BANGOR, Maine — It takes a special kind of person to be a professional bullfighter.

It is their job to distract a wildly kicking bull after the 2,000-pound bovine has ragdolled a bull rider to the dirt.

They risk life and limb to protect the riders from the bulls and direct the bulls into the pen.

Twenty-two-year old Reese Mitchell from Alex, Oklahoma, and 29-year-old Nate Jestes from Douglas, Wyoming, were the bullfighters this weekend at the Professional Bull Riders’ Real Time Pain Relief Velocity Tour at the jam-packed Cross Insurance Center.

Both have sustained injuries, but both love what they do and are more than willing to take the risks involved.

“I used to ride bulls when I was younger and I kind of got in some trouble and tried to pull my life together when I was 17. I thought that all I had wanted to do since I was a little kid was be a bullfighter, so I started going to some practice pens. I went to the Frank Newsom School [for bullfighting] and that’s where it all got started,” Mitchell said. “I love being around the rodeo. I’ve been around it my whole life. And I’ve always enjoyed helping people.

“That’s just kind of where I have fallen into place. God put me there so I just went with it,” said Mitchell, who sustained a cracked skull when a set of bells got wrapped around a bull’s feet and when he kicked, the bell caught Mitchell in the forehead.

“It knocked me out. I was in the hospital a few days. It kept me out about six months,” said Mitchell, who has been a bullfighter for five years.

“Obviously, there’s the adrenaline factor that we all kind of enjoy,” said Jestes, who has been a bull fighter for nine years. “But to move into essentially a pretty scary situation and to be able to control your mind and help pull your friends out of a tight situation … to help them out and kind of help yourself out is a pretty cool feeling.”

Jestes got into bullfighting while he was attending Montana State University in Bozeman.

“I was studying aviation, and got a part-time job at the airport to learn about the industry and get my foot in the door. My boss was a professional bull fighter. So I went to some of his events and got interested in it. Then, every Monday and Wednesday, he took me up to college rodeo practice and taught me how to fight bulls right there,” Jestes said. “That’s kind of how I got my start.”

Jestes said he has been “pretty lucky” when it comes to injuries.

“I’ve never had a big injury that held me out a long time or had any surgeries. We’ve always got bumps and bruises, and I’ve dislocated my shoulder a time or two. But I’ve been pretty healthy,” Jestes said.

The bullfighters work together as a cohesive unit. Once the bull has flipped the rider, one bullfighter distracts the bull while the other guides the rider to safety.

“You’re never going to outrun a bull so you have to outmaneuver them,” Jestes explained. “The way we do that is step around their horns. Their sweet spot is right behind their front shoulders, so that’s where we’re trying to get to because he can’t turn as tight as we can.

“There’s a pocket in there. You kind of want to go with the flow but sometimes it doesn’t work out that way,” Mitchell said.

“We’re always working 180 degrees apart because that way we have every angle covered. We tag team the bull,” Jestes said.

They know the bulls, but don’t necessarily rely on that knowledge.

“I don’t really focus on the bull, what they do and their attitudes. I just take each bull day by day and jump by jump because one day the bull may not want to hook anyone and the next day he’ll want to clear out the pen,” Jestes said. “You’ve got to take each situation for what it is.”

“When you see them over and over, you kind of know them. I used to really be into knowing the bulls but I found myself being lackadaisical on ones that weren’t mean and then I’d be behind when the wreck happened. So I forget all that and go with the flow,” Mitchell said.

Jestes said they get asked if they’re crazy “all the time.

“But it’s like any other job. Once you get into it and learn about it and get good at it, it’s what you do. Reese and I know enough about how to move into a situation and keep everybody safe and keep ourselves safe.

“There’s times we have to step in and take a shot but we understand the risks of what we do and we face the fact that we could get hurt. But we love to do it and that’s all that matters,” added Jestes, who was working with Mitchell for the first time.

They do get nervous before every show, but Jestes said that “you learn how to use those nerves in a positive way. You use it to focus in on the situation instead of running away from it.”

“I pee about four or five times before we get started,” Mitchell said with a chuckle. “I just like that feeling … of being ready. Being nervous to me is being ready.”

There is a strong trust factor between bullfighters.

“I automatically trust [my partner] because I know he has my back and I have his,” Mitchell said.

Their seasons are long. When they aren’t working the PBR tours, they’re bullfighting at rodeos.

They work roughly every weekend 10 months out of the year.

They are greatly appreciated by the bull riders.

“They’re our lifeline. Without them, we literally wouldn’t be able to do this,” said Brennon Eldred of Sulphur, Oklahoma. “Ninety percent of the time, we get off [the bull] in a bad spot and that’s what they are there for … get the bull’s attention and take him away from us. They can read what’s going to happen before it happens. They work so well together. They’re the best of the best.”

Dakota Eagleburger from Fair Grove, Missouri, called them “life-savers.”

“We can’t thank them enough, really,” said Mitchell Paton from Queensland, Australia.

“You have so much stuff to think about when you’re getting on [the bull]. That’s one thing you don’t have to think about as far as when you get off the bull. You know they’re going to be there,” said Kyle Jones from Troy, Missouri.