PUEBLO, Colo. – Billy Robinson was putting on his cowboy boots early in the morning two weeks ago as he was getting ready to leave his Galax, Virginia, home and head to the airport.
He bent down to slide on one of his boots when he noticed a tiny piece of paper inside.
It was a note from his 10-year-old daughter, Carissa.
“Daddy I am really looking forward to having you home all the time, but I am going to miss going to Vegas,” the note read.
Billy – a 15-year PBR veteran – smiled and then took a moment to himself.
He was on his way to Las Vegas to officially announce his retirement from the sport of professional bull riding and it was going to be a little bit harder knowing how much the sport meant to not just him, but to his family.
“Anytime you get to thinking about it, especially when your kids are thinking about it too, it is hard to deal with,” Robinson said in Las Vegas. “Don’t get me wrong, I wish I could do this forever and take them with me and do it all the time, but I much rather be at home with them going to all the ballgames.”
Robinson was honored during Round 1 of the Built Ford Tough World Finals alongside fellow 2015 retirees L.J. Jenkins and Austin Meier.
The 35-year-old concludes his career with 162 qualified rides, seven 90-point rides and two wins on the Built Ford Tough Series.
He competed at the World Finals 10 times in his career. He rode Gentleman Jack for 81 points at the World Finals in 2000 before competing on the BFTS full-time in 2001. He would finish a career-best 14th in the world standings in 2003, the same season in which he picked up his first of two career victories.
Robinson went 2-for-3 to win the BFTS event in Nashville, Tennessee, and clinched the victory with a career-high 92.5 points on Hammer.
He also rode Smackdown for 92.5 points to win the 2013 Chicago Invitational.
Robinson’s ride aboard Hammer still resonated with Robinson 12 years later as he recalled his career standing inside the Hall of Champions at the Thomas & Mack Center.
“One that sticks out in my head, and always will, is when I rode Hammer in Nashville,” Robinson said. “That was probably one of my best moments. I always knew I could ride that bull. I told them before I ever got on him I could. It worked out good for me.”
It is a ride that mentor Jerome Davis also still remembers, who also joked that he still can recall Robinson’s ability, or lack thereof, to stay awake in the back seat while they carpooled to events.
“Well, Bill just stepped up to the plate and got that bull rode,” Davis said. “At that time, he was so rank they couldn’t even get him twisted and Bill got it done.”
However, Davis says that what will forever stand out in his mind about Robinson was the Virginian’s longevity.
Robinson was 17 years old when Davis helped sneak him to his first event in southern Louisiana, and when Robinson debuted on the BFTS in 2001 he was riding beside the likes of Davis, Adriano Moraes, Ty Murray, Cody Custer and Jim Sharp.
Fifteen years later and those names have been replaced by two-time World Champion J.B. Mauney, three-time World Champion Silvano Alves and 21-year-old World Finals event winner Cooper Davis.
In fact, 19-year-old 2015 World Finals qualifier Derek Kolbaba could barely walk at the time Robinson was first nodding for the out gate as a professional in the early 2000s.
“Bill is probably one of the most overlooked bull riders that has come along in a long time in a way,” Davis said. “Bill has been around for a long time. He was back riding at the end of my career and just now is retiring. That says a lot. If anybody in the (Carolina) region has rodeoed in the last 15 years, they have been with Bill one time or another. There is a lot of knowledge there.”
Robinson said: “I feel privileged to be in this and be part of it for as long as I was. I had seen a lot of guys come and go. Just to be able to come back from some of the injuries I had and to keep getting back to this level and being good enough to do it. All of the guys are different. When I first came in here, you had Ty Murray and all them guys riding – Cody Custer, Jim Sharp. Now you have J.B. Mauney and all of those guys.”
To have that long of a career you would think Robinson was born and raised to be a bull rider, but in actuality he fell into the sport by chance.
He was 15 years old when he first attempted a practice bull.
“I was late coming to it,” Robinson said. “I was in high school and some buddies talked me into trying it, and once I tried it I was hooked. I never actually entered an amateur bull riding. I started entering open bull ridings. The first bull I ever got on was a little practice bull and after that I went to entering rodeos and stuff.”
Robinson had hoped to use his remaining injury exemptions this season following a right knee (MCL) injury in New York to try and qualify for one more World Finals.
However, a neck injury at Davis’ Touring Pro Division event in Archdale, North Carolina, put a halt to any comeback attempt this year.
Robinson is OK with the end result, though, and knew for most of the year that this season would be his last.
“I had every intention of being here this year,” he said. “I had a bull whoop me down in the bucking chute and that messed my neck up pretty bad. I don’t regret it. I have been on a bunch of bulls in this arena. It is just an honor to be part of this. The PBR was supposed to be the best of the best and I never focused on nothing else but being here. The PBR was what I wanted to be a part of since I was old enough to be here. Just being able to come to these Finals and qualify several times – to know I was able to do that is all good to me.”
It was through bull riding that he met his wife, Crystal, and there ensuing family came to be.
Robinson now gets to continue to enjoy being home with his family as his children continue to get older and participate in youth sports.
“Last year was my first year my oldest son played football, and I missed every game he had,” Robinson said. “I didn’t go to not one of them. I enjoyed it this year going to them all and being around them. It made my decision pretty easy.”
Robinson’s family helped drive him in his final seasons and now he is ready to drive them to every ball game and practice he can possibly get to.
“My family enjoyed coming and being a part of this,” Robinson said. “For them to be able to do that, it put a little more drive in me. I always tried to be the best I could at it. Not just for me, but for them to have an opportunity and come do this stuff. I feel like me quitting at this time is good. I am still in good shape, am riding good and am doing it on my own terms.”
He then concluded with a grin, “Them ball games my kids got are a lot more interesting then this stuff now anyways.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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