Victoria native rides bull on a dare, starts new career
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It all began with a simple dare six years ago for Zachary Zarosky.
The Juneteenth rodeo show at Victoria Horseman's Arena needed one more bull rider to compete, and Zarosky's brother-in-law dared him to do it. Like any other true-blooded Texan, Zarosky accepted the dare.
"I got on with a police vest from my sister and borrowed someone else's rope and spurs," the Victoria native said.
The experience lasted all of two seconds, but it was enough for Zarosky to get hooked.
"I was sweating," Zarosky said. "I would imagine jumping out of an airplane for the first time is the same experience."
Six years later, Zarosky is competing in rodeos across the state, finishing third in the state one year, which earned him a trip to a national competition.
Before he would do that, though, he put another Victoria native, and friend, on a bull.
"In the practice pen one day, he was like 'get on' and I said all right and rode a bull," said Colton Kelly. "I really liked it, and I stuck with it."
While his friend lasted just a couple of seconds on his first bull, Kelly managed to keep his grasp on the rope for a full eight seconds.
"That's what made me say I could do this," Kelly said with a smile.
That was five years ago. Now, both Kelly, 22, and Zarosky, 21, travel the state, competing in rodeos. The two friends compete against one another at the same rodeos, both have suffered serious injuries and, most importantly, both have won some cash.
Recently, the Victoria natives competed in the Victoria Open Pro Rodeo put on by Lester Meier Rodeo Company. Neither one took home first place (Zarosky entered Saturday's competition with the lead of 74 points and ended up losing by two and a half points), but both enjoyed putting on a show for the hometown crowd.
"We put on a good show for the fans, and I think they really enjoyed it," Zarosky said.
When it comes to bull riding, the ultimate goal is to stay on for eight seconds. On Friday night, riding bull No. 93, Zarosky held on for the full eight seconds and then some.
"I stayed on another three seconds because I was kind of stuck," said the senior at Sam Houston State. "The whole crowd seemed to like it. It was pretty fun."
It's hard to imagine anyone having "fun" on an animal that weighs more than two tons, but the rush of adrenaline and excitement from the crowds keep Kelly and Zarosky coming back for more, despite some serious injuries.
Kelly himself has broken his ankle, shoulder, wrist (three times) and was nearly paralyzed from the waist down in an accident. He had known the bull he was about to get on was a mean one three years ago, but that only increased the excitement and adrenaline.
"I fell flat and he stepped right on the L4 (vertebrae, which is in the lower portion of the spine) of my back," Kelly explained. "They said if I'd actually broken it or fractured it, I would be paralyzed from the waist down. I was out for about six months, and it took me a lot to comeback, but this is what I love to do."
After nearly suffering a catastrophic injury like that, one might think Kelly would have some fear in him, but that isn't the case. The same is true for Zarosky, who once woke up in a hospital room after being knocked out unconscious.
"I was riding the bull, and he jumped up and threw his head back and my head met his head. When I hit the ground, he ran over me and that really knocked me out," Zarosky recalled. "I didn't know where I was when I woke up in the hospital."
For Zarosky and Kelly, the injuries were just minor setbacks. They didn't change the way either of them rode a bull, nor did they ever consider quitting.
"It's kind of like being a football player. Once you get hit hard, you're not going to quit after that one hit," Zarosky explained.
So, after all of the broken bones, winning celebrations and crushing defeats, what makes two young men keep riding on the back of animal that wants nothing to do with someone on his back?
"It's a lot of fun and you really can't control what happens," Zarosky said. "You're not competing against other bull riders, you're competing against that bull and you can't talk to the bull. You can't know what he's thinking or going to do. I think that is the fun part about it. Every time it's something new and something different."