Teenager Liam Shipperlee is already known in America as the “Scottish bull rider” – and he is heading to the USA to pursue his dream of becoming a top competitor in the high-adrenaline sport.
Liam first attempted bull riding during a visit to his grandparents in Texas three years ago. Shortly afterwards he was entered into a novice competition and took first prize.
That was enough to get him hooked.
Liam, who is staying in Dunrossness, said: “I went out and was against people who had been doing it their whole life. I went out and had a bit of fun in the competition and ended up winning it and winning $50 and a cow bell.”
Climbing onto the back of a 2,000lb angry bull may sound anything but fun to most people, but for Liam it was intoxicating. So much so that he has turned his back on an army career with the Para Regiment to follow his passion.
Having secured a bull riding coveted scholarship to Sam Houston State University the ambitious 16-year-old wants to reach the “top 10 in the world”. If he is successful the potential prize money on offer is lucrative but for now it is the buzz of the sport that has grabbed Liam, whose mother Lara Millar works at the Royal Voluntary Service based in Market House, Lerwick.
Bull riding competitors aim to stay on the beast for eight seconds. If they achieve that they are awarded points for their style, spurring and on the basis of how highly “ranked” – for that read cantankerous – the bull is.
Liam said: “It gets you psyched. You nod your head and they open that gate, it’s the craziest eight seconds you will ever have.”
But the real adrenaline rush comes when getting on the back of the bull in the enclosure, said Liam. “That’s the nervous part. You are seeing this big lump and horns and a head, it’s the best view in the world but it’s nerve-wracking.
“He will try to lift his head to knock you off. There are six friends behind you in the chute. You tie your hand in … you lock your feet in and nod your head.”
That’s when the “fun” begins.
“It’s holding a 2,000lb animal that just jumps. It feels like you’re holding on to a typhoon.”
There is little wonder that Liam says you can’t get that feeling anywhere else. But if he is driven by ambition and the hunt for adrenaline, imagine what it feels like for his mother who moved to Shetland last year.
She has seen Liam ride and described the experience as more painful for her than him.
Despite that she is fully supportive of Liam who has been volunteering at the RVS lunch club and doing odd jobs to help fund his American adventure.
Lara said: “This is a journey. With your children you have to live the journey with them.” And while she is used to Liam competing in events like motocross and rugby, bull riding is a whole new experience.
“When I first saw him I ended up in more pain than he did because of tension headaches. There are injuries. It’s not if, but when and how bad and that’s obviously very worrying … but I would rather be with him and support him.
“I’d rather him do that than hang around on the streets with drink and drugs or whatever else. He has a goal in life and I’m proud of him for that.”