Growing up in an Amish family, Willy Ropp spent countless hours milking cows by hand, plowing the fields at the family farm and driving teams of mules.
He eventually left the Amish way of life, but several things from his upbringing have stayed with him, including cowboy fever.
That's why these days Ropp is a professional bull rider. His career has taken him all over the United States and to five countries; on Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 23 and 24, it will bring him to Albany. The Times Union Center will host the Super Bull series, in which top riders have eight seconds to ride their bulls and impress the judges. Albany is the first stop of the new year on an 11-month tour, with the series' finale being held in Roanoke, Va., on March 19 and 20.
Ropp, 28, remembers watching bull riders on television when he was younger, but he never imagined he could be one himself. That changed after a couple of his friends started riding bulls at a local rodeo in Missouri. Ropp was intrigued and went down to check it out.
After watching for just a little while, "I knew that was what I wanted to do," he said.
So Ropp decided to go to rodeo school. His parents, though, weren't thrilled with that idea. They warned Ropp about how dangerous the sport was.
"They did a pretty good job scaring me," he said with a laugh.
But he had already paid a bunch of money to the school, and he had a buddy who was going to go with him, so Ropp forged ahead with his plan.
He remembers his introduction to bull riding being only slightly less intimidating than that talk with his parents. There were about a half dozen bulls, "and they pointed to one with big old horns and told me to get on that," he said.