COLUMBIA — Bull riders can't be afraid of heights.
Justin Smith decided he wanted to ride bulls when he was 2 years old after his parents took him to his first rodeo. Because he was so young, he started out riding sheep, but he refused to sit on one until he was 4 years old. He was too scared of heights to climb up the back of the chute so he could sit on the animal.
It took Smith a year to overcome those fears and another year or so to switch over to the real thing. He said he first climbed onto a bull at age 6 or 7. Now, Smith, a sophomore at Hickman, is the only bull rider from his school entered in the Missouri High School State Rodeo Finals.
Despite his struggles when he was younger, the story of Lane Frost inspired Smith to continue to pursue his goal. The movie "Eight Seconds" is based on Frost, a champion bull rider who was killed in 1989 at age 25 by a bull named Red Rock.
Smith has watched this movie so many times that he and his mother, Phyllis Smith can recite the entire movie.
"Even his dog is named Red Rock after the bull that killed Lane," Phyllis Smith said, but she nicknamed the dog Rocky. "We even went to (Lane Frost's) grave one time. He was buried in Oklahoma."
Justin Smith admits his addiction to the movie. His mother said for a while he would watch it every day, sometimes twice a day.
"I couldn't go to sleep until I watched that movie," Justin Smith said. "We're looking for it on DVD, but they don't have it."
In Friday's bull riding competition, Justin Smith had a rough ride that cost him his pants when the bull trampled him.
"His pants were all ripped up," his mother said. "We had to throw them away."
But it was a minor aggravation considering the other things that have happened to Justin Smith riding bulls. He has separated his shoulder, broken his collar bone and has had a bull step on his neck a couple of times, but he still finds himself striving for a championship like Frost.
Saturday, during the short go for the top riders, he placed second. Before that final attempt, he was in fifth place. Now he has to wait until Sunday morning to find out if he finished among the top four and gets to go to national competition for the first time.