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Bustin' Believers
Bull riding is as unpredictable as the popularity of the riders—kind of … "up and down." Fall off and you're no longer a hero. Three bull riders share their stories, and their faith in Christ.

Strapping oneself to a ton of ragin', buckin' bull isn't an endeavour for the faint-of-heart.

… prayer is more than just a plea for protection.

With every ride, professional bull riders face serious maiming and possibly death. Eight seconds can seem like eternity as they grip the rope, attempting some sort of form, while being tossed about like a rag doll.

Though some riders wear a helmet or a Kevlar vest to protect themselves from the bull's horns, often a cowboy hat and a panicky prayer are all that make up their protective gear.

Yet for a number of bull riders, prayer is more than just a plea for protection. It's a natural part of their personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Reinventing faith

"My relationship with Christ has held me steady," says bull rider Reuben Geleynse. "It helps me keep my perspective—that bull riding is far from being everything in life."

Reuben Geleynse

Photos, courtesy, Professional Bull Riders

Although Geleynse grew up in a Christian home, at the age of 13 he sensed he needed to make his family's beliefs his own. He acknowledged that Christ had died to pay for his sins and turned his life over to Him.

Despite being raised in northeastern Ontario—hardly rodeo country—Geleynse became obsessed with the cowboy lifestyle at a young age. Then Geleynse was introduced to the junior rodeo circuit.

"I went and saw the junior steer riding event and I thought it was pretty neat. I thought it looked easy … " he remembers.

Geleynse soon discovered riding a wild animal was more difficult than he thought. Nevertheless, he was hooked.

He went on to win several rodeo events and in 1994 began bull riding. After winning competitions across Ontario and Quebec, Geleynse joined the Professional Bull Riders (PBR) circuit. His only problem was he needed to wait until he was 18.

Geleynse ended up spending a year traveling the U.S. in a Volkswagen Jetta competing in semi-professional rodeos. After joining the PBR in 1996, the young cowboy dislocated his shoulder. It would be his first of many injuries.

In 1998, Geleynse ranked 12th in the world of professional bull riding. More importantly, that same year he met his future wife Karina—the reigning Ponoka Stampede Queen—at a rodeo in Dawson Creek, B.C.

The following November, after Karina won the title of Miss Rodeo Canada, the couple married and settled in Ontario.

During a ride in 2000, Geleynse felt a pop in his gripping arm. He managed to score 81 (out of 100), but then missed six months of competition with a torn bicep.

"I was very disappointed but at the same time I felt at peace about the whole thing," he recalls.

A month after Geleynse's injury, bull riders across the country grieved the loss of Glen Keeley. The popular Canadian bull rider Keeley suffered massive internal injuries, and eventually died, after a bull stomped on his chest during a rodeo in Albuquerque, N.M.

"That was a shock and a huge wake-up call for me," says Geleynse. "It is so easy to get caught up in the moment, to have our hearts set on things that in view of eternity have no importance."

Geleynse used his reprieve from bull riding to seriously contemplate his role in the sport.

"I feel like I got to the point where I had to reinvent my faith," notes Geleynse. "[I had to] really figure out what Christianity really is, because all my life I've been told what it is."

Geleynse subsequently became involved in the Professional Bull Riders Outreach (PBRO), leading Bible studies and playing guitar for services.

Those services touched many hearts, including Alberta's B.J. Kramps'.

Unpredictable

As a kid growing up in Crooked Creek, situated 50 kilometres west of Grande Prairie, Kramps traveled with his father to professional rodeos across the country.

B. J. Kramps

He started participating in rodeos by muttin' bustin'—little tikes riding bucking sheep. Later, Kramps added other events, though bull riding held little attraction for him.

"I was actually scared of it," he admits. "What attracted me to it was I was good at it. It was the sport I made money at."

Kramps became provincial champion bull rider in high school. Upon graduation he earned a rodeo scholarship to the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls, ID. He graduated top of his class as an ASE-certified mechanic.

In 1998, at age 19, Kramps joined the PBR circuit. He won his first event in Massachusetts the following January.

He later won the Glen Keeley Award in 2000 and 2001—an accolade the PBR created after Keeley's death. The annual recognition goes to the Canadian bull rider who wins the most money.

Kramps has qualified for the PBR Finals five times and won two major events on the PBR circuit.

While discovering success in the ring, Kramps found a dangerous life outside of it.

"Basically it's like the fast-paced scene in any professional sport—almost like a rock and roll atmosphere," explains Kramps. "There's night life. There's girls. There's drugs and alcohol."

Kramps says he became heavily involved in drinking and partying.

Despite his wild ways, his upbringing had always taught him to go to church. As a result, he began attending PBRO's Saturday morning services.

There Kramps encountered true Christians—those who had accepted Christ as their Lord and Saviour—for the first time.

"For me, God kind of stayed in church on Sunday," he says. "For these guys, God was involved in every area of their life and all they talked about was how much Jesus loves you."

After drinking all night, Kramps would still manage to make it to Bible study every Saturday morning. He'd ask God to forgive his partying lifestyle but never changed his way of living.

"It took three years of going to those Bible studies to really see the difference between me and them," recalls Kramps. "I finally realized I was not inside of this family."

Kramps decided to commit his life to Christ and turn away from his self-destructive lifestyle.

He's quick to state that his relationship with Christ doesn't soften his approach to the ring.

