Jim Lovell is one of three men that, for years, has led the Bible study that I attend on Wednesday mornings.
Jim’s an interesting guy. He grew up on the Baptist buckle of the Bible belt of western Oklahoma. Somehow got to Denver where he joined the Evangelical Presbyterian church I attend. Before moving on to, of all things, the Wellspring Anglican Church. Which, never fear, is affiliated with the charismatic Rwandan Anglican Church. And isn’t even within sniffing distance of the “all smells and bells” churches of its English brethren. I’ve been to Wellspring-and I like it, too. So do my daughter and her family-they’re members.
Jim runs a successful, high-end residential construction company. During the 2008 financial collapse in the building market, Jim defiantly said this about the mortgage meltdown’s impact on his business: “I refuse to participate!” And, as far as I know, he didn’t.
Size doesn’t matter. But heart does.
Jim has a grandson, Nathan Hatchell, who’s a little wisp of a guy. But all muscle and sinew. And a winsome smile that he tends to hold back for company.
One of the first things I noticed about Nathan was his clothes. Stove pipe blue jeans-of course. White western shirt with the tricked out yoke and pearl snap buttons. But it was the belt that really caught my eye: a shiny buckle about the size of a tea cup saucer. Big enough to cut the kid in half if he wasn’t careful when he stooped over to pull up his cowboy boots.
Sooner or later, it came out that Nathan attended a university in Oklahoma that offered rodeo as an intercollegiate sport. And that Nathan rode Brahman bulls for the program.
Now, I went to the rodeo when I was a kid here in Denver. And the bull riding was always a highlight of the evening. Especially when the clowns scampered out to lure the bulls away from the cowboys who’d been twisted like pretzels before being thrown in a heap to the dirt on the coliseum floor. I was always astonished when those skinny guys stood up, dusted off their chaps with their cowboy hats, and swaggered over to join their buddies ringside.
The rest of the story
But it wasn’t until the time, years later, that I happened to get a seat right above the shoot where they loaded the cowboys onto the back of the animals that I really understood what bull riding is all about.
Peering over the railing, I was there with my own now young son. Each cowboy went through a similar ritual as they climbed into the shoot. Watching them get on the back of the bull made the biggest impression on me. It was like trying to get your legs around a heaving, infuriated Volkswagon bug that was blowing snot out its nose. The rider then tightly wraps a thong around his hand that, in turn, gripped a handle that was strapped around the bull just behind its shoulders. To more securely anchor his leather clad “riding” hand, the rider alternately tugs on the thong and pounds on his riding hand with his free hand.
Now ready, he lays back on the bull’s haunches, gives his hat a final tug and then raises his free hand over his head. With that, he gives the guy handling shoot a curt nod. The gate swings open. And the now even angrier bull explodes into the ring.
A good comparison? Think of the condemned man nodding to the hangman to drop the trap door.
This isn’t your father’s bull rider
But to actually meet a bull rider? Not ’til I met Nathan. And what’s more, he isn’t your average bull rider. He’s in the running to be the national intercollegiate champion.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve only met Nathan once or twice in passing on a Wednesday morning; he wouldn’t know me if he saw me.
But there’s a nice article here about him in the Rodeo News magazine. He comes from a bull riding family but it wasn’t all smooth sailing; his dad rode bulls before going to work as a roughneck in the Oklahoma oil fields. But there’s no mention of a mom; Nathan was bounced from home to home as a kid. The article also discusses the sport’s occupational hazards: broken jaws and death as if they were all in a day’s work. Which they are in this “profession.”
For obvious reasons, it’s the kind of sport where you grow up in a hurry. Just out of college, Nathan’s engaged to be married this fall. He’s also looking to join his grandfather’s construction business and, perhaps someday, take it over.
For a kid, he’s wise beyond his years: “Follow the Lord and your dreams will follow you. Everybody is chasing their dreams, but I’m chasing the Lord and my dreams have come to me. Don’t let anything set you back from that.”
Nathan, I couldn’t have said it better myself. Now, if I could only do it as well as you have.