Most people reading this probably wouldn't climb onto the back of a 1,200-pound bull that doesn't want someone on its back, but Zach Parker of Conneaut Lake would.
"I do it because I love it," said Parker, 18, who is embarking on what he hopes will be a career as a professional bull rider. "I've been called to do that."
Involved in rodeos since age 9, when he rode calves at the Penn Ohio Youth Rodeo in nearby Fredonia, Parker has been riding bulls since about age 12. He's the 2015 Ohio High School Rodeo bull riding champion and a past champion in the Western Pennsylvania Youth Rodeo.
Parker has participated in bull riding events from as far north as New York state and as far south as West Palm Beach, Fla. He has traveled west as far as Wyoming where he qualified for and competed in the 2015 High School Rodeo Finals.
He's been a bull rider in the Dave Martin Bull Ride Mania and in the Southern Extreme Bull Riding Association where he was a SEBRA finals qualifier during the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons as a teen.
SEBRA members are experienced riders who have other jobs, and riders like Parker want to earn membership in the top adult riders' association, the Professional Bull Riders Inc.
Parker is so good at riding bulls that he's off to Fort Scott College in Fort Scott, Kan., this week where he was awarded an athletic scholarship. Parker will be on the college's rodeo team as a bull rider while also majoring in mechanical engineering.
For now, Parker's immediate goal is to get through college and get on the professional bull riding circuit full time after graduation.
"I want to get on to the (professional) series, but I want to be the best — that's my goal — to be a world champion."
Professional bull riders may make up to $40,000 in one weekend if they win, Parker said. The yearly professional champion gets a $1 million bonus, too, he said.
But the average professional bull riding career for those who make it is only about 10 years. That's why engineering is a backup plan, he said.
"They're two different things," Parker said of his pursuit of separate careers. "With the engineering degree, after I'm done riding, I hope to get a good job with that."
Parker attended Calvary Baptist Christian Academy in Meadville from kindergarten to the 10th grade where he was an honor roll student.
His junior and senior years of high school were through the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School where he could have a flexible schedule to compete in bull riding. He graduated in June from the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, ranking in the top 20 percent of his graduating class.
Parker has been around horses all of his life, but it was when he was around 14 "I realized this is something I could do professionally and I had better start working hard at that point."
He has a drop barrel machine at home to simulate what it's like to ride a bucking bull and build muscle mass. He also rides horses as much as he can, but to get better and reach his goal, he's gone most weekends riding bulls in a rodeo somewhere.
But it's not without bumps and bruises and the risk of serious injury even though he wears a Kevlar helmet and vest when competing.
While each bulls' horns are tipped to protect the rider, the horns aren't what concerns Parker.
"Horns will scrap you up, but the feet are what hurts," he said. "Getting stepped on is what does a lot of damage. I've been run over, stepped on, slammed into fences, but I've not been knocked out yet.
"It's a very dangerous sport because your life is at risk every time and that's something you have to accept," he said. "I've dislocated my wrist, had a concussion, torn ligaments, torn tendons in my wrist. God's really blessed me so far — just some bumps and bruises."
Parker said he's a cowboy and will be the rest of his life.
"But at about 30 years old, it's time to retire" from bull riding, he said. "As long as I can keep that fire, I'm going to keep riding as long as I can.
"I hope 20 years from now I can look back, see I was a champion and be proud I put everything I had into it with no regrets."
Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can go
Zach Parker will participate in a rodeo event in the Meadville area next month. Bulls, Barrels and Badges, a bull riding and barrel racing event, will be presented by Meadville Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 97 and Southern Extreme Bull Riding Association from 5 to 9:30 p.m. Sept. 2 at the Crawford County Fairgrounds.