ST. LOUIS – Matador Jerky Bullfighter Cooper Waln cannot do your taxes and, no, he is not related to Harry Potter.
That said, Waln, the spectacle sporting bullfighter, has developed his own blend of bullfighting wizardry since deciding 12 years ago that he wanted to be a professional bull fighter.
The 29-year-old from Parmelee, South Dakota, made his Built Ford Tough Series debut this past weekend after regular BFTS bullfighter Shorty Gorham and backup Cody Webster had commitments at the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo.
Waln has been fighting bulls on the Real Time Pain Relief Velocity Tour and had dreamed of getting a call-up to the BFTS level for years.
“I had a lot of people ask me when the time would come,” Waln said. “I just kept telling them I just needed the phone call and it finally happened.”
The bright lights of Scottrade Center were much different than the ones in rural South Dakota where he got his start at.
At the time, a 17-year-old Waln was “scared to death.”
Waln was knocked out cold during one of his first rodeos after shooting a gap to save a kid during the South Dakota High School Finals.
“A bull came and hit me in the butt so hard he knocked me out and ran me over,” Waln recalled in St. Louis. “Two days later, I had to go to a bull riding. Right then and there, I decided I was a bullfighter.
“I got hooked on the adrenaline.”
Waln is a second generation bullfighter and grew up in the Western lifestyle. He used to compete in various timed-rodeo events before becoming a bull fighter in his late teens.
The Waln family had a rodeo and stock contracting business, while Cooper’s father, Jeff, was a bullfighter turned pick-up man.
“We used to own a rodeo string when I was a kid,” Cooper said. “It is kind of in my blood. One day my dad told me to get out there and do it.”
Jeff, who taught Cooper how to fight bulls, passed away seven years ago in a four-wheeling accident on the family ranch when he had gone out in search of some missing cows.
“We kind of sold out on everything so I could pursue this dream,” Cooper said. “It was hard to go when I had rodeos to put on home. It is very special and I hope he is smiling down.”
Fellow bullfighter Jesse Byrne was impressed with Waln jumping into the fray multiple times in St. Louis.
It was the first time the two ever worked together.
“He is really good,” Byrne said. “I had heard great things prior to this weekend. There were all true. He was a pleasure to work with. He just fit into place. There wasn’t even a thought in my mind that there was a new guy out there. We have all been there where you were the new guy. Just keeping those nerves in check and not making more than need be. We just stayed in constant communication.”
The three bullfighters took turns rotating through the three positions (left, right and high side) throughout the night.
Waln said it was smooth for him joining the team.
“Jesse knows what he is doing,” Waln said. “Frank knows what he is doing. We just had to work the bull and keep the cowboys safe.”
Waln is no stranger to the PBR scene and many of the riders have crossed paths with Cooper at lower-level events.
Reigning Stock Contractor of the Year Chad Berger has hired Waln to fight bulls at his Velocity Tour event in Bismarck, North Dakota, and he has been a useful resource for the aspiring bull fighter.
Waln worked alongside Gorham and Frank Newsom in Bismarck.
“Chad Berger and Frank Newsom opened the door for me,” Waln added. “He took me under his wing and helped me out.”
The Matador Jerky Bullfighters often stand out inside the arena when they put their bodies into harm’s way.
Waln also stands out because of his black-rimmed, Harry-Potter-look-a-like glasses.
And, as crazy as it sounds, he has actually never broken his glasses fighting bulls professionally.
“Nope, I never broke them,” he said. “Everybody calls me Harry Potter around home. I sleep with my glasses on. I shower with my glasses. I never take them off. It is not bad. I just can’t see far away.”
Byrne added, “I wondered about that. I really always thought about that. ‘How does this work?’ You would think this is more of a contact lens situation. That is awesome. That means he is staying out from underneath them.”
Waln said he will be ready again the next time the PBR calls, but for now he is headed home to work on the family’s ranch.
“Now, I mellow out and stay home to tend to business until middle of May,” he said. “I had a lot of people ask me when the time would come. I just kept telling them I just needed the phone call and it finally happened.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko