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By AARON MANAGHAN
Broken ankles and wrist. Concussions. Broken collar bones and a broken leg.
It was just another Xtreme Bulls tour stop for these cowboys.
Pendleton, Ore.'s Joe Meling lasted as the sole survivor through five rounds of action at the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association's Xtreme Bulls newest tour stop Sunday, wrapping up a wet and wild Kitsap County Fair & Stampede.
And while Meling was the only finalist of a dozen to complete his ride, he also was one of lucky ones to escape without injury in the rodeo's final day.
"This wasn't really good weather for us," Meling said as rain returned to the Kitsap County Fairgrounds and Thunderbird Arena after a two-day break. "I can't think of an Xtreme where we've ever had rain. It definitely changes the game a little bit."
Meling scored a 76 in his first ride to sneak in to the finals thanks to a pair of injuries, but was the only rider to complete 8 seconds atop in the last round, scoring just a 65 after he was given a reride option when the bull, Border Patrol, clipped the gate on the way out of the chute.
Meling, normally a little bullish himself like most cowboys, opted not to take the reride, a decision that secured him a much needed win.
"Normally, I like to take a reride," Meling, 23, said. "I hate to turn down the option of getting on a better bull. But the way I have been feeling lately and the way the conditions were today, I just decided to take the money and hit the road."
It was a smart decision for a cowboy whose spent much of his year battling a variety of injuries. Not only was Meling's 65 the winning score — giving him a composite score of 141 — it also figures to push him up the tour standings toward a potential berth in the tour finale on Oct. 24 in Indianapolis.
"Boy, it really helps me in the standings a lot," Meling said. "After the winter run, I was sitting about 15th. Then I got hurt. It just kind of went from there. I fell down the standings a long way."
The injuries stacked up, as Meling suffered the most common of bull-riding maladies — the pulled groin — before tearing both his ACL and MCL, dislocating a shoulder, straining a hip flexor, suffering a concussion and hyper-extending his elbow.
"I've just been kind of patching things together, keep taping things up and trying to push through it and make a run at the finals this last little bit," he said.
Coming into the event, Meling was 29th overall. But in taking $10,152 dollars ($3,102 for the top finals ride and $7,050 for the highest total score), he not only secured the highest payday of his young career, but secured a huge move up the standings. He could jump as high as 15th following the win.
"I can't think of anything better," Meling said of his chosen profession. "This is the dream here."
For rodeo director Joe Drouin, the event was a fine way to wrap up a week of exciting, if not unpredictable, rodeo action.
"It went very smoothly," Drouin said. "We got great comments from everyone."
While Wednesday and Thursday saw rain lead to mud, Friday and Saturday offered a dry spell, with Saturday's heat leading to packed stands throughout Thunderbird Arena. Those fans came out again Sunday for Xtreme Bulls, with most packing the covered portion of the arena, but many remaining in the rain in both the VIP area and the stadium's open bleachers.
"We went through a real bad wet start," Drouin said. "But everyone still showed. They're excited for rodeo. It's been a great show every night."
Through four days of rodeo competition, the Kitsap Fair & Stampede paid out $151,271. Last year set a record high of $154,808. That meant some nice pay-outs for winners in bareback riding, steer wrestling, team roping, saddle bronc riding, tie-down roping, barrel racing and bull riding.
In the end, Joel Young won the bareback with an 88, edging Tilden Hooper's 86, a score that previously lasted from opening night.
Clint Robinson edged Travis Carnine in steer wrestling by just a tenth of a second thanks to his 3.7-second mark on the opening day before Dean Gorsuch and KC Jones eclipsed that mark with a 3.5 in round two. Casey Martin posted the best total time, needing just 9 seconds for two successful runs.
In team roping, it was header Richard Charley Crawford and heeler Jhett Johnson posting a time of just 3.9 seconds in round one, while Ty Blasingame and Cody Hintz tied with Trevor Brazile and Patrick Smith in round two, each team posting a time of 4.5. David Key and Marty Becker had the best total time in team roping, with 9.4 seconds on two head.
Roy Johnson and Cody Taton shared the top saddle bronc ride of 84 points.
In tie-down roping, Casey Branquinho's time of 8.2 seconds was fast enough to win the first round before Tyson Durfey posted a 7.9 in round two. Branquinho retained the fastest total time however with a 17.2 in two runs.
Whitney Baker proved the fastest barrel racer, clearing all three barrels and the line in 17.22 seconds, while Marcus Michaelis, who led off Xtreme Bulls action Sunday with a no score, won the Stampede bull riding competition with an 86, the second-highest score on the week.
