Gator Wrestling: 'Not A Thinking Man's Sport'

Sep 4, 2011
Originally published on September 4, 2011 7:42 am

Standing in a pool full of 2-foot-long alligators, Jay Young starts teaching a class on gator wrestling.

"He who hesitates gets bit. Don't think about it," says Young, owner of Colorado Gators. "Alligator wrestling is not a thinking man's sport."

It takes a certain kind of crazy to want to pay $100 to handle animals sensible people run away from. People do sign up, however, ready to try their hands at this most extreme of sports.

The Rocky Mountain farm was originally a fish farm, founded by Young's parents in 1977. They chose the location because they could access geothermal water, the water that comes from the well is 87 degrees year-round.

"In 1987 ... we got our first alligators to be garbage disposals for the fish farm," Young says.

At first they just cleaned up fish carcasses. But over the years, the gators have gone from waste management to center stage. Word got out and an attraction was born.

"As soon as we opened up to the public and let people come in and start seeing our alligators, other people's pet alligators started showing up here," Young says. "We've literally come to work and found them on the doorstep."

Young has his students wading into water with increasingly large gators and showing them how to drag them around and pin them down.

"Injuries are few and far between. If you listen to the instructions, very few people get hurt — and most of them who do get hurt wear it with pride," he says. "I mean, it's a red badge of courage: 'I got a wound from an alligator.'"

The final lesson of the class: pinning down a 7-foot alligator. Amid the action, Young makes a joke about taking pictures for insurance purposes — they don't have insurance. It's hard to imagine who would insure this place.

By the time the lesson is over, at least one student is relieved the next alligator she'll see will be safely behind glass — on the Discovery Channel.

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AUDIE CORNISH, Host:

Colorado is known for its big game - elk, bear, moose and alligators? Well, unlikely as that may sound, the Rocky Mountains are home to a gator farm. And as Colorado Public Radio's Megan Verlee discovered, you can pay to learn how to wrestle one.

JAY YOUNG: Two rules: don't hesitate, okay? He who hesitates gets bit. Don't think about it. Alligator wrestling is not a thinking man's sport.

MEGAN VERLEE: Jay Young, the owner of Colorado Gators, is standing in a pool full of two-foot-long alligators. We're just starting class and Young is about to pull up our first assignment.

YOUNG: Aw, you're a good boy, huh.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALLIGATOR HISSING)

VERLEE: He's hissing.

YOUNG: Yeah, they do that sometimes. It means they like you.

VERLEE: It takes a certain kind of crazy to want to pay a hundred dollars to handle animals sensible people run away from. But here we are, ready to try our hands at this most extreme of sports.

YOUNG: One, two, three, jump.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPLASHING WATER)

VERLEE: OK, sorry.

YOUNG: Don't let go. That's rule number two. Well, my parents, Erwin and Lynn Young, started the farm here in 1977 as a fish farm. Picked this location because of access to geothermal water. The water's heated by the earth, comes from the well 87 degrees year-round. In 1987 then, we got our first alligators to be garbage disposals for the fish farm.

VERLEE: At first they just cleaned up fish carcasses, but over the years the gators have gone from waste management to center stage. Word got out and an attraction was born.

YOUNG: As soon as we opened up to the public and let people come in, started seeing our alligators, other people's pet alligators started showing up here. We've literally come to work and found them on the doorstep.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER SPLASHING)

YOUNG: This guy's going to turn and try to bite you, I can almost guarantee it. Swing him around. Keep him from biting you.

VERLEE: Right about now, you might be wondering - as I was - how insane is it to offer gator handling classes? I mean, Young's got us wading into water with increasingly large gators and showing us how to drag them around and pin them down.

YOUNG: Injuries are few and far between. If you listen to the instructions, very few people get hurt. And most who do get hurt wear it with pride. I mean, it's a red badge of courage: I got a wound from an alligator, you know.

VERLEE: All I know is I'd be happy to end this class with all my fingers intact. I've done a lot of dumb things in my life, but our final lesson - pinning down a seven-foot alligator - takes the cake. It feels like I'm straddling a scaly time bomb.

YOUNG: Lean back like this, pull her head back, OK, and then we'll go ahead and take a quick picture for the insurance company in case somebody gets hurt again. I'm just kidding; we don't have insurance.

VERLEE: It's kind of hard to imagine who would insure this place. By the time our lesson is complete, I'm glad the next gator I see will be safely behind glass on the Discovery Channel. For NPR News, I'm Megan Verlee.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.