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Champion bull rider Juan Alonzo takes a flight with the Thunderbirds


Juan Alonzo, Weslaco, Texas native and champion bull rider, received a celebrity flight with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds during Cheyenne Frontier Days in Cheyenne, Wyo., July 24, 2017.

Alonzo enjoyed a ride with Lt. Col Kevin Walsh, Thunderbirds #7 pilot, during a one-hour flight over Cheyenne and the neighboring area in an F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft.

Walsh stated that he is aware of Alonzo’s military history and hopes his experience reinvigorates him and his views of the military and what the Air Force can do.

As the original performance site in 1953, the Thunderbirds’ performances in Cheyenne are well-known and anticipated. This year is their 63rd performance during Cheyenne Frontier Days and Alonzo gets to participate in both historical events.

While his flight with the Thunderbirds is a new experience, he is quite familiar with the rodeo scene and CFD. After five years of service with the U.S. Army, Alonzo retired and dove into pursuing his career as a bull rider in 2015.  He has held various positions such as finishing 11th in the final standings and 8th in the Horizon Series final rankings. This year will be Alonzo’s second visit to Cheyenne while competing in the Championship Bull Riding World Finals competitions.  He is coming in with a solid ranking of No. 13 in the CBR World Standings.

I had a chance to chat with Alonzo before and after his flight and got a glimpse of his thoughts on this incredible opportunity and how he feels about flying faster than he most likely ever will again in his lifetime. Let’s see what he had to say about his experience and taking a flight in one of the most impressive aircraft belonging to the U.S. military.

Q: What motivated you to apply for a chance to fly with the Thunderbirds and how did you feel when you found out you were chosen?

A: “I just thought it was pretty cool. I was excited, it is a challenge for me and something new to learn so I was all in.”

Q: How was it? Was it similar to the rush you get when riding a bull?

A: “To be honest with you, they are both extreme I don’t think there is any difference. Being there was tough, but I loved it.”  

Q: What were your thoughts as you were taking off?

A: “You know what, I didn’t know why I was here. I thought ‘man what did I get myself into?’ But it was too late, the initial pull was scary and I’ll admit I closed my eyes for about three seconds.”

Q: Could you imagine doing this for a living?

A: “I tried, I tried to picture myself doing it but it’s too much time in the air and I’m actually scared of heights. I just like the adrenaline, and props to all these guys that do it, because it’s tough.”

During the flight, Walsh performed a number of maneuvers such as a climb to 16,000 feet, barrel roll, clover loop and straight loop, which are also performed during their air shows.

Q: How was getting to fly the aircraft yourself?

A: “It was pretty fun. When we took off, I grabbed a hold and I wasn’t letting go. He asked me if I wanted to fly and I thought, you know what, this is my chance, so I did it and I loved it. Then after that, I didn’t have a worry about being scared of heights or looking down, I was too focused on flying.

Q: What is your biggest take-away from this experience?

A: “I’m the kind of person that likes to learn everything about everything. Being able to fly with them and see what they go through, it’s a big deal to me. I never knew what they were capable of doing with these aircraft.”

Q: Anything you would like to say to the military members here in Cheyenne or around the world?

A: “I just want to say thank you for their service and everything they do. I’ve seen both sides, the military and civilian world, and now from an aerial view. Thank you and keep pushing forward.”