Sunday's Xtreme Bulls was this year's main attraction however, with ESPN televising the event. The broadcast is set for Sept. 7 at 12:30 p.m. on ESPN and on Nov. 23 at noon on ESPN2.
With mud coming down, the bulls certainly were the biggest winners — figuratively and literally — on the day.
Injuries started early, as cowboys were bucked more often than not thanks to wet bull ropes, a sticky rope used to help secure the rider on the bull.
"I was pretty sore to be honest with you," Meling said. "My elbow is getting real sore and my rope was sopping wet and muddy and it wasn't going to get sticky again."
He wasn't alone.
Bobby Welsh, of Gillette, Wyo., capped an exciting first run with an 88, a score that would hold as the highest on the day and week. But that's when the injuries began. Nat Fly of Lava Hot Springs, Idaho, was the first to get stamped by a bull, even getting partially rolled over.
Logan Knibbe suffered a broken collar bone on his first ride. Casey Baize sustained a potential broken wrist despite hanging on for a 78 ride. Jay Morrow logged an 81 in his sectional before Redneck bucked him, head-butted him and drove him into the arena floor. While he walked off with help, Morrow sustained a concussion and sore neck.
Cody Hancock was another who couldn't go on despite riding to a 78. After he dismounted, his bull feigned moving away before blind-siding Hancock, running him over before charging the can containing rodeo clown Keith Eisley, who also narrowly avoided a kick from the bull.
Wes Silcox suffered one of the toughest injuries, as the defending Xtreme Bulls champed and No. 3 ranked bull rider coming in, had his right leg broken when his bull, Dippin' Dots, came down right on it in the finals round. he had scored an 84 to qualify.
But if anyone Sunday knew about injuries, it was Matt Austin, the 2005 National Finals Rodeo bull riding world champion whose been forced to sit out the last two years due to injuries.
In his return to Bremerton, the Wills Point, Texas cowboy wrapped up the fourth sectional with an 85.
"It felt good," Austin said. "I watched (the bull) the other night. He really bucked like that. Praise God I got him rode."
It had been one thing after another for the champ who set a then-PRCA record with $320,706 in winnings that year. But just before the 2006 NFR in Las Vegas, Austin hurt his groin. Then an abdominal injury. He then decided to fix a lingering knee problem. Then he broke his ankle. Then his elbow.
But it's still a profession Austin wouldn't trade for anything.
"God gave me talent and I get to be my own boss," Austin said. "I'm free, I get to ride wild animals for a living, make good money, meet people. It's a wonderful life."
While Austin wasn't able to log a score in the finals, he was still pleased with his showing.
"That was kind of my mistake," he said of his finals-round ride. "I jumped the bull. On those shorter bulls, you don't want to leave out there on your butt. It was just a mistake. I know not to do it again."
Not bad for a guy who didn't get to the Fairgrounds until 15-20 minutes before his first ride.
"I didn't get much sleep last night," he said.
As a veteran of the Kitsap Fair & Stampede, Austin said the rodeo continued to improve.
"Every time I get to come to Bremerton, it's a great rodeo," he said. "I haven't been no where else where they treat contestants like this. It's just a blessing. Thank God for those people."
Meling agreed, saying the work put in behind the scenes shows.
"I tell you what, this committee and everybody work so hard," Meling said. "Especially bringing it up to division one. It makes it great for us. They put on a heck of a deal for us. To bring (Xtreme Bulls) here to Bremerton, where we already had a such a good rodeo, makes it even better."
That work was acknowledge during Saturday night's rodeo as well, when Drouin, also president of the Wranglers, accepted the President's Ribbon on behalf of the group that does the behind-the-scenes work to get the pens, chutes and floor ready in addition to much more.
"It's an honor to get that award," Drouin said. "We talk about how hard they work. Someone sees what they're doing and likes what they're doing. It's a great big team.
"It's the Kitsap Fair & Stampede, not just a rodeo."
Meling said he plans to take a few days off with a trip to Idaho to do some boating, but he'll have a few thirsts to quench first thanks to his win.
"I imagine I might have to buy a beverage or something," Meling laughed.
Starlet horse dies during performance
While the Kitsap Starlets were taking their run through the arena before the finals, Starlet Katie Krause's horse, Roper, fell during the routine. It struggled to get up and once it did, appeared startled as it ran to the opposite end of the arena, where it collapsed. It was determined later Roper had suffered a fatal heart attack.