To the casual bull riding observer, it may have appeared that the world title fell to B.J. Schumacher.
It's easy to think that the 2006 champion won by default after Matt Austin, the most dominating bull rider the PRCA has seen since the creation of the Professional Bull Riders, had to draw out due to injury. Not only that, Sonny Murphy, who appeared to be a worthy adversary to Austin, also had to withdraw from competition after breaking his neck. But to assume that Schumacher didn't earn his title is simply an uninformed opinion.
In 2004 Schumacher jumped out to a commanding lead after catching fire at the winter rodeos.
"A couple weeks after Houston I had 80,000 won and got stepped on," he said. "I had bone chips in my hip and had all kinds of cartilage damage in there and I was winning the world by like $40,000 and it was kind of upsetting that year (to have to have surgery)."
Schumacher had to sit out until July of that year, still managed to make the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo and finished seventh in the world. Then last year he broke his collarbone in the fall and had to miss the NFR though he had qualified for it.
"There's nothing you can do about it, just like Matt sitting in the locker room, I hate it to happen to Matt because he's my friend, but it happened to me before too," he said. "I know what it is. It's not like no one capitalized on it then. They did their job. I'll take it how I can get it."
Schumacher's season of destiny began with injury. He couldn't start the season due to his collarbone injury, then, in Cheyenne, Wyo., Joe Simon's bull Sir Patrick hyper extended his elbow and he had to miss more time. Then, at the Indianapolis Xtreme Bulls event in October, things finally went his way. He came into the event 20th in the world standings and won $25,728 to get to his fifth (though he couldn't compete in 2005) NFR.
Once in Las Vegas Schumacher seized the opportunity at a world title even before he saw the frontrunners go down to injury. In the first round, he won with a 91.5-point mark. Then, in the second round, B.J. continued to show that he came to play when he got revenge on Sir Patrick by spurring him to second place with a 93.5 score.
"Sometimes when you're traveling hard and you're wore out and you don't feel motivated you ride like you're not motivated," Schumacher said of his reinvigorating riding. "I got here and every time I walked down that tunnel I was happy. I was glad to be here. I've come down that tunnel in past years when I've got throwed off the past two and I'm mad. This year I was just happy to be here and I thought I could ride whatever I got."
In fact, he nearly did. He rode eight of 10 bulls, placing each time, won four rounds, the average title (696.5 on eight) and set a new earnings record. He won $142,644 (not counting ground money) at the NFR, which is a new record for the most money won at a PRCA rodeo in any event and ended the season with $248,081.
As for next year, it's still up in the air. Schumacher sometimes rides in the PBR, but promises to continue rodeoing. His favorite part of being a bull rider other than the pay is being his own boss, and that's something the PRCA affords over the PBR.
So long as he can keep major injuries at bay, look for this Hillsboro, Wisc., cowboy to continue to take every advantage he can and be in the mix for a world title.