Cody Martinez hasn’t learned to drive a stick shift yet, but for eight seconds he’s in for a tougher ride than most people experience in a lifetime.
While most 16-year-old boys spend their afternoons on the red dirt of a baseball diamond or between the lines of the gridiron, Martinez finds himself in a dusty chute waiting to climb on top of a 1,000-pound bull.
To the Dutchtown High School freshman, bull riding is as natural as riding a bike.
Those bulls are now taking Martinez 1,500 miles to Rock Springs, Wyoming, to compete in July in the National High School Finals Rodeo where he’ll meet hundreds of the nation’s top teenage bull riders for a shot at the coveted champion belt buckle — a honor only four Louisianans have earned in the event’s 64-year history.
According to the Sweetwater Events Complex website, the event is expected to draw more than 100,000 spectators for the nearly 1,500 competitors through 16 events, including international cowboys and girls from Canada and Australia.
Martinez is joined by three other riders from the Sportsman’s Paradise, but is the only rider from the Baton Rouge area.
The NHSRA said they couldn’t confirm any names until all entry forms are submitted, but Martinez said Ty Veillon, of Carencro High School; Justin Mire, of Mamou High School; and Cody Goode, of Fairview High School, would be joining him in Wyoming.
Martinez will be one of the few freshmen competing in the national meet and will only have 16 seconds to prove he belongs — if he can survive that long.
“It feels like a lifetime,” Martinez said. “It seems way longer than eight seconds. I mean, you’re just sitting there and your heart gets pumping and you’re ready to go.”
Kristi Gueho isn’t thrilled about the idea of her son strapping onto a beast three times the size of an average NFL offensive lineman, but said the small concessions like Martinez wearing a helmet and protective vest put her mind somewhat at ease.
“When he first started doing it, I said, ‘Oh he’s going to get out of it. He’s not going to go through with this,’ ” Gueho said. “But he loves it and he’s good at it, so I support him.”
Gueho added that she was much happier when he was riding sheep as a small child.
Martinez said he’s been able to avoid any major injuries in the 12 years he’s been jumping on the backs of farm animals, except for some hoof-shaped bruise marks and a fractured shoulder.
Martinez’s latest tumble occurred just a few weeks ago when he prematurely fell off his bull in the state rodeo only to feel the full force of the bucking bull come down on his biceps. Martinez stayed on the ground while the rodeo protection athletes — better known as rodeo clowns — lured the animal away. He escaped escape with minor bruising.
But, according to Martinez, it takes more than getting stomped on to keep him off the bull.
“It doesn’t really go through my mind of what could happen,” Martinez said. “You don’t want to think you’re going to get hurt because if you think that, you most likely will (get hurt).”
Martinez went on to finish fourth in the state competition, which was good enough to send him to Wyoming after accumulating 45 points despite his second round fall, putting him 15 points behind leader Veillon.
This won’t be the first time Martinez has been on the big stage, however. He made the National Junior High School Finals Rodeo three times before with a pair of top-25 finishes including a ninth place finish in 2011. Martinez was also named 2014 High School Rookie of the Year in Louisiana.
“When you get (to the rodeo), it hits you that it’s big,” Martinez said. “I’m a freshman and nobody really ever makes it (as a freshman), but I did.”