Chris Shivers: life by the horns

September 20, 2001|By Lisa Wiseman

At the age of 22, Chris Shivers has won more money than anyone in the history of the Professional Bull Riders Inc. Last year, he won the 2000 PBR Bud Light Cup World Championship, which earned him $351,534 and the biggest, shiniest, golden-est belt buckle you have ever seen (worth $60,000). All total, he has earned more than $1 million as a professional bull rider, and was the first rider to break the million-dollar mark. Not bad for a guy who has been competing professionally only since the day of his 18th birthday.

Shivers agreed to answer a few questions for us about bull riding and the life of a professional cowboy - a thoroughly modern cowboy, that is. He spoke via cell phone while at home in Jonesville, La. He talked with a nice Southern drawl and answered nearly every question with a sweet-sounding, "Yes, ma'am."

How did you get started riding bulls?

I got started at the age of 13, which is a little later than others. Most start when they're 4 or 5 years old. I figure it saved me a lot of broken bones in the process. I was pretty much interested in it for the longest time, but my family never wanted me to ride bulls. Finally, after I bugged my dad enough, they let me ride and I loved the sport from the word go. From then on, I never had a desire to do anything else.

Did you ever think you would make an honest living doing this?

I didn't know that I would make as good of a living as I've had. I did not think it would come as fast, but I have been lucky and fortunate to do the right thing, do well, and win.

So when you file taxes, what do you put on your W2-form?

Bull rider. That causes a lot of confusion from the IRS. They've questioned me about this in the past.

Do you have a special training regimen, particular exercises or diet?

I pretty much do my own deal. I have a workout machine at home and I do work around the house. As long as I feel good, and as long as I'm strong, this works good for me.

How do you learn to ride a bull? You don't just sit there on the bull and hang on.

There are a lot of techniques, but the one thing to remember is that there is no way to out-power a bull. You have to learn how to ride. ... Being a small person [Shivers is 5 feet 3 and weighs 135 pounds], I've not had a lot of difficulty figuring out how to do this.

Is being a small person an advantage to bull riding?

It is and it isn't. In the past, there have been tall and small bull riders that have won. I think it's the bull rider that has the biggest heart that wins the most.

When I see a cowboy riding a bull, he almost always loses his hat. Why wear one in the first place?

It's the cowboy tradition.

Is there a secret to keeping the hat on?

Just pull it down on your head.

Is this the toughest sport around?

I think so. It's certainly the roughest sport. Guys get beat up, but there's no quitting. That's the difference between bull riders and other athletes - they [bull riders] have to earn what they get every time. A basketball player has a lot of free time on the bench. But every time a bull rider puts his hand in the rope, he puts his life on the line, and he puts his bills on the line, too.

Are you ever afraid when you're about to face a bull?

Sure. I'm afraid every time. You grow to deal with it. Anybody who says they are not scared, they're lying. Sometimes I'm not as afraid. A lot of times I'm pretty afraid. But I've never backed out, and I never will. When I leave the house, I'm set to ride, even if I get the rankest bull, the meanest one or the one that cripples. That's the difference between the riders in the PBR and the lot of them. We're the best of the best.

Are you married, engaged, have a special someone?

I've got a pretty good girl in my life now.

You can't ride bulls forever. What are your plans?

I'd like to own a ranch to support me and the family I'll have someday. I'd like to have a nice place, something to look at and be proud of.

Is your momma OK that her baby grew up to be a cowboy?

Sure. But sometimes when I come home with a broken arm or leg, she isn't.

Any final words for your fans?

Live life day by day, and have fun, I reckon.

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