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My Wife’s Secret Fantasy

Alligator wrestling was not part of the marriage contract.

By Scott Kehoe
Mosca, Colorado

“Please can we do it?” my wife asked when she saw the sign.

I didn’t like the sign: “World’s only alligator wrestling class: $100.”

Mosca and Hooper, Colorado, had a combined population in 2007 of 1,155 residents, and a population density of 2.8 people per square mile. (Source: City-data.com. Photo: Jeffrey Beall / flickr.)

In rural, southern Colorado, between the small towns of Mosca and Hooper on Highway 17, lies an unusual and welcome distraction: the Colorado Gators Reptile Park. What started as a simple reptile rescue program has grown into a full-fledged tourist attraction complete with its own bio-dome and man-made swamps. When we arrived, I assumed we’d walk around for a little while, look at some reptiles, maybe buy something hokey in the gift shop. My wife had not informed me wrestling an alligator was one of the items on her bucket list.

I was scared – partly because I had not been aware my wife, Michelle, had a death wish, partly because I didn’t like the thought of tangling with large, prehistoric reptiles. But I figured the class wouldn’t be offered if it were truly dangerous, so I agreed.

Then came the disclaimer. I had never signed anything before promising not to hold anyone responsible in the case of my death.

To my surprise, the other people waiting for the class looked normal. Or at least as normal as Michelle and me. The five of us were taken to a large outdoor tank, containing around 20 alligators.

Each gator was about three feet long. Our instructor, the 20-something son of the Reptile Park’s owners, showed us how to sneak up behind the reptiles and pin them to the bottom until we had the correct grip to remove them from the water. His most important tip was to not let go of the head once you had a grip on it.

To pin an alligator, you had to walk around in the tank until you happened on one that looked, as he put it, “catchable.” He then explained further that “catchable” meant not moving.

The water was murky. I worried I might step on an alligator by accident, which would be bad for both me and the reptile. I let a couple of other people go first. They did not get eaten, so I kicked off my shoes and hopped in the tank before I lost my nerve.

A docile-looking beast sat with his side against the tank wall. He didn’t put up a fight as I went for it. I began to think maybe these alligators were used to being picked up.

I wanted more of a challenge. I wanted to show off for my wife. I spotted the meanest, snappingest, hissingest alligator they had. I named him Mr. Cranky. He wouldn’t let anyone get close to him.

As I tried to sneak up on Mr. Cranky, he whipped his head around and opened his mouth wide. He had big, jagged teeth and was desperately needing some mouthwash.

What happened next did not go well.

Mr. Cranky wanted me as badly as I wanted him. As I lunged, he lunged too, placing his nose high on my calf and his lower jaw against my ankle. Michelle hid her eyes behind another classmate as the instructor spoke – very quietly: “Whatever you do,” he half-said, half-hissed, “do… not… move.”

My heart was racing. I couldn’t look down for fear of panicking. One student gasped. Then everyone went silent.  I stared at the instructor for a hint as to how much trouble I was in. Fortunately for me, he had a great poker face.

I stood frozen for several minutes before Mr. Cranky decided he’d given me enough of a warning. He relaxed his jaw, exhaled sharply, and moved along. I heard a sigh of relief from everyone around me and knew I was finally safe to continue.

Being my stupid self, as soon as Mr. Cranky lurched past, I pounced. I pinned him to the bottom and lifted him from the water just like I’d been taught. I was victorious!

The class cheered as I contemplated how to return him to the water in a way that would be safe for both of us. I was happy to find that he didn’t hold a grudge as I gently pushed him away from me in the shallow pool.

Having conquered the small three-foot creatures, it was now time for a bigger challenge – the “medium” six-footers.

Our next task: Grab an alligator by the tail, drag it from the water, straddle its back, and pull its head back to gain control. I started to lose my nerve, but again, I didn’t want to look bad in front of Michelle. I waded into the water before I could come to my senses and run away.

I found a gator of ideal size and grabbed his tail in an iron grip. Alligators, for those of you who are not experts, can turn their head 180 degrees and bite their own tail, so being in this position for long wasn’t desirable. As I dragged him, he thrashed his head to the right and tried to bite me. I jumped to the left. Then he went left. I jumped right. We did this dance several times before I wrangled him from the water. Once we were out, I was surprised how easy it was to gain control. It just took a leap of faith as I scrambled from his tail to his back, then pinned his head until I could adjust my grip.

“Would you like to try another?” our instructor asked once I had things under control.

“Hell no!”

It was my wife’s turn now. Michelle crept up on a gator and dragged it from the water easily. But once she had it on land, it whipped its head around, grazing her knee with its teeth. She continued wrestling until she had the alligator pinned and under control. After that, I cleaned out her wound and bandaged her.

Our final task was a ten-footer. Fortunately, this was mostly a photo op. The instructor took us to a different swamp area, found a big creature, placed a rope around its neck, and had all of us help pull it out of the water. The gator sat docilely while everyone took turns lifting his head and kissing his nose for the camera. Once completed, we all received a “Certificate of Insanity” and a CD of photos from the day’s events. 

I can’t say this is something I would have done on my own, but my wife fulfilled her dream, and I’ve got bragging rights. I just worry about the future. What else does Michelle have on her bucket list that she hasn’t told me about?

For more information about the Colorado Gators Reptile Park, visit gatorfarm.com.


Scott Kehoe lives in the suburbs of Denver with his wife, six cats, two dogs, a couple of parakeets, and has a human baby on the way, which is why he doesn’t have any alligators at home.  When not writing, he can be found teaching scuba classes or teaching high school students the importance of financial management through the Junior Achievement program.

Published on Tuesday, October 16, 2012

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