June 29, 2012 - One of the Faculty of Education’s most recent graduates, Alex Gardner, earned his BEd degree just a few short weeks ago. Prior to his degree in Education, Alex, earned his BSc in mathematics in 2008.
But neither of these degrees were Alex’s first rodeo. Literally.
Alex Gardner might not tell you this when you meet him, but he’s a champion bull rider. And believe it or not, there are parallels that can be drawn between the career he now looks forward to and the one that was his early passion. He took time to answer a few questions from the Faculty of Education.
How did you get started in bull riding?
I was born and raised on a ranch in the Okanagan. I have been around livestock my whole life. My dad was horse crazy and my mom was (and still is) the best cattle woman I have ever met. We always had a lot of horses and cattle around. I remember getting up real early in the mornings, doing chores then scurrying to the round pen to ride horses with my sister. She had a beautiful palomino that was great to ride and I had a carbolic sorrel that loved to try to buck me off. At first, I wasn’t too keen on the horse but I guess I just grew to love the feel of a bucking animal under me and the challenge to stay on.
I have ridden bulls all over Canada (mainly Manitoba to the west coast). I have lived in California and Texas and have ridden and competed everywhere in between. I was making the transition from amateur to professional by filling my PRCA (Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association) permit as well as working on filling my CPRA (Canadian Pro Rodeo Association) permit when I decided to take another path…marriage and university.
Rodeo has allowed me to do a lot of amazing things and meet a lot of great people. I loved to win, don’t misunderstand me, but now years later, what I remember most are the people and the places and the bulls--not the money or the buckles. Those bulls- they really are phenomenal athletes.
My proudest moment in rodeo was in 1996 when I was one of five bull riders chosen to represent Canada at the Olympics in Atlanta (bull riding was a demonstration sport that year). I think being able to represent the country that I love so much is the highest honor.
What's the toughest part about it (other than staying on top of the bull?)
The hardest thing about bull riding? Hhhmmm.....that’s easy. Quitting.
I loved bull riding and rodeo and all the great people involved. The day I decided to hang up my rope and spurs killed me. Even now when I see a truckload of cocky young bull riders, laughing and heading down the road, I can’t help but smile and remember those days.
How did you decide to go into education? What turned you in that direction?
I was 24 years old (that is old for a bull rider) and I hadn’t reached some important goals. I felt that I needed to get a good back-up plan or I was going to end up a broken down--and broke-- bull rider. I had to either dedicate everything to rodeo or get out, and I chose the latter. That was a hard decision!
Soon after, I met my wife (who is a teacher) and attained a BSc from the University of Calgary in applied mathematics.
What will you do with your degree? What do you want to teach?
Once I got my BSc I continued working for a company in the engineering department. I noticed that every day my wife came home from work she seemed genuinely fulfilled, so I thought, that is what I wanted to do. I worked for a few more years then headed off to the U of C again for my BEd. I did both practicums in the rural high schools in math and science. I know that is right where I want to be.
We have two awesome children, 2 and 4 years old, so I plan to stay home with them for a while and work nights and weekends for a large construction company. I have been with them for a while and they totally supported me through this BEd so hopefully I can stick with them until I am ready to start teaching. Also I hope to sub a little come September.
Can you draw any parallels between bull riding and teaching; how has what you've done previously (bull riding, whatever else) prepared you to teach?
Bull riding is not a hobby sport, you’re either “all in” or “out”. You are reminded of that the first time you get in a bad wreck and wake up in an ambulance or hospital. A lot is on the line--your life, your health--but you still can’t take things too seriously. You do the best you can every time you get on a bull and nod your head but you need to then let go and let it happen.
I definitely feel this way about my two children, you build a strong relationship with them, teach them right from wrong then you let them go and let it happen. Teaching in a classroom is the same for me; I will treat my students the same way as I treat my own kids. I will build strong relationships, teach them right from wrong, hopefully throw down some math knowledge along the way and then open the gate and let ‘em go.
I know there is a lot on the line--their confidence, their academic futures--so I will give them my all, but I want them to be able to “experience the thrill of a great ride” and they have to do that alone, but I can assure you I’ll be there sittin’ on the chutes cheering like crazy!
What role does the University of Calgary play in your educational experiences?
My experience at the University of Calgary was really positive. The math department was full of great mathematicians who were also great teachers. Those math teachers spent a lot of time encouraging me and spending time helping me understand important concepts.
The Faculty of Education was equally positive. The teachers spent time building strong relationships with me and the other students, and helped me discover what kind of teacher I wanted to become. I learned so much about myself and about the power of love towards the students. I spent so many classes choking back tears—I know, I’m supposed to be a tough bull rider but they broke me down (in a great way).
I am grateful and humbled by the experience and I want to let all my teachers know how much I respect and appreciate them.