Broken bones no deterrent for bull riders

Bull riding offers more than its share of broken bones and wounded pride, but it also can deliver big rewards to some. (Courtesy of Visit Mesa)

A crushed cheekbone, shattered orbital socket around his eye, more broken ribs than he can recall, multiple fractures of his nose, major reconstructive facial surgery and a “blown out” shoulder and knee, all before the age of 22, have not been enough to deter JC Mortensen from pursuing his passion for professional bull riding.

“I haven’t accomplished my dreams yet,” Mortensen said. “I still got some goals.”

Mortensen wants a shot at competing for a world championship, to be among the most elite riders in the world who, once they qualify, will gather in Las Vegas next May to compete for the National Finals Rodeo’s top prize.

“It’s like the Super Bowl of professional rodeo,” he said. “They take the top 15 guys in the world and you ride 10 days in a row in Las Vegas. Ever since I was born, this is somethin’ that I really wanted to do. I looked up to cowboys and wanted to be a cowboy my whole life.”

The road to Las Vegas runs through Queen Creek, at least as far as a bull riding championship is concerned.

This weekend, Mortensen will be among 80 of the top bull riders in the world competing for a spot in Las Vegas in addition to riding for $30,000 in local prize money in the X-TREME Bulls event, held at the Queen Creek Horseshoe Park & Equestrian Centre, Nov. 23, 25 and 26.

“Man, it’s big money. I had a taste of big money at a young age,” Mortensen said. “I’ve been able to get almost everything I’ve wanted. It’s given me a great job to be able to provide for myself and even more.”

Mortensen was ranked 13th in the world last year, his best season, he said, and pocketed more than $100,000 in prize money in 2021 alone. He estimates that he has earned closer to $200,000 over the course of his relatively young career.

But his sport means more to him money and fame.

“It’s an adrenaline rush and being able to conquer that,” he said. “It’s a pretty dang good feeling once you get off and you rode one for eight seconds. It’s been a dream of mine to ride buckin’ bulls since I was little and now to actually do it, it’s crazy.”

JC followed his father Judd’s footsteps into professional bull riding, and has never really wanted to do anything else, he said. Or, maybe he did not have much choice.

The expression “it runs in the family” comes to mind. Judd was a decorated pro cowboy, and JC’s grandfather and namesake, JC Trujillo, a world champion bare back rider, who bucked his way into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame.

Judd Mortensen, who had his dad

JC Trujillo as his coach, is retired now, and is passing the lessons down to the younger JC.

Now 44, and having endured his own share of broken bones and various injuries in one the toughest professions in the world, Judd Mortensen recalls what drew him to bull riding when he was his son’s age.

“I tell ya, when you start ridin’ bulls, it’s just kind of a challenge to yourself. Let’s try to do this. This is fun,” Judd Mortensen said. “Then you beat on your craft and get to where you can ride ‘em in rhythm and then all of a sudden they start paying you some money and it becomes a profession, you know?”

Among the lessons he has handed down to JC is that being a successful bull rider is not about fighting the animal, but about getting along with him, predicting his next move and figuring out a way to stay on a spinning, bucking 1,600 pound animal who wants nothing more than to have you off of his back…. For eight seconds at least.

“It feels so good to ride a bull when he’s spinnin’ hard and buckin’ fast, Judd Mortensen said. “Everybody thinks you just get on them and hang on tight. That’s really not the case.

“You want to get in rhythm with the animal and become one with him and you can’t even explain that feeling, to be an animal that is bucking hard and spinning fast and then you jump off and land on your feet and the crowd goes wild. And nowadays the payout is pretty dang good for a bull rider who can ride good,” he added.

Mortensen did acknowledge, however, that perhaps more often than not a bull rider does not land on his feet, but on various other parts of the body when they are bucked off the bull, hence all of the injuries associated with the sport.

“Yeah, there is a huge danger and risk involved. Bull riding is a very rough sport,” he said. “But the guys at this level that are trained, they’ve done it a lot, they’ve got good, protective gear on, and they kind of know how to fall and get off.”

The younger Mortensen added ““It’s all about timing. They are way stronger than us for us to muscle up and pull ourselves back,” he said of the bulls. “We’re trying to predict their next move.”

The X-TREME bull riding championship event kicks off on Wednesday night with a three-band country music concert featuring Western Fusion, Nathan Dean and Josh Roy, all Phoenix area bands.

The bull riding begins on Friday, and so do a host of community focused events, including mechanical bull riding, stick horse races, western-themed events for kids, an Old West 6-shooter gunfight reenactment, roping machines and mutton busting, in which children ride or race sheep.  

Gates will open at 5 p.m. on Friday

with live music, dancing, vendors, and food trucks.

The high-stakes championship bull riding events take place Saturday evening.

Judd Mortensen has retired his spurs and chaps, but remains active in the sport. In addition to coaching JC, he is the head promoter for the X-TREME BULLS event this weekend.

“We’ve got some of the best riders in the world,” he said. “Just a lot of great names out here, going up against some of the best buckin’ bulls in the industry.”

Information: visitmesa.com/sports -planner/queen-creek-xtremebulls

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