I’ll never forget the distinct, pungent smell as our bus drew closer to the Mexican border. I held my nose as my eyes watered from the stench. It was burning rubber. I learned from one of my traveling companions that most Juarez families didn’t have heat in their make-shift homes, so people burned old tires to stay warm at night. As we crossed over the Mexican border, we wove through the dark, curvy, unpaved, dusty road. We saw what looked like a small city of lights in the distance. It was a stadium.
As my large group of travel companions and I filed into the arena, I was struck by the condition of the outdoor facility. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before. In the United States, buildings like this had signs on the outside that said: “CONDEMNED – KEEP OUT!” In place of cushioned seats, there were long wooden benches, worn and jagged. People sat at their own risk or remained standing, since a splinter seemed destined for your backside.
Dust was caked on the arena’s walls, and at the center was an enormous circle filled with dirt. The dirt was so dry that it must have been days since the last rain.
Once we settled into the arena, a Mexican matador appeared in the center of the ring. He must have been in his 60’s, dressed in a green sequined costume that seemed from another time period. His stomach protruded from his petticoat. Perhaps the costume fit him more sleekly a few years back. There’s no question that this man, and his suit, had seen a lot of bull fighting action over the years.
He waved his giant red cape with great flair and drama at an enormous bull. While the bull seemed disinterested, the matador garnered his attention. The bull made several passes at the matador, who showed off the footwork of a ballerina half his size. I loved it. It wasn’t that I was witnessing something that thrilling. It was just that I had never seen anything like this in person. The crowd yelled and applauded with delight, as the matador took a final bow.
Then, a booming voice came over the loud speaker announcing that the special guests were going to have a chance to participate in wrestling a bull. The stadium erupted with applause and anticipation. Not me. This was a different world from the suburban lifestyle I had grown up in outside of Boston. The closest I ever came to large animals was attending a circus. I had never seen a bull in person until this night.
The first player was announced. He was a large football player from Texas A&M, weighing in at close to 300 pounds. When his name was called, he popped up with so much enthusiasm and excitement that the entire section of the stadium appeared to shake. Then they called my name over the loud speaker.
“Wait, that’s me! Are you kidding me??” I thought to myself.
I was shocked, as if this were all a dream. They couldn’t be talking about me. Regardless, I shook off the fear quickly and started to walk down the stairs toward the stadium. My sister, who was sitting next to me, tried to pull me back. She yelled, “No, you can’t do it!”
She was probably right, but I wanted to try. I couldn’t imagine ever having this opportunity again. As I made my way onto the arena stage, I met up with the 300-pound lineman, my teammate for the event. We saw our competition across the way–a 250-pound+ baby bull. We were told that we needed to catch and lasso him in the shortest time possible. While I usually wouldn’t see this as sport, I did on this one night.
As I greeted my hulking teammate, he said to me in a Texas twang, “Ah throw the rope, you grab his legs and tie ‘im up.”
You want me to do what? I asked myself. Needless to say, I nodded in approval at his plan.
When the bull was set loose, he charged us. I jumped up on a gate that enclosed the circle to avoid the ongoing charge. My heart was in my throat. Once passing us, the bull headed for the other side of the ring.
My partner and I moved closer. As the bull started to run at us, my partner tackled him, picked him up and flipped him over onto his back, as he would any other opposing player. He yelled to me, “Tie ‘im up! Tie ‘im up!!”
Thinking back on this experience, I was reminded of my childhood, when I used to sail off the coast of Massachusetts. I had learned how to tie a sailors’ knot about a hundred times. Why so many? Because I always forgot how. Let’s just say it was not a specialty of mine. However, this time, with the bull, I gave knot-tying a try, charged with adrenaline.
The whole scene felt like a dream. My knot was successful enough to give my new, 300-pound friend enough time to finish off securing the bull. The stadium erupted with applause. My sister couldn’t believe what I did. I couldn’t believe what I did.
My bull-wresting career began and ended that night, but the memory will stay with me for a lifetime.