Christopher Staley settled in, gripping the rope firmly and giving a nod as a bull named Gary shifted beneath him in the chute, preparing to do its best to send Staley flying.

It’s not surprising to hear Staley describe how he felt in that moment.

“You kind of just feel sick, honestly,” Staley said. “It kind of makes you want to throw up but at the same time you’re excited.”

The athlete from Cedar Fort (who is heading into his junior year of high school and represents the Lehi Rodeo Club) was competing in the third performance of the 2021 Utah High School Rodeo Finals at the Wasatch County Events Complex in Heber on Thursday morning — but Staley was in a slightly different spot in his life than most of the other cowboys and cowgirls at the event.

You see, it’s been less than a year since Staley suffered a bad break at another high school rodeo.

“I broke my jaw in September and couldn’t rodeo for most of the season,” Staley said. “A bull swung underneath my helmet. It takes three months before your jaw fully heels.”

Staley admitted that getting back on a bull after suffering that type of injury wasn’t easy.

“I was definitely intimidated,” Staley said. “A head injury like that will rattle you a little bit. But it felt good to get back on. My first ride, I kind of just fell off the side but I started getting better and better.”

Staley had ridden a bull in a high school rodeo event last August but Thursday’s competition was the first time he had returned to a high school competition since getting hurt.

Was he ready for the big stage?

His performance answered that question clearly.

“You have to get on and feel where they go,” Staley said. “In cases like this in high school rodeo, you have to hurry and go out and do your job. It’s really fun.”

The Cedar Fort cowboy parked himself squarely on Gary’s back and although he swayed slightly at one point, he recovered and kept his seat for the entire eight seconds.

“It’s just a rush of adrenaline,” Staley said. “You have to just sit there and grit it out. I felt like I was getting off of him a little bit but I was able to make it to the buzzer. It went pretty smooth.”

After everything he had been through, Staley said hearing that buzzer sound and knowing he had succeeded was a special moment.

“It felt amazing,” Staley said. “It’s pretty awesome being able to ride and being one of four guys to cover.”

Unlike other sports, the risky part of a bull ride doesn’t diminish when the buzzer sounds. Staley still had to safely get off the bucking animal (which often weighs nearly 1,500 pounds).

“That’s probably more of a rush than getting on,” Staley said with a grin. “At that point, you don’t know whether a hoof is going to get you or it is going to turn and hit you, especially being that close to the fence. It’s scary but I was able to get out OK.”

Staley ended up tallying a score of 69, which turned out to be the second-best score of the performance. Bill Henry of the West Millard Rodeo Club notched a 72 on the very next ride to win the go-round.

Although bull riders are competitors, Staley said the approach to winning and losing is different than in other sports.

“To me, it’s more of a competition with the bull,” Staley said. “A lot of these guys back here that I’m riding with are my buddies and I want them to win just as bad as I want to win. All you can do is ride what you are given. It’s a rush all the way around.”

Staley — who is currently studying online but would be at Westlake High — still has two more years of high school rodeo ahead of him but he said his injury made him adjust his approach.

“Our main focus has kind of been other rodeos because I’m so far behind because I broke my jaw,” Staley said. “But I think next year I want to try and get to nationals. We have a drop barrel that I get on a lot and we go to practice pens. Most of the time when I get bucked off it’s because I’m in my head.”

While Staley wasn’t able to get the top spot in his event, other local athletes came out victorious in Thursday morning’s third performance including Juab’s Brandon Youd in the steer wrestling, South Utah County’s Malia McCloud in the barrel racing and Juab’s Braylee Shepherd in the breakaway roping.

The high school rodeo finals will continue with a morning and afternoon performance on Friday before the short-go on Saturday afternoon. All events will take place at the Wasatch County Event Complex in Heber.

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Daily Herald sports reporter Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or Twitter: @JaredrLloyd. Instagram: @JaredrLloyd.

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