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The ride of his life (WITH VIDEO)

Gary Minshew of Lee County earns his cowboy hat and scratches an item from his Bucket List with bull ride at age 54

Gary Minshew, 54, of Lee County, checks an item off his Bucket List on March 8, 2014, at the Sankey Rodeo School in Summerville, by riding a bull. His wife, Sheryl, also notes that a motivation for the ride was to "earn" the right to wear his ever-present cowboy hat. Minshew was easily the oldest rider at the school, with an 11-year-old boy, whose ride also is included in this video, the youngest. (Video by Sheryl Minshew, edited by Jim Hendricks)


Gary Minshew and his wife, Sheryl, stand in front of the fireplace Tuesday in their southern Lee County home. Gary on March 8 earned his cowboy stripes — and a couple of cracked ribs and some strained ligaments — when he rode a bull at a rodeo school in Summerville. He said riding a bull had long been on his personal “bucket list,” and that he decided to give it a try at age 54. (Staff photo: Jim Hendricks)

Gary Minshew and his wife, Sheryl, stand in front of the fireplace Tuesday in their southern Lee County home. Gary on March 8 earned his cowboy stripes — and a couple of cracked ribs and some strained ligaments — when he rode a bull at a rodeo school in Summerville. He said riding a bull had long been on his personal “bucket list,” and that he decided to give it a try at age 54. (Staff photo: Jim Hendricks)

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The Bucket List: Gary Minshew, bull riding

Gary Minshew, 54, of Lee County, checks an item off his Bucket List on March 8, 2014, at the Sankey Rodeo School in Summerville, by riding a bull. His wife, Sheryl, also notes that a motivation for the ride was to "earn" the right to wear his ever-present cowboy hat. Minshew was easily the oldest rider at the school, with an 11-year-old boy, whose ride also is included in this video, the youngest. (Video by Sheryl Minshew, edited by Jim Hendricks)

Gary Minshew, 54, of Lee County, checks an item off his Bucket List on March 8, 2014, at the Sankey Rodeo School in Summerville, by riding a bull. His wife, Sheryl, also notes that a motivation for the ride was to "earn" the right to wear his ever-present cowboy hat. Minshew was easily the oldest rider at the school, with an 11-year-old boy, whose ride also is included in this video, the youngest. (Video by Sheryl Minshew, edited by Jim Hendricks)

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Gary Minshew and his wife, Sheryl, stand in front of the fireplace Tuesday in their southern Lee County home. Gary on March 8 earned his cowboy stripes — and a couple of cracked ribs and some strained ligaments — when he rode a bull at a rodeo school in Summerville. He said riding a bull had long been on his personal “bucket list,” and that he decided to give it a try at age 54. (Staff photo: Jim Hendricks)

LEESBURG — Gary Minshew, of Lee County, has earned the right to wear his cowboy hat. And he’s scratched one off his bucket list.

All it took was a couple of seconds … and a couple of broken ribs, a sprained wrist and a strained neck ligament.

Smart phone users can see the video by clicking HERE.

In fact, it took exactly 2.1 seconds. That’s how long Minshew, 54, stayed on a Brahman he knows only by its number — 750.

“It’s just something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time,” Minshew, who was moving around gingerly, said during at interview at his home Tuesday. “We’ve always been around the rodeos. We love rodeos.”

He was staying home a couple of days from his job at Bennett Feed & Seed West to recover from his injuries. When the Brahman bull threw Minshew, he landed hard on his side, driving his elbow into his ribs and fracturing two of them. Asked why this particular feat — riding a bull — was something he would attempt in his mid-50s, his wife, Sheryl, broke in with the quick answer.

“The hat,” she said, as Gary picked up a white wide-brim cowboy hat next to his chair. “He wears that hat. He wears it every day. That’s how he dresses. That’s how he lives. I guess he just wanted to earn the right to wear that hat.”

A hat’s not something a cowboy normally wears inside the house, but he was coaxed into putting it on for a photo.

It’s not difficult to see that Gary is a cowboy at heart, from the way he carries himself to the Sam Elliott mustache and Western belt buckle. The living room of the Minshews’ home in southern Lee County pays homage to the range riders of yesteryear — a silhouette of a cowboy and his little partner on a fence, gazing out at the rocky mountains in the distance, hangs above a white mantle that is guarded by another cowboy, his son and his horse on one end and a bull-riding cowboy on the other. Then there’s the saddle positioned just beside the fireplace and the copy of the Cowboy’s Prayer displayed prominently on the sofa table as you come in, not to mention the other pieces of cowboy art situated throughout the room.

Riding a bull’s been on his Bucket List — the things you want to do before you pass on to the great hereafter — for some time. It’s only been in recent months that the desire began to manifest into action. Gary and Sheryl drove up to Summerville to a Sankey Rodeo School, a school where a number of rodeo stars got their start, on March 6. After spending a day training on mechanical bulls that Friday, the riders were ready for the real ride on Saturday.

NO. 750

At least most of them were.

“There were kids — I call ‘em kids, anyway — dropping out of this thing,” he said. “They wouldn’t even go through with it.”

The next oldest participant was a little more than half his age, Gary figured, guessing the top age was probably around 28. The youngest was 11. He said school officials told the riders they would be paired with groups of bulls that were age appropriate. “I figured mine would be old,” he said. “You know, no teeth. Barely walking around. Using a walker.”

Each rider got to choose his own bull. Gary looked them all over as, waiting in the chute, most already were snorting and bucking.

Then he spied No. 750.

“He just stood there in the chute,” Gary said. “Didn’t act up. He was just as quiet and calm as he could be.”

Once the bull was chosen, Sheryl walked over to it before the ride. “I went up and had a little talk with the bull before,” she said. “I told him (the bull) that I love him (Gary) … and to make sure he never does this again.”

