- Associated Press - Monday, January 16, 2017

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) - After serving three tours of duty overseas, Chris Skeeters has found a new home.

The U.S. Marine Corps veteran is a full-time bull rider. Skeeters competed in the recent USC Aiken Extra Inning Bull Riding Championship in Augusta, Georgia.

“I guess you can say it’s an adrenaline thing,” said Skeeters, who failed to stay on his bull for eight seconds. “Bull riding is my release from being in Afghanistan and places like that. It actually keeps me kind of calm and keeps me from going insane.”

Another sold-out crowd filed into Augusta’s James Brown Arena to see the 16th annual championship. Pacers baseball coach Kenny Thomas, the event organizer, said the reputation of the bull riding event has helped keep it as popular as ever.

“When we started here 16 years ago, there wasn’t a rodeo within 100 miles of here,” Thomas said. “Now they pop up everywhere. But this is the one and only.”

The 27-year-old Skeeters was the one and only Marine competing Saturday night after serving almost eight years in active duty. He was in middle school when 9/11 happened, and he didn’t forget the impact of the terrorism. In high school, he enlisted in the Marine Corps. He left his Tullahoma, Tennessee home two days after graduation for Parris Island, South Carolina.

“For three months, they break you down and then build you back up and make you into a Marine,” Skeeters said about the Marine Corps Recruit Depot. “It was definitely worth it.”

He continued his training and embarked upon his first tour of duty in 2008 to Afghanistan. Two years later, he went on a second tour of duty on a Med float with the Navy. In 2012, he returned to Afghanistan for his third tour.

Skeeters first got into bull riding while in active duty. At a party one night, a friend of his from Texas convinced him to get on a practice bull. Skeeters enjoyed it so much he got on three more bulls.

In 2014, he was honorably discharged from the Marines. He then started riding bulls on a competitive basis.

“I do this for my buddies we lost in Afghanistan,” said Skeeters, a member of Warriors and Rodeo, a nonprofit that gives back to individuals who serve our country. “They weren’t quitters, and they didn’t quit for us.”

Skeeters said he wants to continue participating in the sport until he turns 30. Then, he said, he’ll probably still be involved in rodeo - he said his 5-year-old daughter Peighton wants to participate in barrel racing.

“I think I’ve done about everything I wanted to do in my career,” he said. “Now, I’m just out here having fun, being around good people.”

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Information from: The Augusta Chronicle , https://www.augustachronicle.com

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