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Hillsboro's Schumacher rides to the top of the rodeo world

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When things go wrong, or the bull simply outsmarts its rider, B.J. Schumacher refers to it as a wreck. Let's just say the 24-year-old Hillsboro, Wis., man has seen his share of wrecks.

One of them was even a heart-stopper. His heart, that is.

The amazing part is that he's been able to withstand these wrecks, fight through the pain and injuries, and emerge a world champion.

Yes, World Champion Bull Rider, B.J. Schumacher.

"My dad (Eddie) called the other day, and said he was just trying to talk to the World Champion," Schumacher said, chuckling. "I'm still getting used to the sound of that."

Schumacher is coming off a performance at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, Nev., last week that not only filled his pockets as full as they have ever been (he earned a record $142,644 at the event, and $248,081 for 2006), he made history in the process. The one-time small-town boy had grown up to become the first World Champion bull rider ever from Wisconsin. In fact, he's the first World Champion in any event to hail from east of the Mississippi River.

That still doesn't sit well with some hard-core cowboys. Especially those from Wyoming, Colorado and Montana. Heck, this kid grew up wearing tennis shoes. Ugh!

"It is a big deal being the first World Champion bull rider from Wisconsin. We are on the wrong side of the Mississippi River to be World Champions," Schumacher said, referring to some things he's overheard. "We used to catch flak for making the finals. I know everybody doesn't like that (a so-called outsider walking away with the top prize)."

So be it, says Schumacher. He's earned the right to wear the prestigious World Champion belt buckle. Taking a look at his first five years on the professional rodeo circuit, it's hard to argue.

Starting early

There is something about this sport that the

5-foot-10, 155-pound Schumacher grabbed onto, and has held tighter than anything in his life. Kind of like when he jumps on a raging bull. It all started when he was about 4 years old when Schumacher and a pony became fast friends.

"When he was in diapers he was riding ponies and things," said his mother, Jayne Potter. "I remember when he was 4 years old. He had a real old pony that was just like a babysitter. He was too little to do be doing it by himself, but one time he went out and caught his pony.

"We could hear the horse hooves. We looked out (the window) and there he is riding in a circle in the round corral. I don't think he ever went two days without being on the back of a horse."

So when B.J. began competing in Wisconsin High School rodeo events (he was four-time Wisconsin state champion), it came to no surprise to his parents that he was successful from the start.

"When he could go through all the events, it would wear him out, but he could do it so well," Jayne said. "It was so natural to him."

This natural Wisconsin cowboy started testing his skills at rodeos around the state on weekends. Again, he met with considerable success. It turned out that Schumacher not only was having fun, he had found a pretty good paying part-time job.

"If I wanted to go to any open rodeos, I had to pay the entry fees and gas to get to them," Schumacher said. "When I did well, I would make $800 or $900 a weekend."

"… a long, long road"

What a concept, Schumacher thought. He could make money at something he absolutely loved doing. So when he continued to place well at various rodeo events throughout high school, there was never a doubt as to where his career path would lead.

Schumacher, boots on and gas tank full, was off.

"It is a long, long road. It took me a lot to get here (World Champion)," Schumuacher said. "I paid my dues and am glad it is working out the way it is."

Schumacher competes in anywhere from 100 to 120 rodeos a year across the United States and Canada. His area of expertise is bull riding, and sometimes that requires him to be at two different places at the same time.

"There are times when I need to be in Fort Worth (Texas) and Rapid City (South Dakota) on the same day. One (rodeo) might be at noon and the other 8 p.m. Some of us will get together and get a private jet in order to be at both," Schumacher said. "Those (events) pay enough that you can afford to do it."

Working through the pain

Schumacher, despite his recent World Champion status, remains humble. As he puts it, if he doesn't work, he doesn't get paid. It is that philosophy that has pushed him to travel and compete when he would have rather been sitting on a couch at home, letting his body heal.

His rap sheet of injuries: 3 front teeth knocked out, courtesy of a bull's horn, 2 broken legs, a broken sternum, broken ribs, a broken wrist, a broken arm, a hip that required surgery, multiple bumps, bruises, and pulled muscles.

The most frightening of his injuries happened in Pendleton, Ore., when a bull ejected him, then used him as a floor mat.

"I had my chest stepped on in Pendleton. It broke my sternum and some ribs," Schumacher said. "My heart stopped. That was probably the worst wreck I ever had."

Immediate CPR revived him, but there were several difficult days in the hospital following the incident.

"I got called from a chaplain at a hospital when that happened," Jayne recalled. "He (B.J.) said he was going to be fine and not to come out."

That type of incident would make most mothers, or family members, talk the bull rider into retirement. Not Jayne.

"That young man, he is still my little boy," Jayne said. "Never, ever, would I do that to him. He has seen more, and done more, and eaten more foods than most humans would ever dream of."

Jeff Brown can be reached at (608) 791-8403, or e-mail at jbrown@lacrossetribune.com

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