Cody Fronk sold his bull-riding gear and swore off the hobby after an encounter inside the ring left him with a ruptured spleen a few years ago, his family says.
But the 19-year-old couldn't stay away from the adrenaline sport.
Last Friday, friends say he climbed onto the back of a rowdy beast named "Irish Influence." In just three seconds, the bull bucked, Fronk slid forward, and the bull's horn collided with his helmet with a loud "crack," said aunt Sheila Sirak.
Fronk was knocked out for seven minutes, sister Kylie Rankin told the Press Enterprise. "We thought he was dead."
The impact dented his helmet and broke his left eye socket and jaw. He also suffered a severe concussion and other broken bones in his face, mother Mary Woodside added.
After surgery to wire his jaw shut while it heals, Fronk typed to a reporter from his hospital bed. The 2012 Benton graduate doesn't remember anything about Friday, he says. But this time he's really done with bull riding.
"It was my passion, my life, but this time is too much."
"Thank the good Lord he's OK," Sirak added. "If he thinks about doing it again, he'll be in the hospital from his aunt breaking both his legs," she said, laughing.
Second bull of night
Fronk grew up around the rodeo.
But he waited until he turned 16 to try riding at S.R. Rodeo Bulls in Stillwater, Sirak said.
Sirak barrel-races, and her husband was a bull rider. Fronk's brother-in-law Sam Rankin also competed.
"He has a metal jaw from it," Woodside says.
Fronk didn't compete, but he participated in practice sessions every week, he said. It was his idea of fun on a Friday night.
Last week, Fronk had successfully ridden another bull for eight seconds, the competitive benchmark, before the accident, friends said.
When he came to, he was so combative it took about six men to hold him down. He was rushed to Geisinger Medical Center by Benton ambulance, treated by some EMT friends whom he served with as a Benton Fire Co. volunteer, family said.
After being moved out of the ICU, Sirak said Fronk was in good spirits even before he was sent home Tuesday afternoon.
"He's just bored," said the aunt. "He's used to being on the go."
Sirak felt partially to blame for Fronk's injuries.
"It's my fault, I guess I brought you into the scene," she told him.
This is the third time bull riding has left Fronk injured. He broke an ankle during another ride. And a year or two ago, he fell off and a bull stepped on his stomach, Sirak said.
The 160-pound Fronk was no match for the 2,000-pound animal. The weight ruptured his spleen.
"It's luck," Sirak said. "Kind of like a 50/50 chance you're going to get hurt. When you get hurt more than you're doing well, it's time to find a different hobby."
Fronk's sister said the family wants to thank everyone for their prayers while Fronk recovers.