Bullfighters Scott Byrne, left, Scott Waye moves in to protect Clayton Foltyn of Winnie, Tx., after he bucked off Canadian Outlaw into the mud at the Stampede Rodeo at the Calgary Stampede in Calgary, Ab., on Friday July 15, 2016. MIKE DREW/POSTMEDIA
Big decision on the table, he was torn.
So Scott Byrne, of two minds on the pressing matter, made sure to survey his family, including the young boys.
“I sat them down and said, ‘So I got a call from the Calgary Stampede …’ ”
And guess what?
Neatly – and naturally – each son encapsulated one side of the old man’s dilemma.
Dylan, 10, was thrilled. His father coming out of retirement to bullfight at this year’s Stampede? Why, nothing could be finer.
“He’s all about extreme sports – if it can go fast, it should go faster,” says Byrne, “and he’s just, ‘Yes! We’re going back to Calgary.’ ”
Which had been Byrne’s initial reaction.
But the philosophical consideration of the debate dogged him, too.
Leave it to Brayden – “Conservative kid, big feelings” – to voice that viewpoint, with a little prompting, during evening chores at the family homestead near Brandon, Man.
“He said, ‘Well, Dad, I don’t think it’s right. You said you were done. You said you’d never fight another bull,’ ” says Byrne. “I said, ‘That’s right, but this is the scenario.’ I explained it to him.”
That bullfighter Brett Monea snapped his leg.
That the Stampede was a month away.
That his services were required.
“He said, ‘I get it,’ ” says Byrne. “He had the same thing going through his mind as I did – the moral thing.”
Now, having satisfied his own conditions – blessings from family members; assurances that he wasn’t big-footing an up-and-comer; promises that there would be no publicity, advance or otherwise, about his comeback – Byrne accepted.
Yes, the 44-year-old would work the Stampede for the 16th time.
Less than a year after walking away.
But, wonders his interrogator, what about the notion of having left, with body intact, one of the most dangerous pursuits on the planet? Why gamble again with that inherent risk?
Isn’t it kind of like thumbing your nose at Lady Luck?
Or, more to the (horn’s) point, at Vanilla Thunder?
“I could go out in the morning to feed a horse and get kicked in the head, and that could be it, too,” says Byrne. “If you internally dwell on that … How does my wife (Raegan) always put it? ‘You bring about what you think about.’ I’ve tempted fate for 20 years, so what’s 20 years and 10 days, right? I guess something could happen, but I doubt it will.”
Of course, there have been wrecks along the trail.
On a stretcher one night in Lethbridge, Byrne felt his body go warm – “I didn’t know if I was bleeding out” – so he made his peace with the possibility that this could be the end.
Another time, face stomped, his biggest concern en route to the hospital? Tracking down a helmet that could accommodate his swelling noggin.
“So I could fight bulls the next day.”
It’s no surprise that Byrne, when green-lighted for Calgary, rushed ino the garage to dig out his beloved riggin’ bag and its battered contents – high-top football cleats, braces (“both knees have been torn”), hip pads (“like a ref’s girdle”), padded vest (“you can see scuff marks from horns”), polarized sunglasses (“so much mud flies around”).
Minding his gear, last used November at the Canadian Professional Bullriders championship in Saskatoon, had always been an essential part of his routine. There’s comfort in that.
“I unpacked everything like I usually do,” says Byrne. “Did my laundry. Folded it up like I always do. Packed it like I always do. And we came here.”
During the afternoon, Byrne and his courageous chums – Scott Waye and cousin Jesse Byrne – march into the ring to protect fallen cowboys.
Their daily stint is brief, maybe 25 minutes, but potential for harm is high.
“We’re paid to be hurt,” says Byrne. “Part of being a professional is healing up.”
Abiding by that frill-free job description, he worked 150 times annually, away from home for 200 days. After a couple of decades, the routine became well-worn. He recites the summertime itinerary – Innisfail, Wainwright, Ponoka, Calgary, Morris, Strathmore, Medicine Hat.
This time, though, there was no lead-up. No down-the-highway chase afterward.
Simply the Stampede.
Then it is over.
“Sunday, I will be retired,” says Byrne, a sales rep for Wrangler and Montana Silversmiths. “This scenario will never happen again.”
Accordingly, he’s soaking up every sacred second.
Relaxing in the bullfighters’ cramped quarters the other morning, he tries to explain the appeal.
“The greatest rush in the world,” says Byrne. “After the first day back, I was like, ‘Wow, there it is again.’ You can’t replace it. It’s given me a whole new perspective on the last 20 years … it all came back at once. Holy cow. I’ve always said I’ve been lucky, but I realized it more once I got to do it again.”
He remembers back in the day griping about hectic grind.
All the dust, all the work, all the travel.
“Then it hit me (this week) – why would you ever belly-ache?” says Byrne. “How many people can push their chair up to their desk every day and say, ‘Man, I love this job.’ It makes me a little emotional because I was lucky to do what I did.”
Here, the tough cookie pauses for a couple of tear-defying blinks.
“To come back and do it again? Pretty cool,” says Byrne. “It was being allowed to savour and reflect on what had been done.”