University of Colorado junior Dylan Bernstein is a member of an elite club, one of only about 250 CU students who have run with the university's iconic live buffalo mascot, Ralphie.

Bernstein, who's double majoring in finance and accounting, said he played sports growing up and was missing being part of a team as a CU freshman. So he tried out and made the Ralphie handler team.

"I love that I am able to carry on the greatest tradition in college sports," he said. "I think that I will be able to look back on my experience as a handler and be totally amazed that I actually was a part of this amazing tradition."

The 15 or so handlers, who do not receive scholarships or other compensation, spend between 20 to 30 hours a week during football season working out, taking care of Ralphie at her secret ranch in Adams County and performing other duties related to being on the team.

During the football season, Bernstein said, the handlers work out and practice twice a week and attend home games or appearances with Ralphie.

He said appearances require extra care to make sure people don't overwhelm her and give her space.

"I don't think a lot of people realize that she is truly a wild animal," Bernstein said.

But the hardest part of his job, he said, is "learning the technique and skill that goes into actually running with Ralphie."


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John Graves, Ralphie program manager, said the 1,200-pound buffalo can run about 225 yards in just 25 seconds at Folsom Field.

"You have to hold on to the lead ropes attached to her harness," he said. "She pulls you along with her. It does take a lot of strength, speed and skill."

Graves oversees the handlers plus Ralphie's care and training. Each spring, he said, 50 to 70 students try out for spots on the handler team.

They must fill out an application, write an essay and run their times sprints, with finalists invited back for interviews.

Graves said he looks for strength, speed and a willingness to work hard.

"There's a lot of work that goes into being a handler," he said.

Graves said this Ralphie, the university's fifth buffalo mascot, only took about two months of training to learn to run with her handlers.

"She's very smart, and she loves to run," he said. "She dictates most of what we do. We'll never make her run. It's all up to her."

Bernstein described running with Ralphie as "the most thrilling and enjoyable thing in the world."

"It's an instant shot of adrenaline to be able to run out at Folsom Field in front a packed stadium with everyone cheering," he said.

Amy Bounds: 303-473-1341, boundsa@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/boundsa