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The celebration of the Golden Days Rodeo, the northernmost rodeo in America, takes me back to 2004 and my own rodeo adventure.

After my marriage of two decades blew up, I chucked my living room furniture and put in a gym complete with metallic torture contraptions and Olympic free weights. My weight dropped from 260 pounds to 185, and my stored skinny guy jeans fit.

With four books on Amazon and a college teaching position I loved, I was, at 58, still moving up the career stepladder.

So, what could be bad? Well, everything. That’s the sad truth about divorce. A divorce causes abandonment crisis at any age. It strikes hard, tears the roof off your comfortable digs, plants a pitchfork inside your soul.

My colleagues in the small journalism department where I taught sensed my restlessness. One suggested that I buy a fancy car to combat this midlife crisis.

I liked my old pickup just fine. Instead, I chose rodeo. I figured I just might ride a rodeo bull. Both grandfathers owned dairy farms, and I herded cows and helped my Polish grandfather put a ring into a bull’s nose. I once broke and trained my own quarter horse.

In other words, all justifications aside, I absolutely had no business getting on a bull.

Here’s what happened.

One day, Cleo Sutherland, my then-26-year-old weightlifting partner, suggested I accompany him to a rodeo to ride a live, twisting Brahma bull.

“Eight seconds, Hank,” he said one night. “That’s how long you got to stay on.”

Muscular and bald, Cleo resembles a young Ken Kesey. He rode rodeo bulls and paid tuition to attend a bull-riding school.

Later, in the emergency room, he admitted he’d never really expected me to say “OK.”

So one night, I found myself in Cleo’s red pickup, Waylon Jennings’s voice boiling out the speaker, as we bolted down an Indiana back road toward an arena in Celina, Ohio: “I’ve always been crazy but it’s kept me from going insane,” sang Waylon, and who was I to argue?

Dale and Waylon were dead, after all, and I was a healthy old cuss attempting a new adventure..

After arrival, I signed the arena’s release form. Cleo was dressed Stetson to spurs in wrangler chic. I wore a short-sleeved shirt, looking more ready to tangle with student term papers than mount a raging bull.

What I needed first was a glove. At the front of the arena was a shop where a pear-shaped man in a pearl-buttoned shirt added my $25 to the fistful of dollars he held in one paw.

“You righty or lefty?” he asked, and I held up my right.

“Only one?” I asked as he pushed a deer-hide glove at me.

He gave me a snarky look. Then I remembered riders wear only one glove. I stalked a rider my size, and he agreed to loan me his vest. He also gave me a rope lesson. He broke off a chunk of resin and put some in the center of my glove and worked it up and down the rope to make the surface of the glove sticky.

I brought along a video camera. Cleo approached a nice stranger in the stands and she agreed to tape my ride.

Cleo’s turn came first. He nodded, and his gate opened. He had a good five-second ride, but then slipped off to the right. For a second, he was attached to the bull by the rope, but then the weighted part broke free, and he tumbled onto the soft-packed arena dirt. The bull swung its hips past him and a flashing hoof caught him in the meat of his leg.

I was the last bullrider, and the crowd was no longer a crowd. Cleo and a teenager helped me get settled in the pen.

The bull was big and mostly white. The announcer said his name, but I didn’t catch it. The other bulls had creative names such as Nasty Boy. He pushed back his huge flat head and looked at me with one big white eyeball. I spread my legs wide over him and rested the heels of my boots on each of the two gate panels. He tried to dig me in the fleshy part of my leg with one horn.

“Don’t let him get you,” the kid said. I put my leg out of reach. The two tied down my rope, and had me pull—hard.

“Make sure it’s tight,” said Cleo. “Harder.”

The kid agreed. “It has to be tight.”

I had on a baseball cap. I handed it to Cleo with my spectacles to keep them from getting crushed.

“When you hit the ground, get up and run like mad for a fence,” he said. “Don’t lay there or you might take a horn.”

“You ready?” the kid asked. I raised my left hand and held it high as the announcer blasted “My Sherona” by the Knack over the speakers.

I gave the head nod and the gate peeled open into the arena. I was sitting on a one-ton powder keg, and he exploded. I kept my eyes on his head just visible over his broad hump. He gave a big kick with his back feet. I have had some nice sporting thrills but weathering that first leap equals any of them. My bull made a short run, and to my horror, I felt my knees slipping away from his shoulder. I was off balance and sliding backward toward his hind end.

He gave a second explosive buck, and I let go of the rope. I felt my body being launched straight up, way up.

When I awoke it was in an ambulance, and a female EMT was holding my hand.

“Don’t move,” the EMT told me. “We’ll soon be at the hospital. You were the last ride. I thought for once I’d get to go home early.”

“Is my back broken?”

“I don’t think so. A bunch of cowboys tried to hold you down. You threw them all off and were gasping for air.”

At the hospital aides transferred me to a gurney. Cleo was in the waiting room. He’d followed the ambulance. The video camera was in his hands.

“You want to see your ride?”

It was short and horrible. On the way down it looked as if my free hand were coming down like a hammer, and I drove my left elbow into my ribs. My legs and chest hit the ground. I crumpled, rolled once, and was still. The tape stopped there.

“You scared the lady,” Cleo said. “She stopped filming.”

“Did you see me fall?” I asked.

“I went and killed Hank—that’s what I thought,” said Cleo.

“I didn’t do what you told me,” I said. “I didn’t keep my knees dug into his shoulder.”

A doctor came into the room and separated us. He ordered several CAT scans and a ton of X-rays. He came in with a sheet of film. “The good news is that you don’t have a head injury,” he said. “Your head is pretty cut up, and I thought you might have one. But the bad news is that you’ve broken seven ribs, and some of them are broken right off.”

The medical team released me at 6 a.m. that Sunday. I left with Cleo, my arms bulging with pain killers and a breathing device.

I received dozens of get-well notes from the college president to the campus janitors. My two grown sons were ticked off at me, and each recited the same speech about thinking about consequences I’d harangued them with as they grew up.

“So what’s next? Running ahead of the bulls at Pamplona?” a colleague asked me when I returned to campus.

My hands gently moved over my rib cage. “I think I’d better quit while I’m behind,” I said.

Contact Hank Nuwer at