It’s billed as the most dangerous dirt sport in the world. Rodeo bull riding, that is.
Yet, former Manassas resident Chris Goodgion spent six years of his adult life risking his well-being trying to earn a living on some of the rankest and meanest bulls to be found on the circuit.
“I was hooked. It was something I loved,” said Goodgion, who gave up riding angry bulls with the birth of his son in 1997 but has continued to put on bull riding shows for audiences up and down the East Coast.
Unlike other professional athletes, rodeo cowboys don’t go to the pay window unless they win. Not only that, but they have to pay entry fees just to compete. Few have any sponsorships like NASCAR drivers.
“There were weekends when I’d hit two or three different rodeos — often in different states — trying to earn a few bucks, but in reality sometimes it was to conquer the bull more than the money,” said Goodgion.
Winners could earn anywhere from $500 to $2,000, depending on the size of the rodeo.
Goodgion first became involved in the sport in 1991 when on a dare he entered his first rodeo, which was at the Prince William County Fair in Manassas. He was working at the Manassas Southern States at the time.
It wasn’t a very successful start. “I got thrown by a bronc horse right out of the gate,” he recalls.
That same year he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and helped to found the Cherry Point Rodeo Team in North Carolina, whose members competed in rodeos in that area.
“We were young and had no fear,” said Goodgion, who graduated from Osbourn Park High School in 1990. He had lived in Manassas since the age of 7 and was in the last military class at Linton Hall before it became a commuter and co-ed school.
“My instructor was a former Marine … and I guess that is where I got the idea I might want to become a Marine,” he said. Goodgion said he was an “average student” in high school, “never really getting into trouble.”
While in the Marines, he started riding bulls with the Southern Rodeo Association, Mid-Atlantic Rodeo Association and the International Pro Rodeo Association.
“Once out of the Marine Corps, I continued to ride bulls and joined the Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association and kept riding professionally until my wife, Angela, and I had our son Tanner,” said Goodgion.
The family lives in New Bern, N.C., and in addition to managing upwards of 10 bull riding shows a year, Goodgion works as a civilian for the Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station, repairing Humvees damaged in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan.
He is also the PTO president of his son’s school, Brinson Elementary, and president of the New Bern Little League, where his son is a player.
When he stopped riding professionally, Goodgion stayed active in the rodeo circuit by being a judge and announcing at the shows.
In spite of the pitfalls of being thrown from a raging bull, Goodgion said he rarely got hurt.
“Ironically, it was back at the Prince William County Fair a couple of years after my first entry that I got hurt the worst,” said Goodgion.
He said he got a horn in the ribs and after climbing over the ring’s fence, “I passed out.” He also suffered a broken ankle at another rodeo.
Goodgion said in all his years of riding there was only one bull he refused to ride. It was named Fatal Attraction.
“That bull was out to get you. After tossing you off, he would do whatever he could to get at you, stomping you if he could,” said Goodgion.
Goodgion started producing bull riding events in 2002 in North Carolina and now schedules events throughout the East.
Goodgion said he has tentatively booked a professional bull riders show at the George Mason University Patriot Center, Fairfax, on March 9-10, 2007.
“My partner, Scott Yelverton, and I decided we wanted to produce a bull riding event in Virginia. The first place I thought of was Northern Virginia. Since I am from Manassas, I knew that if I did an event in that area, we would have to bring the best bulls and bull riders. That’s when we decided to bring the professional event there and the only venue in the area that can handle such an event is the Patriot Center. The floor will be covered with 12 to 18 inches of dirt to protect it and the riders.
“I’m really excited about bringing such a first-class event to Northern Virginia for several reasons. One is because I’ll get to produce bull riding for a ‘hometown crowd.’ Another reason is because the area has never had such bull riding of such high caliber. There are a few local rodeos here and there, but you really haven’t been to a bull riding until you have seen a Professional Bull Riding show live. Television shows many of them, but TV just doesn’t do it justice.”
More than 800 cowboys hold a PBR membership. They are a diverse group with different backgrounds, origins and personalities but all sharing the same goal … to ride a bull. But not just any bull. They strive to take on the top ones. Their determination and will to succeed sets them apart from others. They want to stay on until they hear the horn while making every second count.
“This sport is daring and dangerous, and requires a true competitor and driven athlete. I plan to bring the best 40 riders and best bulls — some from as far away as Texas — to the Fairfax show,” said Goodgion, who noted that his greatest accomplishment in bull riding was becoming the “Bad to the Bone Pro Bull Riding Tour Champion in 1993.”
Each rider brings his own style and personality to bull riding. Some of them are young, daring, spontaneous cowboys, while others are experienced, humble ambassadors to the sport.
“Their ultimate aim is to reach the national finals in Las Vegas where they can earn hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Goodgion.
“I like the rodeo life,” he said. “It’s something I’ve loved all my life. I haven’t found anything I’d rather do. I’m getting so many requests for shows, some from as far away as Florida, I may have to go it full-time.”
Chris may have inherited some of his love of the rodeo life from his father, Max, a real estate agent in Manassas. “I was a bronc rider in Oklahoma while in high school and college but decided to give it up before I got killed,” said Max jokingly.
Max said he was apprehensive about Chris taking up the dangerous sport “but I just kept my fingers crossed that he never got injured. To my knowledge, he was never in the hospital.”
The family moved to Manassas in 1974 when the elder Goodgion’s job with the federal government assigned him to this area.
Max said some old pictures that Chris found of him competing in the rodeo may also have had a bearing on his becoming a bull rider.
“I still catch some of Chris’ shows. I guess we both like the thrilling non-stop action that bull riders provide.”