LIVING THE DREAM
Derek Kolbaba don't scare easy. We caught up with the second-generation pro bull rider to learn what makes him tick, how he shrugs off injury and his commitment to one of the toughest sports out there.
Hey Derek, It's good to finally catch up, it's been a busy season for you already! We wanted to take this time to get to know you better, why don't you start by telling us a bit about your background. Where did you grow up and where are you at the moment?
I grew up in Joseph, Oregon while living with my family. Now, I am living in Walla Walla, WA with my wife and soon-to-be little girl. I really enjoy it out here, it's a great home base.
Of all the career paths out there, how did you decide on bull riding?
I didn't have a choice really! My father was a bull rider in the '90s and my family has always been involved in the rodeo life, it's been a part of my life since day one. Watching my dad compete is what really got me excited about it, and I was incredibly fortunate to have him as a mentor and to learn the fundamentals of the sport at such a young age.
From what we know about your lifestyle, bull riding can be pretty intense, from the travel to the sport itself, for you, what is the best and the worst thing about bull riding?
The absolute best part is waking up every day, living my dream, I love every part of the sport. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to make sure it's real. One of the aspects I really love is that when each event is over, there's always another event, another goal, another mountain to climb and that's what keeps the desire burning inside and what forces me to improve every day.
For the worst part? I'd say it is the injuries. Waking up sore every morning is just part of the package being a bull rider and it definitely makes the 5am flights a little harder. But that's part of it and the highs definitely outweigh the lows, I wouldn't change it for a thing!
Speaking of injuries, you've got a list that would impress most people, but what have been the worst?
While the list is pretty long, in the grand scheme of things I've actually been somewhat fortunate when you compare yourself to others in the sport. That said, I've still got a bit of a rap sheet.
Once of the worst happened when I was 15 and I broke my leg really badly. It took 5 surgeries to get back to full health, I had plenty of complications, including compartment syndrome, which was challenging. Looking back, I think that having this injury at such a young age was a make-or-break point in my career. I could have easily just packed it all in right there, such a severe injury would discourage most people from a life in bull riding but for me it was the opposite. It actually made me want to work harder to bounce back and compete at the highest level.
A more recent injury that was tough was last year, a bull stepped on my chest with both feet. At first I just felt winded, but once we got to the hospital, we realized that it was much more serious. I had a collapsed lung that filled with fluid. I ended up staying in the hospital for 10 days with a tube in my chest to continually drain the fluid. They even had to do a small surgery when the tube wasn't doing a job. It was a tough time and it took me another couple months outside of the hospital until I got back to my normal routine.
When all is said and done, the injuries are part of the sport and something you have to accept when going into it. Some injuries have ended rider's careers, so when I compare myself to them, I can't help but feel lucky.
If you weren't going to be a bull rider, what do you think you'd be?
You know, I get asked this one a lot, but it's really hard to answer. I've only known one way of life and this is what I live for. If I were to do something else, it would have to be something that keeps me busy that gives you that same desire to wake up and be the best you can be. I don't think it matters what it is, but whatever I'd be doing, there has to be a reason behind it – that's the way I have to live.
If I were to pick something to do after my career, something like a snowmobile tour guide would be pretty fun. I love snowmobiling and anything that keeps me outside doing the things I love would be great.
How does your DECKED Tool Box make your life easier on the ranch?
It's been a really great piece of gear actually. It allows me to run a gooseneck trailer but still have a usable, versatile truck bed. I like staying organized and knowing that my gear is secure, safe from the elements and where it's meant to be is a great peace of mind. It's funny sometimes comparing my truck bed to others whose stuff is spread all over the place, getting wet and even stolen. I lead a busy life and worrying about my gear is the last thing I want to think of.