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Rodeo means fun rush for cowboys, clowns

ROME TOWNSHIP - Rodeos are mostly fun and games for cowboy clowns like Larry Freels.

The rodeo has been a part of the 62-year-old's life since 1958. Originally, he rode bulls and worked all parts of the rodeo, but a life-threatening injury reminded him that his calling had always been humor.

"I am a natural-born comedian. I like to entertain people," the Clinton, Tenn., resident said. "If I can make people laugh for a little while, then they can forget about their troubles and trials."

After busting his head open and only surviving "by God's grace," Freels said he gave up the riding and now jumps into the stands before he is in any real danger.

"I have broken every bone in my body at least once," said Freels, who is also a minister and often leads the riders in a pre-rodeo prayer.

Freels was ready to entertain the crowd Wednesday night at the Lawrence County Fair's Bull Mania that pitted 13 bull riders from all over the eastern part of the country against the large, angry animals.

The crowd waited anxiously as the steady rains turned the arena into a mud-filled "pit," as the event announcer called it. After an hour of bulldozing, the show was still unable to get out of the gate.

It was not just the crowd that was chomping at the bit to get started.

Symmes Valley High School senior Jeremy Doss, one day short of his eighteenth birthday, was excited and a little nervous about his first bull ride. Ironically, he drew bull number one.

When asked why he decided to make his rodeo debut at the fair in front of all his friends and family, he just smiled and patted his heart.

"I always wanted to do it," he said. "Even if I don't get hurt, I will probably never do it again."

Twenty-two-year old Mike Martin of Arabia remembers thinking something similar five or six years ago. He is hooked on the adrenaline rush now.

Though he never had a desire to jump on the back of a 1,500 pound animal, Martin got his first taste of rodeo when a friend got him intoxicated, threw him on a bull and videotaped it just to have the evidence to rub it in.

"I loved it and watched the tape and decided that if I could do it drunk then I could do it sober," he said. However, he said his success rate is about the same in either condition.

After making his public rodeo debut at the fair two years ago, Martin was ready to show his skills to the hometown crowd. With the pouring rain and tough conditions, he said the riders were definitely the underdogs.

"Considering the circumstances, the bull's have got the favoritism," he said. "When we hit the ground it is going to be full and mud and hopefully won't hurt."

After more than an hour delay, the mud began to fly until only three riders were left standing to split the $955 in prize money.

Ironton native and Greenup County, Ky., resident Charlie Wise, won first place in the event.

Travis Murray from Greenwhich won second. A third place award was also given.