RUMFORD — Jeffrey Wheelock explained his job, and he held his hand just above the side of his chest.

“The objective is to dodge the bull. You want him to barely miss you,” Wheelock said.

Wheelock, 17, is a rodeo clown and a professional bull fighter. For the Hyannis, Nebraska native, spending this week in Maine as a member of Team Nebraska in the 35th annual Maine-Nebraska wrestling exchange, this is a week to get away from a job that would terrify so many of his hosts here in Vacationland.

On Monday, the Maine-Nebraska series stopped in Rumford. The plan was to wrestle under the lights at Hosmer Field, but when a few rain showers made it difficult to get the mats onto the field, the meet was moved inside to Mountain Valley High School. The series began at Marshwood High School on Saturday. It will continue with a stop in Belfast on Wednesday. On Saturday night, they’ll try to go outside again, at Hight Chevrolet in downtown Skowhegan.

For many of the Nebraska wrestlers, this is as far from home as they’ve ever been.

“It’s a lot different than Nebraska,” Kobe Paczosa, of Columbus, Nebraska, said. “This mountainous terrain, there’s nothing like that in Nebraska.”

Jacob Johnson of Fairbury, Nebraska, is making his second trip to Maine. He came two years ago with Team Nebraska. On Monday, he joined his Nebraska teammates on a hike of Tumbledown Mountain.

“I expected a lot of forest. I didn’t expect a lot of hill,” Johnson said.

Maine’s varied geography took some of the Nebraskans by surprise.

“I expected we’d be closer to the ocean,” Paul Mach, also of Fairbury, said. “I didn’t expect the cooler weather. It’s been 100 degrees at home.”

The Tumbledown Mountain climb scared the guy who gets paid to avoid getting gored by bulls.

“I didn’t have the best grip on my shoes. I had a hard time getting up one rock ledge,” Wheelock said.

Wheelock broke his back in a bull riding accident three years ago. With doctors telling him for years the pain was in his head, Wheelock ignored it, until one day at school he was essentially paralyzed, unable to move. Last year, Wheelock went to bull fighting school in Texas. That’s where he had his closest call with a bull.

“They told me, ‘He’s going to come at you fast.’ The horns were straight at me,” Wheelock said. “I went to fake and when I faked, he just missed me. That’s what we want. My objective is to get between the bull rider and the bull. If I don’t do that, I’m not doing my job.”

With that perspective, Wheelock looks at this week in Maine as a chance to have some fun. To see a new place. Winning matches is a goal, but it’s not at the top of the list. That’s the prevalent attitude throughout Team Nebraska.

“Winning’s not really the thing. Gaining friends that will last a lifetime, that’s what’s important,” Paczosa said.

And eating lobster. Lots of lobster.

“It was delicious. I just pulled it apart. They told me not to eat the green stuff,” Mach said.

“I love lobster. I’ve had lobster before at home,” Wheelock said. “That’s the first time I’ve had lobster as fresh as that.”

Team Nebraska will likely have a chance for more lobster when they get to Belfast. Tuesday’s plan involves river tubing. Mach is ready for whatever Maine has to offer.

“It’s already been an amazing trip. Anything more they throw at us is just a bonus,” Mach said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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