Austin Gosnell, of Mount Airy, has wanted to become a bull rider since he was in kindergarten. At 11, he met Chip Ridgely, an announcer with International Bull Riders, and asked if he could learn the ropes.
But his ambitions instantly ran into their first wall.
"At first my parents told me I wasn't allowed to. Then Chip told me I was too little," Gosnell said. "I kept with it, and I went the next day, and eventually they agreed to let me ride."
Now 23, Gosnell works as a professional bull rider, surviving bucking beasts in rodeos across the country. Saturday, Gosnell will be competing against 31 other cowboys in the International Bull Riders bull-riding finals at the Carroll County Agriculture Center.
During the event, the riders will start the morning riding their first bull beginning at 11 a.m. At 7 p.m. the show begins with the 10 best riders from the morning's ride. Each of the 10 will ride twice, and the final score is based on an average of the three rides. Gosnell said it's exciting to be riding in the finals in his home county.
"This is pretty much as hometown as it gets for me this weekend," Gosnell said. "I travel a good part of the year. I'm going down next weekend to Florida for a competition."
Gosnell said this is the first year in the past six that he's managed to avoid injury and been healthy enough to compete in the finals. When he was 14, a bull-riding accident caused his lungs to collapse; two years ago, he dislocated his shoulders and had to take a year off from riding, and when he began riding again, he broke his leg and missed another eight months.
"It really takes its toll," Gosnell said. "Even if it's more mental than physical, there's definitely an effect."
Ridgely said that when he met Gosnell, he could tell almost instantly that the 11-year-old was serious about riding.
"A lot of kids that say they want to try, you can see it right away in some of them that they are passionate about it and are going to stick with it," Ridgely said. "I could tell he was going to make this happen no matter what."
Ridgely said Gosnell embodies a lot of the qualities that are needed to become a successful bull rider.
"You have to be a little catty. You can be the strongest person or the most athletic person, but it takes a catty-ness to move with those bulls or it doesn't work," Ridgely said. "We've had little guys, tall guys and even heavy-set guys who know how to adjust their bodies. It's all action and reaction, with a good deal of balance."
His father, Brett Gosnell, said because of the danger, he still worries when he sees his son climb on the backs of the 1,600-pound bovines.
"I'm very proud of him," Brett said. "He has his mind set at what he wants to do. He's never giving up. He's got a no-give-up attitude. He's fought and fought and come back from a lot."
Gosnell said that his girlfriend, Clarissa Brown, is one of the most important supporters, along with Gosnell's father, of his bull-riding career. Brown said he has known Brown since elementary school, and she's known about his passion for bull riding for as long as she can remember.
"I try to see him ride at as many shows as I can," Brown said. "I'm always there behind him, helping him getting fit and pushing him to succeed."
Ridgely said this has been Gosnell's year for bull riding. In the past 12 months, Gosnell has won the Howard County Bull Blast in West Friendship and the Battle of the Beast in Union Bridge and is currently ranked number one in the IBR rankings.
"This kid has cleaned house this year," Ridgely said. "He won pretty much everything there is to win."
Gosnell said he feels good about the finals Saturday.
"The most important thing in bull riding is just believing in yourself," Gosnell said. "If it's actually what you love, you have to tell yourself that you can do it."
Reach staff writer Jacob deNobel at 410-857-7890 or email@example.com.
If you go
What: International Bull Riders bull-riding finals
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, March 7
Where: Carroll County Agriculture Center, Shipley Arena, 706 Agriculture Center Drive, Westminster
Cost: $15 general admission, $10 children 6 to 12, free children younger than 6.
For more information: Visit goibr.com.