Thursday, November 20, 2008

Something I Didn't Expect

As crabby, cantankerous, sarcastic, and even rude as I can be sometimes, every once in a while something challenges me to re-evaluate a long-held opinion, and I’m gratified to learn that I can change my mind and benefit from the process. 

Thus I feel no fear when I tell you that the rider I was most impressed with, and the one I ultimately ended up feeling sorry for, during the PBR World Finals is Chris Shivers. This is mostly a testimony to the fact that no matter what you think you know, you probably don’t know everything, and sometimes what you don’t know makes all the difference. It powerfully underscores the admonition “Judge not, that ye be not judged,” and gives me reason to hope that I, and everyone else, might be able to keep an open mind and thus improve as a human being.

I’ve said before that Shivers’ inclination to talk about “making money” bothers the crap out of me, and I’m perfectly willing to concede that my Southern upbringing is at the bottom of that, since I was taught growing up that talking about money is vulgar. If I had ever once in my mother’s presence asked someone what s/he paid for something, I probably wouldn’t be writing this now, since Ruby would have crammed me into a barrel and fed me through the bunghole till I was of age and she could decide whether to let me out or plug the bunghole up.

You think I’m joking, but I’m really not. Ruby grew up poor on a dirt farm in a Southern state, and she had precious little beyond determination and a rock-solid set of values to get her out of there. Some of her prejudices make me shiver whenever she takes them out for a stroll, and yet she also has a remarkable delicacy in her dealings with people that bespeaks her fundamental generosity, even for people she doesn’t know or doesn’t agree with.

I got the shock of my life several years ago when Ruby, who regards gay people with suspicion, if not some level of fear, asked me why Anne Heche had ended up in somebody’s backyard in Fresno, mumbling incoherently, just after she and Ellen Degeneres had broken up. “I think she was drunk,” I said carefully. “Oh,” said my mother. “I thought her heart was probably broken.” If I never learned anything from Ruby beyond that willingness to walk in somebody else’s shoes, I would still owe her a tremendous debt.

I guess my attitude toward Shivers started changing when he got stepped on in Hawaii two years ago yesterday and broke both his leg and his ankle. It was an ugly wreck, and an injury I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Oh, maybe on her, but still, you get my drift. This season in Chicago, Cowboy slammed Shivers headfirst into the front of the bucking chute and broke his left cheekbone and eye socket. (Maybe that’s the injury I should be wishing on she who will not be named.) That was another awful accident, and I began to feel it was time the little guy caught a break.

But when Shivers turned up at the 2008 finals after being away for nearly four months, and told Leah Garcia that the surgery he’d had to repair a herniated disc in his neck had gone great, I suddenly understood something that hadn’t been evident. 

Anyone who has ever suffered with herniated discs knows that kind of pain will eat you alive. It makes you short-tempered and peevish, and it’s amazing to me that Shivers managed to get out of bed in the morning and onto the backs of as many bulls as he did with such an injury. Shivers said that until he woke up from surgery, he really had had no idea of how bad he’d been feeling, or how good he could feel.

And he went right back to riding like the champion he is, covering five bulls in his trademark style. Then in the seventh round, he rode Walk The Line for 91.5 points, only to get thrown into the corner post and stepped on in the dismount. I have to wonder if, had he not taken that shot, he might have ridden Troubadour in the short-go, and given Robson Palermo a run for the event title. 

As it was, he finished fourth, a mere 82 points behind Palermo, and anybody who has watched the sport for any length of time knows well that 82 points is a day off for Chris Shivers. Basically, it’s one mediocre ride, and Shivers almost never turns in a mediocre effort.

I’m really glad that Shivers has gotten some relief, but the fact that he rode through that pain for as long as he did makes me respect him even more. He might be the walking definition of “cowboy up.” One thing is for certain, Shivers left nothing on the table at the finals. Every time the gate swung open, he brought it. I look forward to seeing him bring it next season.


Jaye said...

I had surgery very similar to Chris Shivers a few years ago after being thrown off a horse. I went for several years with a pinched nerve that radiated pain down my right arm. And just like Chris, the first thing I thought when I woke up in the recovery room was that I was no longer in pain. It is unimaginable what he must have endured while bull riding with a herniated disk. I was also impressed with him at the Finals, and maybe the Chris we see next year will be a more pleasant guy.

shannon said...

It's funny to hear these comments about Chris and how he used to irritate people. My first introduction to him was when he was stepped on in Hawaii, so needless to say, I knew nothing about what kind of person he was (or at least how he came across). When I went to my first live event, he was at the autograph table and was the first rider to give me a really big smile that lit up his face and answer my question in a non-robotic (for lack of a better term) way. He seemed so genuine. I suppose it could be argued that he was "on the job", but then, so were the others (and I got other "genuine" moments later, but he was the first). Since then, I've always been interested in how he's doing.

While I've had some fairly painful back issues, I've never suffered one that's been consistent, nor have I suffered a herniated disk, but I'll take your and Jaye's word for it as to how bad it is. He really is the definition of tough. I'm glad he came back to have a good finals.

Stockyard Queen said...

I've only had minor episodes of back trouble, but my dad has had serious back issues practically as long as I've been alive, and it's really debilitating. It's a miracle people with those problems manage to function at all. My heart really goes out to them.