me if I’ve met Chris Shivers.&uot;

He has … met Shivers. The pride of Jonesville, who was the first-ever rider on the Professional Bull Riders (PBR) Tour to eclipse the $1 million mark in career earnings, this past spring attempted to ride a bull for $1 million as the country watched live on NBC.

Joseph’s spiritual moments with Shivers have come at the youth rodeos he has participated in Jonesville.

&uot;What he has done, it’s something you definitely want to shoot for,&uot; Joseph said. &uot;The sport is growing every year, and more sponsors are coming aboard.&uot;

As the frenzy festered, and Jan and Bobby realized they were not going to be able to talk their son out of it, the family put their heads together to get Joseph a better education.

During the 2001 Thanksgiving holidays, Joseph attended the prestigious Lyle Sankey Rodeo School in Lebanon, Mo., a training grounds for many of today’s professional riders.

Joseph said it was not Club Med during that &uot;vacation.&uot; An 8 a.m. wake-up call was followed by riding livestock. Later on, Joseph got a chance to see the strong and weak points of that morning’s ride by breaking down videotape, a practice he still applies.

The afternoons at the school, which teaches bareback, saddleback and even bullfighting as well, consisted of more rides.

&uot;They don’t take real nice on you. They’re very serious about what they’re trying to teach you,&uot; Joseph said of those three days. &uot;They don’t take any crap.&uot;

Five-time PBR World Championships Qualifier Spud Whitman, a hero to Joseph who rides on the Jim Beam team with Shivers, was one of Joseph’s instructors.

&uot;When I got there and saw Spud Whitman was one of my instructors, that was a real surprise to me,&uot; he said. &uot;Then, come to find out he learned from Lyle too, that blew me away.&uot;

More important than any other lesson Joseph learned in that half-week, was the ability to focus on the task at hand, he said.

The adrenaline rush may be the reason for hopping aboard a one-ton flailing beast, but it can blind you sometimes.

&uot;You always have some fear in your body really and truly, because if you don’t you’re going to get hurt,&uot; said Joseph, whose uncle Jerry Houghton rode bulls and bareback at Joseph’s age. &uot;The trick is learning how to control it. If not, let me tell you, it always ends up bad.&uot;

Try three concussions, a dislocated shoulder, a broken toe and enough times being stepped on bad.

Through it all, Joseph Armstrong always got himself out of the arena on his own faculties, whether he knows it or not.

&uot;We always make it a point to thank the bullfighters because they have saved (Joseph’s) behind a lot of times,&uot; Jan said. &uot;They have a tough job.&uot;

Despite missing over a month’s worth of action this past season with the dislocated shoulder, Joseph was still able to qualify for the Short-Go, which is where the top 15 riders in the state compete.

After the first ride, Joseph was positioned third among more than 30 riders.

But an unfortunate draw for the second ride united him with a bull unknown to riders, and he fell off prior to the buzzer sounding.

&uot;I was just proud that I was able to come back and make the Short-Go this year because last year I didn’t even make the state finals,&uot; Joseph said. &uot;It was a good feeling.&uot;

After originally choosing McNeese State as the next step, with plans of walking on to the Cowboys’ rodeo team, Joseph earned a scholarship to Howard Community College.

The Big Springs, Texas, school is widely known for producing some of the best rodeo talent in the country.

&uot;I’m planning to take this as far as my abilities will let me,&uot; Joseph said. &uot;If I can go pro with it, I’d love that. But if not, I’m fine with that.&uot;

Oh, and those friends. Have they climbed back on a bull since that first dare?

&uot;They still support me all the time,&uot; Joseph laughed. &uot;They all say they’re going to get back in it, but I haven’t seen it yet.&uot;