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Memphis Flyer Bull Zen

One young bull rider says it's all a matter of mentality.

By Mary Cashiola

MAY 10, 1999:  No one can teach you how to ride a bull. No one can tell you what it's going to feel like when the bull takes off out of the chute. No one can tell you how you're going to hang on for dear life.

"You've just got to get on them to learn how," says 20-year-old Chris Shivers.

He should know. Shivers -- all 63 inches and 130 pounds of him -- has been a professional bull rider since he was 18. During his rookie year in 1998, he won $306,213, the most prize money ever earned in one season in Professional Bull Riders (PBR) history.

To what does he attribute his success? "I just try real hard," he says.

Some people contend that all bull riders are adrenaline junkies, out for the thrill, and that it's the next thing in extreme sports. Shivers doesn't necessarily agree.

"I get the adrenaline rush, but it isn't why I do it," he says. "I do it for the money and the love of the sport."

Shivers recognizes that bull riding is growing exponentially as a spectator event.

"I think it's going to be the biggest sport around before long," he says.

The basic premise of bull riding is deceptively simple -- stay on the bull for eight seconds. If the rider's hand comes out of the bull rope or he touches the ground, the ride is over. If he stays on until the whistle blows, signaling that eight seconds is up, two judges have 50 points a piece to dole out for style of the ride and difficulty of the bull. It might sound easy, but the threat of injury, even death, is prevalent.

"I've had a few broken bones; I've been bruised up a bit, but I've been lucky," Shivers says. "I know what can happen and I try not to think about it, because when you think about it, that's when it usually happens."

Because of torn tendons in his elbow, Shivers has not been able to compete for the past two months. His next venture into the arena was in Tunica at the Casino Strip Resorts Tunica Invitational. The invitational, which is the 17th stop on the PBR 1999 Bud Light Cup Series, was May 7th and 8th. The top 70 bull riders in the world competed for more than $75,000 in prize money.

To get ready for the competition, Shivers says he's been "working out, trying to get back into shape."

But it's not all about physical fitness. "I think you react better when you feel better, but it's more in your head than anything else," Shivers says.

Shivers began riding bulls when he was 13.

"I always wanted to do it, but my parents wouldn't take me," he says. "When my buddies started doing it, they decided I could do it, too."

Shivers still rides alongside buddies because most of the professional bull riders are friends. "We all get along and help each other out. I think that's what makes this sport different from other sports," Shivers says.

Maybe it's because their opponents are not so much each other as the ferociousness of the bull and their own fear.

"You're competing against the bull. If you can't ride him, you're not going to win any money and you can't beat anyone else," Shivers says.

"You've just got to keep your mind on him. It's a mental game. You've got to focus on him because anything can happen up there."

At 20, Shivers is young for a pro. Many of the other bull riders are years older than him, but he thinks that they help him out more than they would someone older.

"When I get down, they talk to me the way I need to be talked to," Shivers says. "They inspire me to go on."

As to when he will stop, he says, "I want to go on as long as I can. When I make enough money that I don't have to work anymore, I'll stop."

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