ONTARIO, Calif. – No matter how old you get or how many years you spend competing as a professional bull rider, the danger factor never gets any less scary says three-time World Finals event winner Robson Palermo.
Palermo returned to competition on Saturday night at the Ontario BlueDEF Tour event from a sprained neck that easily could have been a fractured neck that he sustained last month during Round 3 of the Built Ford Tough World Finals when he was flipped directly onto his neck during a 7.61-second buckoff against Fire Rock.
Palermo, who turned 33 years old last Sunday, immediately grasped at the back of his head and was attended to by sports medicine and Dr. Tandy Freeman for a few minutes on the ground last month in Las Vegas.
He was eventually taken out of the arena on a backboard and transported to University Hospital Trauma Center in Las Vegas for a precautionary evaluation
“I was scared because my left arm, I don’t have my bicep, and sometimes my hand goes numb,” Palermo said. “That day when I hit the ground near the fence, my arm and hand went really numb. Then it started getting really hot behind my neck. I thought it was broke. Tandy came over and told me not to move. I was feeling so hot in my neck. If it is a leg or something like that you will be alright, but when you are talking about your neck you never know.
“I have a family and my wife was there with my kids. It is scary. I had a couple of moments I was really scared, but I am good.”
Palermo went 2-for-2 on Saturday night to finish second overall at Citizens Business Bank Arena in his action since the close-call at the World Finals.
He rode TJ Hooker for 80 points in Round 1 and then put up an event-best 87.5 points on Boo-Ray in the championship round.
“I am really happy to come over here and be 2-for-2,” Palermo said. “It is all about having fun. I have been having fun at the bull ridings and at home. I had a great bull today in the short go and he kind of tested me both ways left and right. I feel good. I feel awesome.”
Boo-Ray’s owner Julio Moreno added, “To me that is one of the better riders and, to make a ride like that, he was every bit of that score and everything for that bull.”
Moreno will be hauling bulls to next weekend’s BlueDEF Tour event in Bakersfield, California.
Palermo showed no fear in the first round despite TJ Hooker aggressively whipping his head, as well as his long horns, back at Palermo inside the bucking chute.
“I had a mean bull today,” Palermo joked. “It is funny. I asked about the bull and they didn’t say much other than be careful. He is very mean in the chute and in the arena. I said, ‘OK. Thank you.’”
Palermo was happy with his performance, but he was even happier for fellow Brazilian Paulo Lima.
Lima rode Mortimer for 85 points in the championship round to surpass Palermo and eventually win the event with a two-ride total of 168.5 points.
He made the 8-second mark aboard Spinner for 83.5 points in Round 1.
It is Lima’s second consecutive BlueDEF Tour event, and he has earned a second exemption for the Built Ford Tough Series.
Lima will now be invited to compete at the season-opener in Chicago on Jan. 9, as well as the following week in New York for the Monster Energy Buck Off at the Garden.
“I am so happy for Paulo,” Palermo said. “It is great to see him get another win.”
Prior to competing in Ontario, Palermo underwent treatment with a chiropractor and did some exercises to help rehab the ligaments he sprained in his neck.
“The neck is good,” he said. “It is still a little stiff, but nothing serious. I have been working out and icing it.”
With a family at home, as well as his two-month old son, Lucas, why keep competing in one of the world’s most dangerous sports?
“I was thinking last year about kind of slowing down with bull riding, but now I feel good,” Palermo said. “My body feels good. I thought after the Finals maybe I would start slowing down, but I started training, running at the gym and I want to get on bulls. My family still likes it. My wife (Priscila) is not telling me not to yet.
“I have a dream and I want to complete that dream. I want to finish. If I can, I can. If I can’t, I can’t. I want to be a World Champion.”
2015 was the second consecutive season that Palermo’s year ended with an injury at the World Finals.
Last year, Palermo tore ligaments in his left ankle after being stepped on by Smooth Operator in Round 1 of the 2014 World Finals.
The Rio Branco, Brazil, bull rider has bucked off seven consecutive bulls at the Finals.
“I thought I was going to have a good Finals this year,” Palermo said. “I was so pumped up. Something happened, but it will be alright.”
They have been a major part of the story of Palermo’s career, and they especially have contributed to the former world title contender having three consecutive seasons with less than 15 qualified rides on the Built Ford Tough Series.
He concluded this season ranked 32nd in the world standings – his best since finishing seventh in 2012, the same year he a record-setting third World Finals title.
Palermo went 10-for-38 (26.32 percent) in 16 BFTS events, and he has spent more time in the past two seasons fighting to stay on the BFTS than he has competing for a world title.
He knows he needs surgery again on his left shoulder at some point. The shoulder, which also has a bent screw inside it from a wreck at a Touring Pro Division event last spring, will pop out on him while he participates in normal every day activities around his ranch, and he also needs to be careful when playing with his kids and lifting them into the air.
The slightest err in movement can lead to a dislocation.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Palermo pushed himself too hard in the gym and had the shoulder come out on him while finishing up a series of bench press reps.
Still, he feels like he knows his body better than before and will be able to compensate and adjust enough to compete on the BFTS and avoid the cutline in 2016.
“I need to come back and do well,” he said. “I have missed a couple of years on the Built Ford Tough and haven’t done well. I never had to fight to be in the Top 35. I always had to fight to be in the Top 5. It is hard to work there to be in the Top 35 when you know every week you need to get points.”
Palermo later added, “I am feeling good. This year is going to be different. This is going to be a good year.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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