His heart is pounding and his adrenaline is flowing as Shane Carver, 17, tugs at his face mask and adjusts his chin strap. But this isn’t a football game. Instead, Carver is preparing to take on an opponent that would make a 300-pound lineman look small.
Carver positions himself on the back of a 2,000-pound bull and waits for the gate to open. What happens next is dangerous, exhilarating and over in eight seconds.
Carver, a rising senior at Timberland High School, is a bull rider.
“I’ve never experienced anything like it,” said Carver, who weighs 160 pounds. “I’ve rode roller coasters and stuff like that, but when I ride a bull my heart just about pounds through my chest. I sweat — all the competitors do. It can be 32 degrees out and I will be sweating buckets.”
Carver, who moved to South Carolina from Fort Worth, Texas, last year, has been a bull rider for five years. At the South Carolina High School Rodeo Association’s state finals at Clemson in May, Carver placed fourth overall in bulls to advance to the National High School Rodeo set for July 15-21 in Rock Springs, Wyo.
“It’s going to be the biggest rodeo I’ve ever competed in,” said Carver, who is a placekicker for the Timberland football team. “There’s going to be bull riders from 41 states, five Canadian provinces and kids from Australia. I’m going to compete against 300 riders. I usually compete against 30.”
Carver’s mother, Mindy Sager, comes from a family that has a rich bullriding tradition. But that doesn’t mean she’s thrilled that her son is hooked on what is called the most dangerous eight seconds in sports.
“What’s it like to have a son who rides bulls? I’m scared to death, but really proud at the same time,” Sager said.
“My heart stops for eight seconds. He’s small, and for him to control something that big, it’s incredible. But I pray all the time. That’s how you get through it. I pray for Shane and everyone out there.”
Carver wears a helmet and protective vest made of high impact foam that allows the shock of being kicked or stepped on to disperse over a wide area, thereby reducing the risk of a serious injury.
He’s broken an arm and suffered countless bumps and bruises.
“Other than that, there’s been nothing major,” Carver said. “I am lucky.”
Carver says he blocks out the crowd and everything else at the arena and focuses on the twist and turns of his opponent. Just one small mistake can mean a harsh landing.
But it’s worth it to Carver, who has played just about every traditional sport except baseball and golf.
“I love riding,” he said. “It’s fast, furious and provides a thrill.
“It’s going to be a great trip to Wyoming. My stepfather (Jason Sager) and I are going to make the trip. It will produce memories that will last a lifetime. It’s going to be great.”
Follow Philip M. Bowman on Twitter: @pandcphil