Around Rifle, Colten Fritzlan is known for his rodeo skills, not his song writing prowess. But after all he's endured in the last year, Fritzlan's probably got enough material for a few good country tunes.
The drama started last September, when Fritzlan, a sixth-grader at Rifle Middle School who has been riding bulls since 2007, dominated the first bull riding event of the 2011-12 season in Cortez. He won both bull riding events at that rodeo, and earned a first-place rank statewide in the junior high category.
Then, this spring, Fritzlan began to feel a pain in his elbow. His doctor told him he was suffering complications from a four-year-old dislocated elbow, and would need to have the joint surgically reconstructed.
In late May, about a month after the surgery, Fritzlan found out he had qualified for Colorado's Junior High National Team in bull riding, largely thanks to his stellar early season results, and was eligible to compete at the junior high national finals in Gallup, New Mexico in July.
Figuring his elbow would be healed by competition time, Fritzlan went to the doctor for a checkup, and received bad news. A screw inserted in the joint during surgery had split in half. Another surgery was needed. In short, Fritzlan wasn't going to Nationals.
"I'm not sure how I broke the screw," he said. "The doctor said I was free to rope, so it could have been roping, or physical therapy. But we're going to let it heal up before I ride again."
Injuries are a reality for athletes in any sport, but as Fritzlan's mom, Velvet, noted, they're practically inevitable in bull riding.
"He chooses bull riding," she said." So its not if or when he gets hurt, it's gonna happen. Its part of what they do."
Certainly, Fritzlan said, he's disappointed. But given his age and all he's invested in the sport, it's unlikely he'll be out of the rodeo spotlight for long.
In 2011, Fritzlan had a banner year, winning the miniature bull riding world championship in Ogden, Utah and taking second at the northwestern finals in Helena, Mont. Rather than blowing his prize money on video games or other sixth-grade amusements, he put much of it toward his own stable of miniature practice bulls, which he has been building for several years.
Up to about high school, bull riders generally ride miniature bulls, which are bred for their size to train young riders for the full-sized animals. Miniature bulls can weigh 600 to 1,000 pounds, while full-sized bulls can weigh 2,000 pounds or more.
When Fritzlan attends competitions or rodeo camps, he sometimes is paid to bring his bulls for other contestants to ride. This can easily cover his travel costs, and combined with prize money, can greatly increase his rodeo earnings, Velvet said.
"It has been a pretty good investment for him. He manages his money well," she said.
Yet there's more than money drawing Fritzlan to bulls. While some bull riders have an adversarial relationship with the animals, he seems to have a soft spot for them.
"I like being around them," he said. "I like the way they buck." When he rides, he said, "mostly I like the adrenaline rush."
And Fritzlan said he anxiously looks forward to that time again.