Leme and Fellow Riders Ready for a Return to Competition

Daylon Swearingen Daylon Swearingen By PBR Press Release

It was an announcement that many riders were hoping to hear for more than a month now.
The official word came late Friday afternoon on social media when PBR CEO Sean Gleason informed PBR riders and fans that the organization is ready to buck bulls once again.

Beginning on Saturday afternoon, the PBR will be back with this coming weekend’s PBR Las Vegas Invitational, presented by Union Home Mortgage, at the Lazy E Arena in Oklahoma.  
It will be a closed-to-the-public event, with all athletes and crew members following strict social distancing and self-isolation protocols approved by local, county and state officials to ensure safety amid the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic.
When the first gate cracks open at  the Lazy E Arena, it will have been 41 days since the PBR held an Unleash The Beast event, or sanctioned any event worldwide. The Gwinnett Invitational in Duluth, Georgia, which was a closed, non-public event, was held on March 14-15.
Fans can watch the event on CBS Sports Network and RidePass Saturday night at 6 p.m. ET and Sunday LIVE at noon ET.
“We had set up the facilities at Lazy E at the end of March knowing it was a matter of when, not if, we would be able to resume events,” Gleason said Friday. “That time is now.”
World leader Jose Vitor Leme and the other top bull riders in the world, as well as the best bucking bulls in the industry, previously have had no PBR events to compete at as the virus continues to spread throughout the United States and the world. PBR bull riders do not have guaranteed contracts compared to other major league athletes, and, therefore, were not able to earn any money through competition during the hiatus.
Leme has done his best to stay in shape so that he would be ready to try to build upon his 72.5-point lead in the 2020 World Championship race.
“I have been practicing a lot at home,” Leme said with the help of Miriaham Garcia translating. “I exercise. I ride bulls. I rode seven bulls during this period and I only fell off one, so I think I am in good physical shape, and I think I will be able to continue at the pace I was before I hurt myself.”
This weekend will be the first time fans have seen Leme outside of the practice pen since he broke three ribs attempting to ride The Right Stuff on Feb. 29 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Leme missed two Unleash The Beast events recovering from the injuries before the PBR went on hiatus.
The Western and rodeo world is one of many industries in the United States that has been at a standstill because of the pandemic. Thousands of cowboys and those with income tied to events and rodeos remain out of work amid multiple postponements and cancellations of events throughout the world.
Leme had been hopeful the PBR at some point could create a safe environment for the bull riders and stock contractors, as well as the other independent contractors and workers who rely on PBR events for income.
“I think that this situation that we are going through is difficult for everyone, but life cannot stop,” Leme said last month. “We have to continue working to live.”
This weekend’s event is optional for all contestants, and Leme said he is comfortable with the precautions the PBR is taking to create an environment that is as safe as possible.
“All of my family are well, thanks to God,” Leme said. “They are all healthy. I'm not too nervous to compete. I think PBR will do everything they can for us to compete in the safest way possible. I'm not worried about that.”
Leme is thankful for the efforts taken by brave healthcare professionals and first responders, and he is hopeful a vaccine can be developed for COVID-19 in the near future. He understands just how serious a threat the virus poses to people’s lives, and not just the economy.
“I think this was already expected, with everything that is happening in the world, scientists already feared it, but nobody thought it would be now, and the virus came at a time that took everyone by surprise,” Leme said. “I believe that soon the solution to this problem will arrive. There are very intelligent people in this world who must already be close to a vaccine for this virus.”
World No. 7 Colten Jesse, who grew up 100 miles away from the Lazy E Arena in Konowa, Oklahoma, said he is happy those who have been out of work will have an opportunity to earn a paycheck with competition returning.
“I know this is going to be beneficial to everyone in the PBR family, from bull riders and stock contractors to staff and crew,” Jesse said. “It’s been a long month of no events, and I know everyone is chomping at the bit to get back. I know I am! There for a while it seemed uncertain as to when we’d be able to get back at it. So I’m thankful it’s here now, and thankful for the PBR doing everything in their power to take care of all of us!”
