This isn’t his first rodeo

Bolander Justin bullWhen Justin Bolander told his mom he wanted to add bull riding to his horseback events at rodeos the family has participated in since before he could remember, Chris Bolander’s initial reaction was a resounding, “No!”

“A friend was telling him that he should do it, and I was adamant about him not doing it,” Chris Bolander recalled. “I said, ‘Just stay with horses.’”

Little did she know that budding enthusiasm would lead to her son participating in the international competition July 14-20 in Wyoming — an event that is billed as the world’s largest youth rodeo. Justin Bolander will vie for winning marks among hundreds of participants from all over the U.S., Canada and Australia.

Some boys have posters of Lebron James or Michael Jordan adorning their bedroom walls. Justin Bolander’s room is decorated with posters of Gary Leffew, Bobby Berger and other rodeo superstars. He has a collection of trading cards, but the bulls in his cards aren’t from Chicago.

“I have about 500 cards in my room of all the legends,” Justin Bolander said. “I have pictures, banners — all that.”

Like most young men whose hearts have been set on something, Justin Bolander’s desire to try his hand at bull riding was unrelenting. Eventually, he brought Mom on board. She finally caved in 2011, but not without conditions. If her son, then 14, wanted to ride bulls, he needed to be trained by the experts. Chris Bolander enrolled her son in a school for cowboys such as Justin Bolander, called Meech Bucking Bulls, in Nimrod. Troy Meech instructed the young Bolander for several weekends that summer before giving his mother a warning.

“He said, ‘Mom, you’re in trouble,’” Chris Bolander said. “Meaning Justin really liked it.”

Learning from the experts may have alleviated some of the worry any mother would feel considering the danger of the sport, but the taste of the real deal gave Justin all the motivation he needed to take his hobby one step further.

“After the State Fair, he started competing,” Chris Bolander said. “He’s rode almost every rodeo that they’ve offered.”

For the full story, see the Thursday, June 27 print edition of the Times.