Eight seconds of pleasureby Brent Harris, Director of Sports Information
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Speaking of Sports
Kyle Havlik '05 spent three seasons as a member of the Wabash football team. You might think the most exciting eight seconds of his college career came on that seven-yard return for a touchdown on a blocked punt against Earlham in 2001.
But for Havlik, it's another kind of eight seconds that has become most important to him. He has spent the past two years as a bull rider.
It all started his sophomore year while he was flipping channels on the television. He and some friends stopped to watch a pro rodeo broadcast, each boasting they could ride a bull. For Havlik, the bluster triggered something deeper.
"It seemed like one of those adrenaline-rush things that you do, like skydiving or bungee jumping," he says."I just felt I had to try it once in my life. I found out there is a small rodeo arena in Rockville, Indiana. I gave them a call and made arrangements to go down and take a look."
He arrived at the small pole barn with a dirt floor that served as the rodeo ring, borrowed some equipment, and received some basic instructions on riding techniques.
"The last thing I was told was that one of two things would happen-either I would fall and never want to get on a bull again, or I would love it and would get right back on the bull."
Two jumps by the bull and Havlik found himself flat on his backside in the dirt. But after a few minutes to gather his thoughts, he climbed back up on the bull. This was going to be more than a once-in-a-lifetime event.
"Everything sort of clicked," Havlik says. "You look at it on TV and you think, 'I can do that.' But you get out there and find out it's really tough. It was like when I played football—I would look at a running back or receiver coming at me, and I had to make one quick move to stop them. In bull riding, you have eight seconds of that total concentration. It made an immediate impression on me. I was hooked."
A few weeks later, Havlik attended a novice rodeo. Winning the event was the final piece that convinced him to pursue this new passion.
"I learned very early that bull riding is the one rodeo event that you can't practice," he says. "So I started looking for anything that could help me get better. I would travel to rodeos in Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan just to be able to ride. That first summer, after my sophomore year, I was beat up left and right. I went to a professional rodeo that year and had an opportunity to watch and learn some techniques from Lyle Sankey, a huge rodeo star from the 1980s."
One of only four men to qualify for the National Finals Rodeo in bare back, saddle bronc, and bull riding, Sankey wasn't the only source available to Havlik. He also drew upon his experience as a high school and college football player, eventually earning regional Rookie of the Year honors in the Inter-national Professional Rodeo Associ-ation standings. He finished the 2003 season ranked ninth among newcomers to bull riding with 1,615.32 points.
"I progressed faster than a lot of people," Havlik says. "I think I succeeded because I went to Lyle's school with the same mentality I'd taken to football practice. I wanted the experience to sink in so techniques would become second nature to me. It was my attitude as much as anything.
"It took a while before I made any money at any of the events," he adds. "But that's not my goal. I'd like to try and make it to the professional tour and get on TV. That would bring everything full circle for me. I really feel like I can ride and have a chance to make it to the big time."
It's more than just those eight seconds on the bull that makes a trip to the rodeo memorable for Havlik.
"Traveling to a rodeo is a whole process for me," he says. "I get in my truck with my dog, drive up to eight hours for just eight seconds of pleasure. It's just a chance to get away.
"The crazy thing is when the gate opens, and it's just you and the bull. It doesn't matter if there's a small crowd or a lot of people watching you, or if you're at a pole barn in Elkhart or a converted roller skating rink in Van Wert, Ohio. You just ride. And you have to have complete concentration. You have to clear your head. One thing you learn very early—the bull doesn't stop just because you fell off. There's no whistle to end the play in the rodeo. There's no way you can think about anything else in that situation. If you're nervous or don't feel right, it's no longer about how to ride for eight seconds, it's about how not to get thrown off."
The 2004 season was a tough one for Havlik. He was ranked 11th in the Northeast Region IPRA standings before a dislocated shoulder slowed his efforts just before the Regional Finals were set to begin. But there's no doubt that Kyle will be back on the bull before too much longer.
"I love it. I hope I can do this for the rest of my life. It's such a tough and demanding sport. It has become a way of life for me."
Contact Kyle Havlik at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo courtesy of Rockford Register Star