A hometown hero from Beech Creek, Pa., is making his way to the top of the professional bull riding circuit, as Jeff Askey conquers one ride at a time.
His most recent headliner win was at the College National Finals Rodeo in Casper, WY. The win capped off a successful college riding career as he graduated in May 2010 from The University of Tennessee at Martin, where he earned his degree in animal science.
While he graduated with top honors, he’s choosing to pursue the competitive road, not the academic. Since graduating, he’s spent just a few days in his home state and has been traveling to rodeos in and around the Midwest to compete as a professional. His goals are simple: Ride bulls and do the best he can.
“Mainly, I’m just traveling. I got a bag packed, and I just stay going. Right now, I’m in North Carolina. Tomorrow we’re going to Kentucky, then Ohio for a day, Maryland for a day, back to Pennsylvania for a day or two, then back to Ohio, then Missouri,” he said. “I’m pretty much bull riding five days a week. There are a couple weeks where it’s seven days a week.”
Askey has been holding his own against the other professionals, consistently winning and placing on bulls in several states. As a collegiate rider, he rode both bulls and bareback horses; he now competes solely on bulls.
At age 22, Askey is still young in his bull riding career. He noted that most professional cowboys competed into their mid 30s’, but it does depend on how lucky each rider gets.
“By then, most bull riders are kind of done with it. They’ve had enough injuries or problems – their body kind of gives out. It varies a lot on how hard you go. Some guys get injured every year, but I’ve been riding eight years and (have) never been injured much,” he said.
Started at Age 13
Askey grew up breaking horses and said he had a natural tendency to be around animals. His introduction to bull riding came at age 13, when a friend’s father, Dave Waltz, showed him the ropes. He first competed with the Keystone Youth Rodeo Association, which is a nonprofit organization in Central Pennsylvania designed to teach young riders all about rodeo and sportsmanship. Since then, rodeo has been his main focus in life.
He has been fortunate to stay out of harm’s way, and part of that is due to his skill as a bull rider. He explained that to be successful in bull riding requires raw athletic talent and a certain agility to be able to stay with the bull.
“You have to be athletic, have quick reaction times,” he explained. “It’s not like some sports where it’s all strength and stuff; in bull riding, little guys can ride bulls if you have balance and a quick reaction time to adjust to what the bull is doing. You need a good attitude. It’s a lot of mental (focus.).”
Bull riding is an obviously dangerous and high pressure sport, but Askey explained that the riders themselves don’t necessarily view it as such. While fans and spectators may see it as scary and intimidating, the true professionals turn their nerves into an excited, adrenaline-induced focus that keeps them going.
“It’s riding bulls. It’s dangerous and kind of exciting and stuff, but we think of it a little different than most. It’s not nervous – you get more excited with the adrenaline going.”