Gray keeps getting back on the bull |

Gray keeps getting back on the bull

Special to the DailyLuke Gray of Eagle competes in a rodeo in Fort Worth, Texas. Gray is touring on the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association tour.

EAGLE ” Luke Gray thinks his ribs might be broken. He is about to go get an X-ray.

Dressed in blue jeans with a big rodeo belt buckle, he gingerly walks across his living room to show the video of how it happened. In Monte Vista on Sunday, a restless young bull didn’t let him get set quite right. The gate opened, the bull bucked, and Gray fell into the path of the whirling animal. It stepped on his back.

Gray’s on the 10-day disabled list now, and if his ribs are in fact broken, he’ll be out longer. Earlier this year, he broke his collarbone at an event in Florida and was sidelined for three months. For bullriders, the specter of injuries always looms over the rodeo grounds.

“It does cross my mind from time to time, but I don’t let it affect me,” he says.

Not when you love the feeling of riding a 2,000-pound bull ” even if it’s a feeling you can’t put it into words. “It’s something that pretty much unexplainable unless you’ve tried it yourself,” he says.

Eagle resident Gray is competing on the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association tour. He’s making enough money on the tour for it to be his full-time job. The 2002 Eagle Valley High School grad competed at 18 rodeos across the West last month alone, including Saturday night’s bull riding event at the Eagle County Fair and Rodeo.

On Saturday, the full crowd in the Eagle grandstands roared when the announcer called Gray’s name. He wanted to impress the hometown crowd, but he stayed on the bull for only two seconds.

“It didn’t quite work out,” he says.

Bull riders need flexibility. They need strength. And they need “a lot of try,” Gray says. That includes resilience when you’re slumping.

“One day you’ll ride one of the rankest bulls around, and the next day you’ll be bucked off by a bull that a 10-year-old could ride,” he says.

His dad was a bull rider, and Gray wanted to follow in his dad’s footsteps when he was a kid. “He was kind of my hero, so I wanted to be just like him,” Gray says.

He started out calf roping and then competed in saddle bronc and bareback competitions. By the time he was junior in high school, his mom let him try bullriding. When he was still in high school he won several rodeo state titles.

He started competing professionally soon after he turned 18. He also attended college for a year at Vernon College on a rodeo scholarship.

Gray’s life changed in 2003. He was behind the wheel in an accident near Toponas that killed his friend. He reached a plea deal on charges of vehicular homicide and DUI and served 90 days of jail time, he says.

“It just kind of made me appreciate things more,” he says.

The view outside Gray’s living room has changed in his short lifetime, from ranchland to the golf holes, homes and shops of Eagle Ranch. Development in Eagle County threatens the agricultural heritage that nurtures rodeo.

About 10 kids were active in rodeo just a few years ago when Gray was at Eagle Valley. He said he doesn’t think there are any now.

Gray met his girlfriend, Mary Daniel, at college. She’s a rodeo barrel racer. Mary and Gray’s parents, Marvin Gray and Judy Kirby, travel with him to nearby rodeos.

He has won at the Steamboat Rodeo three times this year, but his earnings have been limited by the injury that kept him from competing for three months. Gray said he wants to keep riding as long as he’s having fun.

“Rodeoing for a living, that’s something I’ve always wanted,” he says.

Pro bullriders’ careers usually end by age 30. After rodeo, though, Gray isn’t sure what he’ll do.

“I always think about what I’m going to do,” he says. “I haven’t figured it out yet.”

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or

Vail, Colorado

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