- Bob Welch
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CLOVIS, Calif. At the first Xtreme Bulls event on Feb. 3 in San Antonio, Steve Woolsey was knocked out cold. A Southwick, Robertson and Wilson bull named White Diamonds and Woolsey had a meeting of the minds and the bull won the argument.
Woolsey was immediately hauled to the hospital for precautionary measures where the diagnosis was that his brain had swollen. No significant damage occurred, but it caused him to lose his equilibrium temporarily. He couldn't even walk.
Fast forward to April 27: Woolsey's back rodeoing, feeling fine and riding good.
At the Xtreme Bulls Ride Hard Tour's third stop in Clovis, Calif., the reigning bull riding rookie of the year drew Western Rodeo's Spin Drift. Three weeks earlier Sonny Murphy rode the same bull at the Clark County Fair and Rodeo in Logandale, Nev., and scored an 86 to win the Wrangler ProRodeo Tour round.
When Woolsey nodded his head and the gates cracked in Clovis there was no fear or hesitation and when the whistle blew he was still in control and had 87 points to prove it. He was officially off the injured-reserved list and ready for his final-round bull.
"I really drew well here," Woolsey said. "I was lucky."
He made his own luck because the 87 was good enough to tie for the semifinal round win with Marcus Michaelis, meaning Woolsey drew Western's Frosty in the final round.
"I had heard a lot about that bull," the Eagle Mountain, Utah, cowboy said. "Some guys said he just bucked hard, and others said he was dirty and all over the place."
In the final round, Frosty had a trip that would fall under the latter characterization. He jumped out of the chute and almost immediately fell down on his front end. The white-and-black-speckled bull picked himself up and turned it on: bucking all over the place in a flurry of dust and desperation.
"With those little bulls, they move so fast you don't have time to think," Woolsey said. "You just react."
The judges reacted with an 85-point mark. Good enough for third in the round and first in the average by three points over fellow Utah native Wesley Silcox.
Silcox turned in an amazing and deserved 92 point ride aboard Western's Poison Ivy to wind up second in the average with 169 points. It was by far the most electrifying ride turned in by the bull riders. Silcox had been on that bull in the 10th round of the Wrangler NFR last year and scored 81 points, so he knew what to expect.
Murphy completed Utah's trifecta after he rode Growney's Wise Cracker for 88 a score that took his total to 164.
But it was Woolsey's night, and his quiet confidence belied the jubilation and relief he was feeling. Bull riders never know how they will return from injury particularly one that affects such a vital skill as balance. Plus, not being able to compete yet not hurting was especially frustrating.
"It feels great to be out here again," Woolsey said. "It was hard to be home and not do anything with that injury. That's the longest I've ever gone without riding."
And while the nearly $17,000 he hauled in for the win will boost him into the top tier in the Xtreme Bulls standings, just riding as well as he did after such a frightening and frustrating injury was reward enough.
Bob Welch has covered rodeo for six years and in addition to writing for ESPN.com ProRodeo, is the managing editor of Spin to Win magazine and serves as an associate producer onsite for the Xtreme Bulls and Wrangler ProRodeo Tour telecasts. Welch lives with his wife, Kristen, and 2-year-old son, Tate, in Black Forest, Colo.
Two months after suffering a swollen brain injury, Steve Woolsey returned with a vengeance in Clovis, Calif., taking the title and regaining his balance while two fellow Utes (Wesley Silcox and Sonny Murphy) helped round out the top three.