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14 December 2010

Bull Rider Character Interview: Ben

I want to thank Ben O'Mara and Suzanne Morgan Williams for allowing me to conduct this interview. Thanks also to The Teen {Book} Scene for organizing this blog tour.

I was first introduced to Ben O'Mara in Bull Rider and am excited to be able to have him answer questions for me today.

First off, Ben, your grandfather was a champion bull rider in his younger days. What was it like growing up with that legacy? Did you feel pushed to follow in his footsteps?
My Grandpa and me, we’ve always had this special thing. I think maybe I was born kind of like him. He rode bulls and I rode bulls. From the time I was little, he coached me how to do it. It wasn’t hard. It was easy – what I was meant to do. I’m proud that I was able to be a champion like him.

How did you feel before and after you rode your first bull?
I can’t really remember back before I rode calves. I was really little when I started. And I just kind of worked up to steers and bulls. I didn’t ever do that mutton bustin’ thing. Grandpa Roy started me right on calves. It was fun. They’re cute and crazy. I do remember graduating to my first big bull. I was 13. It was big alright, but I looked it in the eye and got on. My adrenalin was going - but I was excited for Grandpa to watch me take that ride as much as I was for riding the bull. I knew I was ready.

How did this compare to the first time you rode for the full 8 seconds?
So I wish I could say I did 8 seconds right away but I took my time working up to that. My first 8 seconds was on a steer named Mud Puppy. He was dark brown and fat. When I heard that horn – it was in Winnemucca and they used an air horn – I let go. I think I grinned for an hour.

You were a high school champion bull rider and may have continued on to the pro circuit. What made you give all that up to enlist in the Marines?
The pro circuit could have been good. I think I was up to it. But it seemed like I had time to get back to that, and the Marines, that gives you some options, you know. And it’s important. If I didn’t volunteer, well, who’d I expect was going to do it. I figured if I could ride a bull I could make it as a Marine. Around here, riding a bull is cool, but being a Marine, that’s what men do.

In Iraq, What was your main job? Did you ever feel scared?
Everybody gets scared. You don’t need to talk about it. When every time you go out, someone could off you with a bomb or a shell or a mine – well, you have to feel it. But we’ve got training and faith in the guy next to you. That’s how you get through – thinking about him. Oh, what’d I do over there? I was infantry – machine gunner. I protected my guys, best I could. You know, when you’re in combat, you do what you have to do. I pulled my weight.

After being wounded, you had to go through extensive rehab to learn how to walk again. What was a typical day in rehab like? Did you ever feel like giving up and if so, what kept you going?
The bomb messed up my brain, right? I don’t remember a lot about the early days after I was hit. I remember Mom sitting with me and the nurses working on my legs – moving them around and all. But the hard part wasn’t learning to walk or even learning to use my new arm. I’m used to that now. The hardest part was going out of the hospital and into the community. We had to practice that. The street was noisy. And I’m not the same as I was - before. I felt so stupid, but the cars and the sirens – they paralyzed me. I had to learn how to, you know, relax a little again. And did I ever feel like giving up? I don’t want to talk about that. You can read my brother’s book.

Your younger brother, Cam rode the crazy bull Ugly because of the bet you made with him. What was it like watching the video of him ride?
I couldn’t believe he did that. For me. Well, I’m pretty sure part of it was for him – what a rush – but mainly, he risked himself for me. I could give him some technical pointers. But on stepping up and being a brother – he’s got that covered. He’s a good kid.

After Cam's ride on Ugly, you were planning to learn the AI business while saving up to start your own breeding business. How is that going?
Yeah, Amy Jones is teaching me what I need to know. I’m getting the hang of negotiating. Remembering the bulls and the pedigrees is getting easier too but I get tired and that’s frustrating. I used to be able to do a full day’s work on the ranch and a round at the bull ring at night and never feel it. Now I have to nap after our mornings on the phone. That’s lousy, but it’s the way it is. I’ll make it.

Anything else you would like to add?
This is me – Suzanne - I did a lot of research to write Bull Rider including about traumatic brain injury. You asked me a couple of questions that sent me back to the internet to check out rehab details again. I visited a resource for people with traumatic brain injuries and their families and caregivers that is highly recommended by my daughter – who in a strange intersection of our experiences, is now a traumatic brain injury educator working with caregivers of injured veterans. I found this video that I hope you’ll watch. It’s so cool. And I’m thinking, maybe I need to write a sequel for Ben – something that’s been on my mind for a while – and give him a service dog like PAX.

Suzanne Morgan Williams is the author of:

Bull Rider - Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2009

China's Daughters - Pacific View Press, 2010

The Inuit - Franklin Watts

The Chinook, The Cherokee, The Tlingit, The Ojibwe, The Powhatan - Heinemann Libraries

For more information, please visit her website.


Jessi E. (The Elliott Review) said...

Great interview!

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