For former competitor, bull riding 'is like an addiction'

John “the Ice Man” Freese of St. Louis tries to stay on his bull until the buzzer during the bull-riding competition Friday in the main grandstand at the Adams County Fair. (H-W Photo/Michael Kipley)
Posted: Jul. 25, 2014 10:28 pm Updated: Aug. 9, 2014 2:15 am

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

MENDON, Ill. -- David Day's good-natured voice hinted at the addiction, his eyes all but screamed of the need.

The 60-year-old Day helps supply bulls for Outlaw Rodeo Productions, which provided the bull-riding competition Friday night at the 74th annual Adams County Fair.

But long before Day found himself on the administrative side of bull riding, he was a rider.

And make no mistake, he wishes he could still saddle up.

"I quit when I was 32, and if I'd had any sense I'd have quit when I was 28," Day said. "Bull riding is a disease. It's like gambling. It's very addictive."

The thrill. The rush. The adrenaline.

"Once you get started, you can't stop," Day said.

There's also another side of the sport some might fail to realize.

"I've had more pins, plates and screws put in me than I can remember," Day said. "I've broken all of my ribs, one leg is shorter than the other, and had my skull fractured in Billings, Mont., when a bull stepped on it."

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Day says he can't come close to remembering all the injuries he suffered when riding.

Day stays connected with the sport by raising bulls and supplying them for rodeos like the one that appeared Friday night at the fair. The two most-famous bulls that he and his wife, Jeri, have raised are Mississippi Hippie and Josey Wales. They were big and feisty enough to earn their way to the Professional Bull Riders tour. Josey Wales, now in his sunset years, was on hand Friday night.

The Days live in Ava, Mo., which is near Branson, and are on the road about 10 months a year. They would have it no other way.

"Bull riding is a whole different sport," Day said. "It's man versus beast. That's what it amounts to."

Lance McCollum, the owner of Outlaw Rodeo, echoes most of Day's sentiments.

"I'm 37 years old and have been involved with this since I was abut 14," McCollum said. "I'm just livin' the dream."

He was once a rodeo clown, the all-important individual who steers the bulls away from the fallen riders to prevent injury, or worse injury.

McCollum is from Curryville, Mo., and went to Bowling Green High School with Vance Wilson, a former track champion at Quincy Raceways and one of the region's best-known modified and late model dirt-track drivers. McCollum said he chose a different "dirt" path to success.

"We're on the road about six months a year, mostly within a three-hour radius of Curryville," he said. "The other part of the year we farm."

McCollum said the average competition bull weighs about 1,600 pounds and enjoys a career as long as "eight or nine years."

"A bull is just like an athlete," he said. "As it gets older, it slows down and begins to have trouble with its joints."

McCollum said the winning rider at an event like Friday night's will pocket about $3,000. The riders are part of the Outlaw Bullriding Exclusive Series, a tour that will wind up early this fall with a grand finale in Washington, Mo.

There were 36 riders and 44 bulls on hand Friday night.

"Bull riding is one of the most popular attractions each year at the fair," Fair Board member John Begaman said. "The country music concert, tractor pull, demolition derby and bull riding are the big four."

The fair continues Saturday with a wide variety of events, including mud volleyball starting at 8 a.m., animal judging throughout the morning, an Old Tyme Association ice cream contest at noon and the Craig Morgan country music concert at 8 p.m.