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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

$10,000 on the line as Spangle hosts world mechanical bull riding finals

Left to right, Brian Paske, Jonathan Holdren and Alaina Spence, will be competing for the $10,000 prize in the mechanical bull riding "world championship" held in Spangle on Saturday, Aug. 24, 2019. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

It’s billed as the first of its kind in the country. Even if it’s a little hard to believe.

“Mechanical bull riders 2019 world championship finals,” the flyer reads.

And that’s not the only thing that’s hard to believe. Consider what’s on the table for those who are willing to take a bucking, mechanical ride in this novel competition: At least $10,000 in cold, hard cash.

The catch? There is none: $100 to enter, and please wear a western hat, long sleeve shirt and long pants (jeans preferred). Best way to act the part is to look the part.

“This needs to be done,” said 72-year-old cowboy George Chicha, who’s not only organizing the event but also put up $10,000 of his own money. “I thought it needed to be done way back when I first thought the mechanical bull would be a viable event. That basically came with that movie ‘Urban Cowboy.’ ”

That’s right. Art imitating life, imitating art.

When Chicha first saw the John Travolta-led movie around 1980 – which concludes in a $5,000 mechanical bull riding contest in then-real-life honky tonk Gilley’s Club in Pasadena, Texas – he thought, “Why not? Why not in real life? Why not now?”

For 40 years, the “why not” was never far from his brain. But it wasn’t much closer to reality, either.

Until this year, when it was finally time to put up or shut up.

On Saturday, from about noon to 7 p.m., the Harvester Restaurant in the town of Spangle, about 20 minutes south of Spokane along U.S. Highway 195, will be transformed into a bull-riding mecca. More than a dozen cowboys and cowgirls will show the world what it’s like to be a real-life Urban Cowboy.

In addition to the competition, which is likely to take several hours, the Harvester will serve drinks in a beer garden, and goods will be for sale in booths. There will also be, as you might expect, a corn hole tournament.

And on top of the $10,000-plus of prize money – plus entry fee winnings – the last man or woman standing will be awarded a custom-designed belt buckle emblazoned with the words “Mechanical Bull Riders World Champion.” And in the center, the abbreviated version: “MBRWC.”

To some, that’s the most important part: bragging rights and bling. Hardly surprising, given the overwhelming majority of people already entered have never ridden a bull, much less a mechanical one.

“It’s open to anybody that wants to get in,” said Chicha. “From what I can tell, they’re just ordinary people.”

Bucket list

Brian Paske isn’t in it for the fame. Or the fortune. In fact, if he wins, he plans to donate every cent to the Spangle Service Club, an organization that, among other things, helped send a group of Liberty High School students to Spain.

Mostly, he’s in it for the experience. The cheering crowd. A chance to conquer the heap of metal and engineering between his legs. The rush.

“It’s kind of one of my bucket list items,” Paske said. “I’ve always wanted to try to do it once and see what I think of it.”

Paske, 44, who lives a few minutes north of Spangle and frequents the Harvester Restaurant, grew up in Montana, first in Missoula, before moving on to Kalispel and Polson, and now the Spokane area.

In those formative years in Montana, he wrestled through much of high school, before moving on to rugby once he graduated. Spurred by a friend who became so enamored with the sport, he tried out for a New Zealand rugby squad.

While he’s not sure, he hopes the years of working on balance, hand-eye coordination, proper form and technique will properly transfer to a mechanical bull.

Whether it does is anyone’s guess.

“I have no idea how I’ll do,” he admitted. “Might be No. 1, or I’m out first round.”

Regardless, he knows what it’s like to lose. As a sophomore in high school, he was cut from the basketball team, which is when he found wrestling. He eventually placed second in state his senior year.

Like those at a rodeo, it’s try, try again.

“Let’s just try it and see what happens,” Paske said. “It sounds fantastic.”

Fashion over funds

It was love at first sight: Him, standing in the hallway of the Harvester Restaurant where he’s been a cook for about six months. It, staring back from behind a glass case.

Sparks flew. Desire swelled. A contest was entered.

“I saw the belt buckle, and I says, ‘Damn, that looks nice,’ ” said Jonathan Holdren. “It would look real good on me, bud.”

Holdren, 24, is a rural Eastern Washington product, through and through. Raised in Rosalia, he fits the bill as the type of person who signs up on a whim, then stomps the competition, all the while making it look easy.

He grew up farming at his uncle’s house not too far from where he lived, mostly working around animals. When not doing that, he was driving a truck and tractor to help out, even as early as elementary school.

Like most others, he too has never ridden a bull, mechanical or otherwise. Or a bucking horse, for that matter.

But what he has done is watch the professionals on TV and in movies. And a bit of mutton busting as a kid – think bull riding, but smaller, fluffier and cuter.

“It looks like a lot of fun,” Holdren said. “I’m just not too thrilled with the idea of possibly getting stomped on by a bull. This is a safer route.”

And safety should be paramount. After all, he has a girlfriend and a one-and-a-half-year-old son to look after.

He helps support them as a cook at the Harvester, where he does everything from working the grill, to shouting directions at other cooks. Before that, he worked at a small bar and grill in Rosalia.

When asked what he’d do with the money if he wins, he paused for a second, as if surprised by the question.

Probably buy a new vehicle for the winter for him and his girlfriend, he said. Or some new appliances.

“Whatever I can do to make things nicer for the family,” he said. “Whatever we decide is going to be best.”

Breaking the glass saddle

Not only is she the sole woman to sign up so far, she might have the best advantage out of the whole lot.

Alaina Spence, 26, knows what it means to tame an animal from atop its back. Growing up in the Hangman Valley, she spent much of her youth around horses and cows, riding the former since her first birthday.

She still rides to this day, too, on her duo of male horses, Jesse James and Liddy Buck.

It’s with that experience, and the knowledge that she’s potentially going up against a posse of men, that sets her bar high.

“I’m pretty excited,” she said. “I’m not scared or anything. I just am anxious. I want to win first place.”

And as for animals with no beating hearts, she’s tamed those too. About five years ago, she rode a mechanical bull at a fair. Held on for about 15 seconds, too.

To help spur her on, Spence’s 7-year-old daughter Sofia will be watching from the sideline. As will her mom and a couple of friends.

If she wins – and she plans to – she hopes to buy a new pair of English riding saddles for her two horses. After that, who knows.

And if she loses, it’s try, try again.

“I will be extremely disappointed if I don’t win,” Spence said. “But I’ll continue to enter, and hopefully get that first place every year.”