Paralyzed former champion featured in bull riding documentary
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By JAMIE KRITZER
Oct 16, 2002 : 12:39 am ET

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- The first time Archdale native Jerome Davis was featured in a movie, he was shown riding a bull at a competition that he eventually won.

That was a decade ago, before Davis became the best bull rider in the world and before a bull-riding accident left Davis paralyzed from the chest down.

Now, Davis is featured in another film called "Cowboy Up: Inside the Extreme World of Bull Riding." Only this time, Davis is seen in his wheelchair.

"Cowboy Up," a 90-minute documentary completed in September and now available on video,takes an informative and graphic look at "the world's most dangerous sport."

For his part, Davis is interviewed about the last ride of his career, his unwavering support for bull riding and how he has continued to be active managing his ranch in Archdale and supplying bulls for rodeos nationwide.

"If you're saying there's quit in me, I ain't found it yet," Davis, 30, says in the film.

In many ways, Davis' determination epitomizes what "Cowboy Up" and the spirit of bull riding are all about, says David Wittkower, the film's producer and director.

"'Cowboy Up' was a term used about 15 years ago in bull riding that meant, 'Give it your all and don't give up,'" Wittkower says. "That's what he's done. It shows that even if you're paralyzed, you can still keep going."

Wittkower, who lives near Los Angeles and makes independent films, shot "Cowboy Up" between March 2001 and March 2002. During the movie, he interviews about a dozen folks active in the sport including well-known bull riders Tuff Hedeman and Cody Lambert. The film touches on everything from the sport's rules -- a rider must stay on a bull for eight seconds to get a score -- to the special treatment given to rodeo bulls.

One of the big myths is that the animals are abused, riders and bull suppliers say. In reality, people in the film say, each bull is fed about 15 pounds of special grain each day. When they retire from the sport, most rodeo bulls live out their days on a ranch, not like other cattle that are sent to the slaughterhouse.

Davis, who now makes a living raising bucking bulls, spoke during the film of how well the animals are treated.

"When you've got a bull of that caliber, you're not going to treat him bad," he says. "You want him to perform to his best. Not only that, you're not going to kill him. You're going to breed him when you're done with him."

However, the film does not mention the straps that are tied around the bull's abdomen to get it to buck the riders. Animal-rights activists protest the sport because they say the straps are painful and create unnatural behavior, says Amy Rhodes, animal and entertainment specialist for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Wittkower says he spent weeks with people who raise bulls and concluded that the animals were not being mistreated. The straps, he says, do create some mild discomfort but not enough to note in the film.

"I didn't want to make this an investigative piece," Wittkower says. "If this was like '48 Hours' ... showing the hazards of rodeo, they could probably find something, but that didn't interest me."

One area of the film Wittkower does investigate thoroughly is the danger of bull riding. So, he called on bull riders such as Davis, whose story began on a cattle ranch when he was very young.

By age 11, Davis already was breaking young broncs and dreaming of being the best bull rider in the world. At 22, he did just that, riding nine of the sport's 10 most menacing bulls at the 1995 National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.
Davis is the only man living on this side of the Mississippi ever to hold the world championship bull-riding title.

Then on March 14, 1998, inside a Fort Worth, Texas, arena, a bull named Knock 'Em Out John slung Davis on his head, shattering his backbone. He was instantly paralyzed.

The doctors told Davis he would never climb into another saddle. But Davis has defied them with help from his wife, Tiffany, who helps feed and dress him.
Now, he can't walk, but he has ridden horses, thanks to friends and relatives who hoist him into a saddle with a special back brace.

Davis was never ignorant of the dangers of bull riding. Footage from one of his 1992 events in Del Rio, Texas, was featured in the film "8 Seconds," a film about the life and death of one of the sport's legends, Lane Frost. Frost was killed in a bull-riding accident in 1989. Luke Perry, who played Frost in the film, narrates "Cowboy Up."

"This just comes with the territory," Davis said. "Bull riding is voted the most dangerous sport in the world for a reason. You put 2,000 pounds up against 150 pounds, and accidents are going to happen."

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