Meet the brave unsung heroes of professional bull riding.
NSW cowboys Mitch Russell (Melville) and Geoff Hall (Aberdeen) are among an elite few who put their bodies on the line to save cowboys.
The pair along with Queenslander Clint Kelly were officially selected earlier this year to form the Bullzye Protection Team – a year-round post that sees the death-defying trio provide protection athlete services to all of PBR Australia’s national tour events.
They can be seen in action on November 17 during the Professional Bull Riders (PBR) Monster Energy Tour: Iron Cowboy event at Tamworth’s AELEC Arena.
The role of the protection athlete is a unique and sometimes overlooked one, beginning as soon as the job of the bull rider ends.
As a rider is bucked off their bull, the protection athlete springs into action, defending the fallen rider by any means necessary.
This might mean distracting the bull and making themselves a target, or laying across the rider to take the impact of the bull’s horns or hooves.
They will also often tag-team with their fellow protection athletes to separate the bull and rider in a swift and safe way.
“When you’re out in the arena, you’re obviously aware of the dangers involved with a 1000kg animal, but it’s important to make clear-headed decisions. There are big consequences on the line – for the riders, the protection athletes and the bulls,” Mitch Russell said, who also works as a bull breeder and is father to young son, Max.
Geoff Hall, who is a farrier by trade and father to seven month-old daughter Hallie, added: “Being a protection athlete, we get knocked around a fair bit; there are some close calls, but that’s all part of it. It’s the game we love.”
Mitch and Geoff have taken their fair share of breaks and bruises. The pair’s collective injury tally includes more than 10 broken bones, knocked out teeth, three knee reconstructions, a horn to the neck, ruptured ACLs and concussions – to name just a few.
But the dangers appear a little less scary when your team mate is also your mate in real life, says Mitch.
“Geoff and I are great mates outside of the arena and that makes a world of difference when you’re out there during competition. You’ve got one another’s back, and you know you’ll do whatever it takes to protect not only the riders, but also each other,” Mitch said.
The dynamic duo, who first met at the age of 16 at a local rodeo, both grew up at rodeos with Geoff riding broncos and Mitch on bulls.
“We both fell into being protection athletes, stepping into help when needed. From that, we built a reputation and now the protection work is our first love,” Geoff said.
Fellow protection athlete Clint Kelly says: “There’s a heap at stake when you’re a protection athlete. You’ve got to try to stay calm, but you also need to be super dialed in and think quickly on your feet. It can be a very tricky physical and mental balance, but it’s what makes the job exciting and satisfying. We take a bit of a battering sometimes; there’s loads of adrenaline and definitely some scary moments, but we love this sport and wouldn’t trade our job for anything. It’s risky, but the payoff is well worth it.”
The PBR Iron Cowboy is the final opportunity to secure rankings points and to qualify for the PBR Australia Grand Finals in Townsville.
The event has already attracted some of the best cowboys from across Australia and abroad for a make-or-break battle of awe-inspiring determination, power and agility.
The action-packed three-hour showdown will see 22 cowboys collectively matched with 52 bulls, going hell for leather against superstar bovines and tough-as-nails riders in a new and improved competition format.
The much-anticipated PBR Australia Grand Finals will be staged in Townsville on November 23 and 24.
- Tickets are on-sale for the Professional Bull Riders (PBR) Monster Energy Tour: Iron Cowboy at www.entertainmentvenues.com.au