Ferrell “Flashbulb” Butler hadn’t a penny left to pay his entry fees. So the calf roper took out his camera and started shooting rodeos, selling […]
On the Trail with Clifford Maxwell
Written by: Siri Stevens< Back to Articles
After 15 years of fighting bulls at the Turquoise Circuit Finals, 47-year-old Cliff Maxwell from Taylor, Ariz., is making the 1,968 mile trip to Kissimmee, Florida to join Australian bullfighter Darrell Diefenbach as the bullfighters for the RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo (RNCFR) April 5-10. “It’s Darrell’s last rodeo, and it will be an honor to work with him,” said Cliff, who is a full time firefighter paramedic as well as the owner of a custom cabinet shop, along with his wife and son.
The bullfighters are selected to work the RNCFR from the pool of 24 bullfighters from the 12 circuits in the nation. The bull riders select the bullfighters that work the circuits, and a committee selects the ones that will go to the RNCFR.
Cliff started his rodeo career after high school. As the oldest of six siblings, he spent his childhood playing softball. “My parents (Clifford and Gayle) supported me in everything I wanted to do,” he said. “With a big family, we always went on one big trip each year and went camping a lot.” After high school, Cliff went down to the valley (Taylor is located in the White Mountains, five and a half hours north of Flagstaff) for a few months and then moved to Texas to live with his uncle for a year.
“I came back to go back to school. I got set up and started, but then I got married and started a family.” He married his high school sweetheart, Kim, when he was 20 and she was 19. Their first child (Kasey) was born a year later. “I worked at a cabinet shop in town and rode bulls.” In 1994, he got hung up and hurt. “The bull stepped on me and punctured a lung, broke some ribs, and one of them cut my spleen in half so they took it out. My daughter was four and asked me not to ride anymore. So I started fighting. I accomplished way more as a bullfighter than I ever would have as a bull rider.”
He started his bullfighting career by going to a school taught by Mike Matt and Lloyd Ketchum. “That gave me the basis,” he said. “I recommend to anyone that wants to get into this to go to school.” After that it was trial and error. His family traveled with him to the rodeos around his region. “I started out working 35 rodeos a year, and now have settled into around 20 or more a year.” He works some high school, amateur, and PRCA rodeos, including several that he has worked for years. “It’s a family sport to us. I take pride that I’ve done rodeos for years – Scottsdale, ten years, Vernal 15 years. In being 47 years old and getting a chance to go to the RAM Finals – it’s incredible.”
He bought the cabinet shop – Maxwells Custom Cabinets – that he worked at and added his firefighting career five years ago. “I got my paramedic last year after nine months of intense schooling. I still did my firefighter job, my bullfighting, and the cabinet job. I had 52 credit hours when I got done with the paramedic training. I enjoyed the medical side of the firefighting thing and thought why not learn more so I can do more.”
His EMT training has come in handy in the arena. “Right after I got my EMT, we were at a rodeo in California. A bull rider got bucked off and the bull stepped on his leg, breaking his femur. I cut off his chaps and exposed the break. The femur was a compound fracture that hit an artery and he was bleeding out. We saved his life due to the training that I had. The medical side has helped me with a few accidents like that.”
Cliff has added running to his schedule in preparing for the RNCFR. “My captain is a younger captain and he really pushes staying in shape,” he said. “He sent out an email three or four months ago to put a team together for a Tough Mudder in Mesa. I signed up and joined the team and then realized that the course was 10-12 miles with 30 obstacles.” In addition to training for that, he credits the cabinet shop for helping to keep him in shape. The shop is run by his 22-year-old son, Trevon, and Cliff works there at least 40 hours a week. “The cabinet shop is very physical. We order everything in sheets and we have to move it and cut it.” He and his wife, Kim, also chase after two grandchildren, a 6 year old granddaughter and 2 year old grandson.
When Cliff first found out about being selected to work the RNCFR, he planned the entire family to go along, but that isn’t going to work, so he and Kim will make the drive to the Sunshine State. Cliff has been there before, helping with the hurricane damage a few years ago, but it will be Kim’s first trip to Florida. They are looking forward to the drive and taking in the sights along the way.
Cliff would love to be considered for the WNFR, but admits that he doesn’t work enough rodeos for that. “I’ve got my career, my cabinet shop, and my family comes first,” he said, but adds that he plans to continue fighting bulls. “I’m an adrenaline junkie – I enjoy it – I enjoy rodeo.”