A 19-year-old Allen Helmuth wasn't entirely prepared for his first amateur bull riding event in Sumas in 2003.
Figuratively speaking, he was more than willing to mount a bull and command it for eight death-defying seconds. But literally speaking, he was without some of the necessary equipment to do so, calling upon his friend, then 16-year-old Colby Reilly.
"He was gung-ho, but he didn't have any gear," Reilly, now 27, said in a phone interview. "He needed a rope and some gear to borrow to get on."
Of course, Reilly obliged, offering up what Helmuth needed, prefacing a relationship that would keep two local Lynden bull riders connected as each would pursue professional careers in the sport.
And as the Washington Tractor Arena at the Northwest Washington Fair & Event Center in Lynden prepares to host a two-day long professional bull riding event, it will also see the return of two of its own in Reilly and Helmuth.
The event begins at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, April 4, and will entertain the likes of more than 70 professional riders.
For Reilly, who was born and raised on a dairy farm in Lynden before moving to Ephrata, having his family in attendance is a rarity of sorts, adding to the anticipation of his return.
"It's more exciting knowing that there's someone out there in the stands that knows you on a personal basis," Reilly said. "But at the end of the day, when I climb into that bucking shoot, it's all business."
Neither Reilly nor Helmuth came upon bull riding in typical fashion. No immediate family members dabbled in the sport, allowing the two to come upon it on more natural terms.
Helmuth, who began bull riding later than most at the age of 17, recalled making a deal with a stock contractor in the small town of Independence, Iowa, to ride his first bull. The contractor needed extra hands to construct the venue for the bull riding event, proposing a deal to Helmuth and his friends that if they were to help build and later take down the arena, he would allow them to ride free of charge.
"It's something that's hard to conquer and hard to master," Helmuth said in a phone interview. "I remember getting on it. Your mind is going so fast you don't know what happens until you hit the ground. 'What just happened?' Your mind is not processing it."
Reillys first experience, albeit at 14, was much the same, straddling a steer in a junior rodeo anticipating the bucking shoot to open, releasing him to the whim of the animal beneath him.
"I quit breathing - turned purple," Reilly said. "My buddy's dad hit me in the back pretty hard. Made me take a big breath. I was kind of scared for my life, but I don't get scared anymore."
Coming to terms with the potential harm that awaits is a part of the sport, Helmuth said, something all who compete know full well. Some, like Helmuth, choose to focus less on the possibility of the bull inflicting bodily harm.
Visualization, he said, is more his remedy to the madness.
"... Imagining part of my practice routine out in the barn, practicing my bull riding moves," said Helmuth when asked how he prepares for an event. "Certain moves counteract what the bull is doing. It's like dancing, and at eight seconds you jump off the imaginary bull."
Bull riding is less a sport than it is a way of life, Reilly said, and the two will continue down that path Friday night.
Reach Alex Bigelow at email@example.com or call 360-715-2238. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for other Whatcom County sports updates.
Spelling of Colby Reilly's name corrected on April 4, 2014.