Unfortunately, for the second year in a row, adrenaline became frustration.
Finally five months later, Robson Palermo is ready for that frustration, which slowly dissolved into anxiety and uncertainty, to once again become adrenalized.
“When you go to the bull riding you pump up and your adrenaline is there,” explained Palermo, who’s looking forward to the heightened sense of excitement that surrounds a Built Ford Tough Series event. “I didn’t have that anymore.”
Palermo is returning to competition this weekend in Biloxi, Mississippi.
The 30-year-old is looking forward to backing his gear bag, making the eight-hour drive from his ranch south of Tyler, Texas, to Biloxi and walking into the locker room at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum and knowing that his name is in the draw for Round 1 on Friday night.
As a matter of fact, he can’t wait to hear the slide gates clank back and forth as the bulls are loaded in the chutes. He misses the rattling of the metal as the bulls are moved through a maze of back pens.
“I need the lights,” he said. “I like being around it. I like the smell, I like the lights, the music—that’s makes me pump up.”
He even laughed as added, “And those judges hollering, ‘Let’s go. Let’s go. You’re on the clock.’”
“Yeah, I miss that stuff,” continued Palermo, who capped his thought with a resounding, “Now I’m back. Yeah, I’m back.”
After undergoing season-ending surgery to both shoulders last season, the high expectations of Palermo’s 2014 season came to an unceremonious and disappointing halt back in April.
He underwent surgery for a third consecutive year on April 21 when Dr. Tandy Freeman repaired his chronically injured right shoulder in procedure that took place, in Dallas, at Baylor University Medical Center.
The surgery followed an MRI that indicated a partial labrum tear in his right shoulder and a broken clavicle.
“It’s like he can’t catch a break,” said reigning World Champion J.B. Mauney, whose medical report is longer than a rap sheet for career mobster Whitey Bulger. “You feel bad for him, but that’s part of bull riding. Everybody goes through it.”
The 2014 surgery, which Freeman added five more anchors to tighten and stabilize his loose shoulder, followed last year’s procedures in which Dr. James Andrews inserted five anchors in his right shoulder.
Palermo won the World Finals in 2011 despite a completely torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder and then repeated the feat again in 2012 – becoming the first rider in PBR history to win the season-ending event three times – despite a torn rotator cuff in his right free-arm shoulder—an injury that is tougher to deal with than his left riding arm.
That’s when he sought the help of Andrews.
And he spent most of last fall and the early part of winter away from his family training in Southern California, so naturally when the right shoulder came loose yet again, Palermo was devastated.
At times, it’s been a long and lonely recovery.
There was nothing to create any sort of adrenaline the first couple months when he was unable to use his right arm. There still wasn’t any need for adrenaline when he began the rehab process either. Freeman had told him it would 24 weeks and, by his count, he’s returning to Biloxi in 23 weeks.
Unlike past surgeries, Palermo said he visited with Freeman every six weeks throughout the process and precisely followed his instructions.
“When you’re out, you don’t have adrenaline,” said Palermo, who never felt it around the ranch and especially didn’t feel like when he would watch the PBR on TV or in-person. Actually, the few times he went to an event to make sponsor appearances he would leave before the competition was over.
He began to wonder if he’d ever feel that blood course through his veins.
Last week, when he got on his first of several practice bulls, there it was.
“Oh yeah, pretty quick,” he said. “The first bull I got on it came back.
“I’m so happy and I can wait to get on my first bull over there. It’ll be more exciting because it’s the PBR, people there, lights and everything. It’s going to be more exciting. I need that.”
In spite of a desire to return, Palermo took an extra week to get himself prepared – physically, mentally and emotionally – for the rigors of competition.
Freeman actually released him early last week, in time to have been added to the draw in Oakland, California.
“You ready to get on,” Freeman asked, at Palermo’s last checkup? “You’re ready. If you want to go, ahead and get on.”
“Well, not next week,” he replied, “but I will go to Biloxi.”
“Perfect,” Freeman said. “See you there.”
Sure he had been training.
That said the reality of injuring his shoulders and injuring them again only to reinjure them a third time is a memory that won’t soon fade.
Asked about the potential of returning with a fragile frame of mind, nine-time World Champion and PBR cofounder Ty Murray said, “I hope that in his rehab he’s doing stuff that makes him believe in his shoulder.”
Murray missed three years in the prime of his career.
After being hurt a long time and unknowingly favoring his injured shoulders, Murray said it will be easy for Palermo’s brain to go accustomed to subconsciously protecting them, especially his right shoulder.
He’ll need to break that habit, which could prove tricky.
