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Bulled over

One of my favorite perks of this job is how close you are to the action while photographing most sports. I first enjoyed this in college, where photographing basketball games at the University of Oregon's McArthur Court let me fully appreciate the volume that rained into "The Pit." When track season rolled around, I marveled at how insanely close I was to world-class athletes during top-tier meets.

That close proximity can make for some exciting days on the job, like when Othello's Juston Lind couldn't hang onto a pass in the endzone during last year's playoff game against Prosser at Lampson Stadium in Kennewick:

Here's how the sequence unfolded:

Just last Saturday, I had a semi-close call as Central Valley's Cameron Tucker came flying toward me on the baseline while contesting a shot by Richland's Payton Radliff:

You can see by the frantic blur in the last photo of this series that I had to move and brace for a possible impact that thankfully didn't happen:

I've been pretty lucky, though, only suffering a minor scratch and broken glasses after an errant volleyball spike blasted me in the face:

It's funny that my one injury came during one of the least violent sports I've covered — especially after a few years of shooting from inside the rodeo arena. Shooting in the arena is some of the most fun I've had in this gig. Not only are you close to the action, you can become a part of it, like I was in 2012 in Hermiston as Crash Cooper hurdled photographer Bob Click,

before leaping over me:

Thanks to E.J. Harris of the East Oregonian for that photo of me he took from outside the arena. Here's a shot of him dodging some action in 2010:

Between those years, E.J. suffered compression micro fractures in three vertebrae after stiff-arming a bull named Jordan's Jacket that crashed through the PVC pipe fence at the Pendleton Round-Up. I've never had the chance to shoot that famed rodeo, but E.J. explains how the arena is different from the ones I've been in.

There are walls, but it is not your normal rodeo arena. It is huge. The Pendleton High School football team plays their games in the grass infield in the arena....They set up a PVC pipe fence to help "contain" the bulls from running all over the arena. Some of the bulls believe it is a real fence, some seem to know that it is bull****. Others just knock it over in the normal course of bucking off a cowboy. Jordan's Jacket seemed to know that it was bull**** and busted threw it right in front of me. All the photographers gather at this "fence" to get their shots.

A month of increasing back soreness led E.J. to the doctor to find out about his broken back and then seven months of physical therapy. He's still feeling the incident's effects to this day, altering his routine slightly by carrying less gear around because his back gets sore much quicker. He says this can be limiting at times, but when it comes to rodeo, very little has changed. He shot almost everything from in the arena this year, but won't venture in for the bulls anymore in Pendleton.

And while seeing Jordan's Jacket at the Farm-City Pro Rodeo this summer caused him to freeze for "three seconds just staring before taking any photos," you'll still find him close to the action in Hermiston for every event.

"I'm either fearless, or too dumb to realize that getting hurt is not really a good enough reason not to get the shot," he said.

For me, the danger of being in the arena is what makes rodeo coverage exciting. E.J. says he still feels that way despite the fact that another shot to the back could be crippling. And while that danger is perversely fun, I don't doubt its severity, especially after seeing bullfighter Loyd Ketchum get bloodied up at the 2012 Horse Heaven Round-Up after a bull unexpectedly broke out of a chute:

He was back on the job the next day. While being behind the camera tens of yards away isn't nearly as ballsy as what the bullfighters and rodeo clowns do, clearly it's no joke either.

You can follow E.J. on Instagram here.

In other sports news...

Associated Press photographer Dave Martin died on Tuesday of an apparent heart attack while covering the Chick-fil-A Bowl at the Georgia Dome. Known for being a master of the Gatorade dunk photo, Martin collapsed shortly after making another classic photo. Look through his splashy legacy here.

Check out the GoPro footage from hockey referee Dave Banfield's perspective to see what being really close to the action is like. I'll have to try and rip off this idea at the Toyota Center some time.

Linda Lutes discovered some long-lost photos by Reid Blackburn, who was killed in the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption. Blackburn has a photo award named after him that Herald photographer Paul T. Erickson won in 2012.

Greg Marinovich takes a look at the high risk and low pay that war zone photographers take and questions the ethics of using teenage shooters like Molhem Barakat, who was killed recently in Syria.

I need to find some time to pore over the New York Times' collection of interactive storytelling from the year.

Check out this fun series of adventurous food photos.

Fellow Blazer fans will enjoy Bruce Ely's look back at the team's 2013 seasons.

And finally, I shared this link last week, but it's too relevant not to mention again, as Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez remembers how accidentally knocking out photographer Mickey Pfleger saved Pfleger's life after a brain scan revealed a cancerous tumor.


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