Fellow bull rider Brady Sims, who has competed on the Unleash The Beast and Pendleton Whisky Velocity Tour, said that he relies on bull ridings not only to pay his bills, but also to feed his livestock.
His heart goes out to all of those struggling to find a way to make ends meet.
“I mean, it’s everything,” Sims said. “It’s most definitely how myself and many others, whether it’s PBR riders or rodeo people, put food on the table and make ends meet. My cattle got to eat, and it’s hard right now with nothing to go to to make that happen. I couldn’t imagine the struggle of other contractors and beef producers on a way larger scale then me, and I feel for them.
“It’s not just the bull riders who are out of jobs, either. From the bull shagger to the camera guy and everybody in between.”
Sims also expressed his gratitude for the opportunity the PBR was offering those to earn a living.
“I just really appreciate what PBR has done to make these events happen and the Lazy E Arena for helping us get a venue for these events allowing us to come do what we need to do to make a living,” Sims added.
World No. 4 Daylon Swearingen finished third at the Gwinnett Invitational in Georgia and echoed Sims’s sentiments.
“I know I am very thankful for the opportunity I have to go back to competition and work,” Swearingen said. “Hopefully, we will lead others to do the same.”
Swearingen added he believes this weekend can also provide fans with a positive distraction for a few hours amidst a lot of uncertainty in the world.
“Definitely, people need something to wake up and look forward to and stay positive about,” Swearingen said.
2020 Rookie of the Year leader Cole Melancon said last week he was getting an itch to return to the arena.
He had said he was hopeful his phone would ring with an invite from the PBR office saying the time to buck bulls had arrive, and he finally got that call Friday.
“When they call and say, ‘Hey, we are going to have an event,’ I will grab my gear bag and roll out the door,” Melancon said.
No. 23 Ezekiel Mitchell has been going stir crazy at home waiting for the PBR to hold events.
“You know, it is driving me insane,” Mitchell said. “Feels like I’m cut from tour or something, but I’ve picked up a guitar and I’m learning to play, so that’s a plus. It’s kind of keeping my mind at ease.”
Mitchell has also tried to stay interactive with his fans by hosting a few Instagram live chats.
He hopes that, with so many other sports still waiting to come back into action, the PBR can catch the attention of some new fans.
“The opportunity to ride again on the UTB means everything,” Mitchell said. “I’ve built my whole life around the sport. But beyond that, I feel like that we can build a fan base beyond the traditional Western lifestyle. By taking the necessary steps to insurance the safety of our riders and other personnel, we are bringing quality entertainment to America in some of our darkest times. That means the world to me!”
Riders have been trying their best to stay in shape at home in hopes of returning to competition as soon as possible.
Keyshawn Whitehorse has been keeping fans engaged at home by providing workout routines in partnership with Ariat.
Surging Rookie of the Year contender Andrew Alvidrez is eager to return and continue his push up the world standings since making his premier series debut on March 6.  
Alvidrez has been posting some of his workout regimens that he has been doing at home on social media as well.
“I do miss riding,” Alvidrez said last month. “I miss the crew, the traveling. But right now, I do feel thankful for everyone’s life to be on pause. You can learn a lot about yourself in these times. I am training every day as always. I constantly stay ready so that I never have to get ready.”
Mason Taylor he has used the time off to let his injured riding wrist heal some more. He too is eager to make a return.
“I’m just bored,” Taylor said. “I’m tired of not having the chance to ride bulls for a lot of money. My wrist and hand feels as good as it ever has. This time off is what it needed.”
Riders, stock contractors and fans have spent time in recent weeks re-living and re-watching past PBR events on the organization’s social media accounts and its OTT product (RidePass) to get their bull-riding fix.
Six-time PBR World Finals qualifier and current stock contractor Cord McCoy, who is hauling nine bulls to the Lazy E, said he believes that while it is great to watch the legendary moments of the past, he is excited for the historical moments that are expected to happen the rest of the season.
“Sometimes as cowboys, cowgirls, contractors, or even fans, we don’t realize the love for our sport until it comes to a stop,” McCoy said. “Maybe this is the perfect opportunity for that Be Cowboy that we hear. I think the second half of the PBR and rodeo will be one for the record books.
“We are all watching the flashbacks of the greatest moments, but some of our greatest of all time (have been) sitting at home wanting to get back in the arena.”
By Justin Felisko