Off Beat: Fall may have saved photographer, and that's no bull

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As journalists, we assume certain risks, and I've had my share of close calls on the job.

I was almost accidently shot in the back by a California Highway Patrol officer while covering a felony stop.While shooting aerial photos from a small plane, we narrowly missed a mid-air collision with a television news helicopter.

So I shouldn't have been too shocked when I recently found myself in the path of a runaway bull.

Colleague Paul Suarez and I were at the Vancouver Saddle Club covering a rodeo Bible camp for a story that ran in Sunday's "Life" section.

Our backs were to the arena when we heard a commotion and screams that may have included "Heads up!" and "Look out!" A bull had bucked its rider, jumped the arena fence and was headed straight for us.

By the time we turned around, the bull was about 15 feet away and charging at full speed. My jaw dropped. Suarez broke left; I broke right. Red Robin, the 2,000-pound bull who was later described by his owners as "not particularly mean," followed me. I realized he wasn't headed just in my direction, but right for me.

Being a city slicker, my first reaction was to warn him of the impending impact by waving my arms over my head.

Probably the wrong move.

He was 10 feet out and closing fast; I had nowhere to go. At 8 feet we locked eyes. At 6 feet, he put his head down and showed me his horns. "This is going to hurt," was my last thought before I tripped over my own feet, fell backward and landed square on my back.

That flop may have saved my life. Instead of teeing me up, Red Robin continued on his line, first throwing his head and front legs upward, then his hind legs in a bucking motion that carried him directly over me.

I looked up at him as he passed overhead without ever making contact.

At least a half-dozen cowboys on horseback were in pursuit. "Get out of the way, he's hot!" one of them screamed. When I got to my feet, I joined Suarez and a teenage girl on top of a nearby tractor. Red Robin went on to ram a parked horse trailer before the cowboys were able to rope him and return him to his pen.

Plenty of people saw my brush with the bull. Several seemed almost as stunned as I was. "You are so lucky!" "I thought you were dead!" And, "That looked like 'The Matrix!'" — referring to the scene in the movie where Keanu Reeves dodged bullets by bending over backwards and flailing his arms.

One cowboy even dubbed me "The Bull Fighter." But it wasn't cat-like reflexes that saved me — just dumb luck.— Zachary Kaufman


Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.