Some of the bravest unsung heroes of professional bull riding are putting their bodies on the line today, when the Professional Bull Riders Monster Energy Tour: Rockhampton Invitational hits Browne Park.
Rockhampton local Clint Kelly, from Gracemere, was recently selected, along with New South Wales cowboys Mitch Russell and Geoff Hall, to form the Bullzye Protection Team – a year-round post that now sees the trio providing protection athlete services to all of PBR Australia’s national tour events.
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 working in the arena, there’s a lot on the line. You’re not only conscious of protecting the bull rider, but also yourself and your fellow protection athletes,” Clint said.
“You’ve got to try to stay calm and clear-minded, but you also need to be super dialled in and think quickly on your feet. It can be a very tricky physical and mental balance, but it’s all part of being a protection athlete.
“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.”
And the risks are multiplied when you consider that a protection athlete can come between bull and cowboy up to 60 times in one night of competition.
Indeed, Clint is well aware of the injury risks. The quietly-spoken 25 year-old is the youngest member of the Bullzye Protection Team and has already sustained a broken collarbone, jaw, foot and ribs, as well as an ACL replacement.
Fellow team members, Mitch and Geoff have also 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.
Clint started his career riding bulls – but says he wasn’t very good. At a country rodeo, he was asked to help out as a protection athlete – and he hasn’t looked back since.
Clint prepares for the physical demands that come with life as a protection athlete by hitting the gym regularly, with a focus on cardio work.
Clint and Geoff will team up today when the PBR Rockhampton Invitational bucks into Browne Park with a new state-of-the-art mobile stadium.
They’ll be protecting several of the top ranked riders on the 2018 Australian standings, with Clermont young gun Aaron Kleier (#1), Cliff Richardson (#2), 2016 PBR Australian title holder Cody Heffernan (#4),Rockhampton local Jason Mara (#5), Ayr cowboy Budd Williamson (#7) and Bailey Woodard (#10) confirmed on the Rockhampton roster.
Some of the best bull and rider match-ups for this weekend include the draw of the event for Australia’s highest ranked rider, Aaron Kleier, whose first bull out for the night will be Cloud Jumper.
Aaron has ridden Cloud Jumper twice before for high scores in previous match-ups.
Kleier’s second bull King Kong is owned by his stock contractor father, and is a bull that has only been ridden once in nine previous PBR Australia appearances, by Lachlan Richardson for 87.75 points in Townsville back in 2017.
Cody Heffernan has drawn Dittmann’s POA’s Fully Locked and Loaded, while Budd Williamson on Biloela-based local stock contractor, Peter and Jasmine Wallace’s I’m A Freckle Too will be a rematch ride to watch – with PBR insiders tipping the cowboy to come out on top and move further up the Australian standings.
The event will feature two full rounds comprising a total of 48 buckouts.