Some of you may recall ABC’s Wide World of Sports – a program voted by Time Magazine as one of the best 100 television shows of all time. Its purpose was to introduce American audiences to sports that almost never broadcast on TV in the US such as bull riding. Believe it or not, I happened to meet a bull rider – a real life cowboy – during a recent trip and had to share his stories with you.
I met Jim “Razor” Sharp after arriving in Seattle for a conference in April. I was off a bumpy 6-hour ride from JFK and felt energized by the brisk cold and damp air of downtown Seattle. Instead of sitting in my hotel room, I wandered downstairs and watched people get in and out of cabs and exchange hugs and hellos. Most people were wearing coats and scarves – except for one man who wore a t-shirt. Intrigued, I struck up a conversation and learned that he was one of the greatest bull riders of all time.
Jim “Razor” Sharp is a Texan. His father was a calf-roper and exposed him to “rodeo fever” at a young age. In 1988, he became a record breaking bull riding champion. Bull riding rules are simple. Climb onto a bull and ride it while it violently bucks around. Stay on top for 8 seconds to be victorious. It is considered the most dangerous eight seconds in sports as riders frequently break bones both on and off the animal. The Professional Bull Riders Association says this, “…place a wiry 150-pound cowboy on the back of a hulking, snorting temperamental 2,000 pound bull and see if he can ride the beast for an eternal eight seconds … with one hand strapped to the bull’s massive backside.”
To the fans, Jim was known as “King of the Bulls” and is a legend in bull riding circles. He was inducted into the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame and is one of the founders of the Professional Bull Riders Association. At the height of his fame, Jim earned over $2 million each year. He is now retired and invested his money in real estate and other businesses.
He was in Seattle for a follow-up doctor’s appointment as he was recovering from an experimental cancer treatment. Jim has been battling cancer for ten years. He lived to tell his story and did so with gusto. He proudly showed me places on his body where he was scarred, had broken bones, and was mangled due to riding bulls.
“I wouldn’t change anything,” he said. “I lived a good life. No way in the world that I could have imagined all the good things that have happened to me.”
Despite the strength to wear only a t-shirt in the cold Seattle air, I could see that his love of bull riding had caught up to him. His cancer had deeply affected him. But he still had an air of optimism. It is that optimism that I think made him impervious to the cold. It was that positivity that made me respect this man, this cowboy, as he shared the ups and downs of being a unique type of sports star in America.