“It’s hard for your confidence to be at a high level,” said Murray, who explained Palermo needs to experience a few positive developments in way of qualified rides in the first two long rounds. “I know there’s a lot of emotion with Robson because he would like to get a World Championship. He is somebody that talent-wise is capable of doing that.”
However, the truth is, Palermo can’t win a title in 2014.
He returns to competition ranked 33rd overall.
There are less than 200 points separating the four guys ranked 30th to 33rd – Claudio Crisostomo, Nathan Schaper, Billy Robinson and Palermo – but conversely there only 200 points that also separate the riders ranked from 33rd to 36th – Palermo, Josh Faircloth, Jason Malone and Kody Lostroh.
The Top 35 will qualify for the World Finals, meaning – with only two regular-season events remaining – one of them will be left out unless someone like J.W. Harris, 29, or Lachlan Richardson, 28, would free fall in standings, which isn’t likely to happen at this point.
For Palermo, it’s less about the fast-approaching World Finals, and more about remaining healthy for the next 13 months.
As much as he would love to win the World Finals event for an unprecedented fourth time and third time in four years – he would have to be considered a contender – it’s about putting himself in a position to come into the 2015 campaign healthy and confident.
“He’s getting better,” Guilherme Marchi said. “He started to prepare himself. He really wants to ride good again. He loves to be around his family, but he loves to be here at the PBR riding bulls.
“He has a dream to be a champion.”
Palermo said, “My goal is still to be a World Champion. I don’t know when, but I’m just trying to be healthy.”
“It’s a long hard road,” Murray said. “I think adversity makes you appreciate things more. The harder something is the more you appreciate it.”
Marchi, who won the title in 2008 and is again a contender in 2014, has been riding practice bulls with Palermo. So too has two-time World Champion Silvano Alves.
They rode several last week, before Marchi and Alves headed west to Oakland and rode again this week after they returned.
Marchi was at Palermo’s ranch on Monday, while Alves was there on Tuesday and Marchi returned again Wednesday afternoon.
Palermo said his first bull after being released was “real easy” and he felt that much better about himself seeing how ecstatic Marchi was for him.
“I feel good,” Palermo said, “really good.”
Marchi said Palermo looks strong.
Mauney said, “If he didn’t get hurt so much he would have won the world a couple times.”
“So far he hasn’t really come close,” Murray added. “I would say it’s because of injuries.”
In eight previous seasons, Palermo has finished in the Top 10 six times, including a third place finish in 2011. He’s won the World Finals event average a record three times, which Murray likens to winning the world title, but it’s the coveted gold buckle that has eluded the popular Brazilian.
He hasn’t had a complete season since 2010 after which his shoulders have been more of a nemesis than the bulls, of which he’s ridden over 50 percent in five of the past seven seasons.
“I need to go down there and make points to in the Finals,” said Palermo, of this week’s event in Biloxi and then next week’s event in Allentown, Pennsylvania. “My goal this week is to make points.”
But it’s in Las Vegas, where Palermo has shined the brightest.
Palermo is 10th on the all-time money earners list and one-third of his $2.4 million in career earnings has been won in Las Vegas.
“He’s that kind of guy,” Marchi said. “He’s proved it to everybody. I think he comes to Vegas and he’s going to push us hard.
“He’s preparing himself to get it done.”
Although he hasn’t worked out the way he did last year, he’s been training at home with 17-year-old Keyshawn Whitehorse.
The up-and-coming bull rider has been coming to Palermo’s for the past couple years and recently started staying with the Palermo family.
Whitehorse helps with chores around the ranch and then rides bulls with Palermo, Marchi, Alves and other top-ranked riders, who have come by the past couple weeks. In addition they train together. Whitehorse is nearly half Palermo’s age and has pushed his mentor to get into the best shape possible prior to his return.
They’ve been working out – lifting, cardio, boxing, jumping, squats and kicking – in the garage at Palermo’s new house. He downplayed his latest training – a direct conflict to the video recently posted on social media that features a leaner- -than-usual Palermo working the mitts with Whitehorse – likened his “training” to when he was a kid—sort of recapturing his youth.
Four weeks ago, Palermo and his wife were discussing the idea of building a new home on their ranch. Instead he bought one that sits on 11 acres south of Tyler. He’s keeping both locations. He said now Priscila has the house she always wanted and the kids have a pool.
“Everything is working out,” Palermo said. “Now I need to ride bulls and pay it off. I need to make some pressure on myself. When I have pressure to something, I do good.”
He concluded, “This way I can do what I do—ride bulls and make money.”
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