Even when Gary got on it, she said, the bull “never made a move.”

It was already obvious that injury was a risk. There had been some injured riders in the group before Gary’s turn came up, including one with a broken femur, another who was hit in the mouth and yet another who suffered an injury to “his privates.” Still, it never occurred to Gary to drop out.

“I had my mind set to do it,” he said.

Clad in the required equipment — helmet, chest protector, spurs, mouthpiece and gloves — No. 750 stayed calm even after Gary got onto his back. It was as if the bull had listened to Sheryl when she spoke to it through the fencing.

When the gate opened, however, No. 750 came out of the chute a changed bull.

SAVING IT UP

Gary sat back in his chair and took a breath, a painful thing to do with his injured ribs. “This one,” he said, “was saving it up for me.”

Gary says it’s amazing how quickly it happened. He realized right away that he was in trouble because his free hand had gotten behind him — it’s supposed to be kept out front for balance, and doing that was one of the things he had done well in the pre-ride instruction on the mechanical trainer.

The rest was a blur.

“It happened so fast,” he recalled. “He shot straight up in the air. I remember my arm going way back too far. Then I just remember seeing the bull’s hump when I was coming back down.”

And just like that, in a scant 2.1 seconds — which, Sheryl said, was the third-best time of the day — it was over. Well, except for the aches and pain.

One thing in particular, however, impressed his fellow riders. He had strapped his right hand tightly with the rope with an extra loop and held onto it until he hit the ground. “I didn’t let go,” he said.

“That’s what the young kids were commenting about … he never let go,” Sheryl said.

Asked what his perception of time passing was and what he thought about when he realized he was about to be thrown, Gary said he didn’t have time to think about much of anything. “It goes fast,” he said. “Everybody says that when you’re in a car wreck, it goes in slow motion. It wasn’t like that.”

But Gary — who was in a few car wrecks in his younger days, Sheryl noted — says the results are similar. “That’s what I compare this to — a car wreck,” he said. “That’s what it feels like.”

Hitting on the ground, Gary had the breath knocked out of him. The cowboys were out to distract the bull, but No. 750, was still running around the ring and dangerous. Gary had to make himself get up quickly and run as best he could to safety.

“He knew he was going to be sore,” Sheryl said, “but he didn’t know he was going to get hurt.”

But, she said, she did. Not that she’s told him “I told you so.”

“I haven’t said it yet,” she said. “But I’m sure I will. Give me another week.”

IT LOOKS EASY

While Gary had been wanting to ride a bull for a long time, the idea really started to take hold about three months go when he was watching RFD-TV, which is the channel he keeps their TV on “unless I say enough and make him change it,” Sheryl said. He was watching an episode about the Sankey Rodeo School and saw a young woman, an executive from New York City, riding a bull.

“I said, ‘My gosh. If she can do that, I can do that,’” he said.

After all, he had some familiarity with riding bulls. Back in the 1980s, Gary’s family had a farm with 450 head of cattle. Among the livestock were two bulls that they’d occasionally ride. In retrospect, he said, the bulls of his younger days paled in comparison to the one he rode last weekend.

“It sure wasn’t anything like this,” Gary admitted. “Plus, I was a lot younger, too.” He thought for a moment. “And it sure does look easy on TV.”

After watching the episode and deciding he was going to go through with it, he shared with Sheryl, his wife of two years, his plan to check an item off his bucket list.

“I think my exact words were, ‘Do you have a death wish?’” she recalled.

Not that she had any doubts he would do it. She knew about the car wrecks — “None of them my fault,” Gary quickly pointed out — and his history of derring-do on surfboards. Because the waves were so small, Gary and his friends would go surfing of the Florida Gulf Coast when hurricanes were approaching, including Ivan.

“Talking about somebody that just didn’t have common sense,” Sheryl said.

Gary said they have video footage of the storm rides, which were fraught with their own peril. The fin of a surfboard cut him badly one time. Gary smiled as he recalled the times, then he observed, “You know, I think (the bull ride) hurts even worse than having my teeth knocked out by that surfboard that time.”

Sheryl shook her head, thinking about the surfing, cars and now bull-riding injuries he’s survived. “I think he’s got some cat in him,” she said, alluding to the creature’s fabled nine lives.

HOOKED ON RODEOS

She said she had never gone to a rodeo before she met Gary. Growing up in the mountainous area near Dollywood, she’d never even seen a dirt road before she came to south Georgia. Without something on the road bed to grip, a vehicle would likely dart off a mountain road.

Once she attended a rodeo, she was as hooked as her husband.

“We love going to rodeos,” Gary said, quickly rattling off a list of towns where they’ve gone to watch them. “That’s a clean, family event.” He said he’s working with some folks “to bring one to Albany.”

Despite the pain, Gary didn’t have any regrets about his latest adventure.

“I made a lot of good friends up there,” he said. “The kids said they just hoped they still had the drive at my age. And I’m not worried about riding a mechanical bull now. It’s a piece of cake.”

But now that this item on his bucket list has been checked off, Gary doesn’t feel any urge to go again, saying that it’s a sport best left to younger participants. It turns out the bull, in a somewhat painful fashion, granted Sheryl’s request after all.

What is next on his list? Skydiving perhaps? No, he says, you only have one shot at making it when you skydive. His next adventure will keep his feet on the ground, though he may have to refine some on his footwork.

Sheryl, he said, is “wanting me to learn to dance,” something he’s never done.

He indicated he’ll give it a try once he gets the hitch out of his giddy-up, though the man who has defied hurricanes on a surfboard, survived car accidents and lived to tell the tale about his bull-riding adventure has some misgivings, of all things, about the perils of dancing.

“I don’t know if that’s safe or not,” he said, smiling, “with two left feet.”