"Once you become a Christian, it doesn't mean you don't want to win riding bulls anymore," he insists. "You don't walk around on a cloud all day. When I get thrown off a bull or I get injured, I don't like it. It's not fun."

But the 27-year-old bull rider says his primary focus in on more important things.

"My life has meaning and purpose now," Kramps explains. "It's not about this life here. It's not wrapped in what I can win or what I can attain."

Kramps got married in December 2004. He and his wife Judith live in Morristown, TN, but Kramps often visits Alberta to see his six-year-old son, Matthew. Neck surgery pulled Kramps out of riding for three months earlier this year. When he returned, he sustained a concussion, essentially ending his season.

Kramps still helps with the PBRO and shared his faith throughout the 2005 World Finals, October 28th to November 6th, 2005 in Las Vegas, NV.

Geleynse, who's qualified for the Finals four years in a row, came close to making it again this year, but just missed the cut.

"Bull riding is such an unpredictable sport. It's up and down. One week you could be the hero and next week it doesn't matter what you've done before—if you get thrown off a bull, you're not the hero anymore," says Geleynse.

In the volatile world of bull riding, these riders are reminded of what's going to last forever.

"Our hope and future is not in this world and in thing that happen in this world," remarks Geleynse.

"It's in the promise of eternal life that awaits us should we choose to be reunited with our loving Father through His Son Jesus Christ."

World champ Cody Custer

Former bull-riding champion Cody Custer knows first-hand the dangers of his sport. During his long and illustrious career, Custer experienced many injuries and underwent several surgeries, not to mention endured bruises and scrapes too numerous to count.

Cody Custer

Growing up in Arizona, Custer spent a great deal of time at his grandfather's ranch learning to ride. In 1979 he began competing in the state's high school rodeo circuit, turning professional a few years later.

As Custer prepared for a rodeo in El Paso, TX in 1984, he noticed a group of people gathered in the stands. He climbed up to find they were having a Bible study.

"I tried to get away from them," remembers Custer, "but they said, 'Sit down.'"

As the men talked of an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ, Custer realized their faith was unlike anything he'd heard before.

"I really didn't understand who Jesus was," says Custer. "[They] explained to me that I was a sinful man in need of a Saviour."

The way to enter into a relationship with God, he discovered, was by acknowledging one's sins and accepting Jesus' sacrifice on the cross. Though Custer prayed with the group to do this, his lifestyle stayed the same.

"For four years I walked around calling myself a Christian and nobody would have known it," he says.

In 1988, while at home recovering from a serious injury, Custer learned his best friend Jeff Crockett had been killed in a bull-riding accident.

The death transformed his life. Not only did the risks of his job become more apparent, but Custer realized his anaemic Christian faith needed to change.

"Nobody really sat me down and told me that it had to be an ongoing relationship with Jesus," he says. "Not just the initial moment that I met Him, but there has to be an ongoing relationship with God on a daily basis."

After Crockett's death, Custer began reading the Bible. He learned there was more to being a Christian than simply believing—he needed to live it.

"I responded with truly repenting and being born again," Custer explains. "I think that was the point when God made me turn my back on my old lifestyle."

A week after his friend's death, Custer got baptized to demonstrate his new commitment to follow Christ.

The professional bull rider also inscribed 'Jesus is Lord' on the bottom of his chaps.

"I got a lot of comments from a lot of people," he recalls. "They weren't so good, some of them."

Prior to riding each bull, Custer would pray over the animal, asking that God's purposes be done.

Despite the threat of being seriously injured or even killed every time he stepped in the ring, Custer learned to trust God.

He says, "God is a just God and He's a sovereign God. He's got is all worked out ahead of time."

Custer qualified for PBR's National Finals eight times and the PBR World Finals nine times, and was declared world champion in 1992.

One year later, Custer became a founding member of the PBR rodeo circuit; then in 1999 he started the PBRO along with William Peterson.

The rodeo lifestyle doesn't afford cowboys much time to be in church on a regular basis. Custer's outreach offers Bible studies and church services for cowboys during PBR competitions. Fans have joined as well.

"God has used this whole deal to really impact people's lives," says Custer. "We've … seen so many people come to Christ and to a relationship with the Lord.

"It wasn't just about playing church," he continues. "It was about being a witness to people in real life."

Following the World Finals in 2003 Custer decided to dismount for good, saying, "Stick a fork in me. I'm done. Now I'm ready for the next step in my life and I can promise wherever God leads I'll follow."

God led Custer to work on the PBR circuit as judge supervisor. Today the 40-year-old lives with his wife Stacey in Wickenburg, AZ. They have three kids—Aaron, 12; Lacey, 11; and Brett, seven.

Following in his dad's footsteps, Brett was named "muttin' bustin' champion" of Wickenburg this year.

Through all of his successes, Custer remains humble.

"Shucks, I've failed a lot," he notes. "I haven't tried to hide my humanity from anybody. I'm human and I do fail. Every failure makes me understand how much [God] loves me."

He insists his many accolades are meaningless without Christ in his life.

"I remember who I was without Jesus," says Custer. "It wasn't good. Without Him, I was hopeless."

Jennifer Jacoby-Smith is a freelance writer from Saskatoon, SK. Jacoby-Smith and her husband of ten years have two kids.

Originally published in Living Light News, November/December 2005.


 

 
 
 
 

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