FORT WORTH, Texas - Veteran bull rider and longtime fan favorite Colby Yates has announced his retirement from the PBR, effective immediately.
Last week, Yates wrote a dozen personal letters privately announcing his decision to step away from the sport. Among those receiving letters were PBR co-founders Cody Lambert, Ty Murray and Michael Gaffney along with various PBR executives, sponsors, bullfighters and Dr. Tandy Freeman.
"He has a personality that draws people," said Lambert, who often referred to Yates as a class act. "He carries himself the way a bull rider is supposed to."
PBR CEO and chairman of the board Jim Haworth commented, "Colby had a great career and he was a fantastic spokesman for the sport. He has a knack for making anyone smile."
Like Lambert, Haworth and Jay Daugherty, senior vice-president of competition, both used the term "class act" as well.
Daugherty added that in a moment that ought to be about Yates, the 31-year-old rider thought to acknowledge others.
"It's very professional," said Daugherty, who said it's uncommon to receive a personalized letter from other riders who have retired. "It would be nice if they all did that, but it's not in their nature to be that formal."
"I wanted to pay my respects to the people that had helped me," said Yates, who spent three hours a night over the course of a couple nights typing each one after weeks of thinking about what he would say to each of them. "I had some time to think about it.
"They weren't long letters and they were to the point thanking them for specific things they did for me and everything in general. And thanking them for the friendship."
Yates previously considered retiring in the spring of 2010.
However, the difference between then and now, according to Yates, is that two years ago he said he was ready, "but didn't believe it;" whereas this time he "felt it" before he ever shared his decision with anyone other than his wife, Katie.
"Everybody has their own reasons," said Yates, saying he chose not to engage fellow riders and travel partners in any conversations regarding what he was thinking.
Yates admitted several riders had wondered in recent weeks when he would compete again.
Yates said the careers of professional athletes don't last much past the age of 30, and that it was time to focus on his family and the next chapter of their lives together. He regarded his decision as a personal choice, but made together.
"And I'm banged up," he said. "Every time that I ride it hurts."
Yates started his career when he was eight.
He briefly stopped competing when he was 10 years old, but resumed riding junior bulls after recovering from a broken leg he suffered while filming his older brother at a local practice pen outside Fort Worth, Texas.
The two Yates brothers were there with their father when Colby - refusing to give up a shot with his camcorder - was run over and stepped on after being pinned against the fence. In the years since then, he's joked that if he was going to be injured watching others ride he might as well climb back in the chute and nod his head.
Looking back, Yates said there were obstacles he needed to overcome in order to gain the confidence needed to pursue bull riding at a higher level than other competitors his same age - overcoming fear was one such stepping stone.
From that point on, he said, it was a matter of focusing on whatever he needed to do in order to win.
Yates was a member of the rodeo team at Vernon Junior College and also attended Tarleton State University, in nearby Stephenville, Texas.
He turned pro at 18 and focused on competing at PRCA events until turning his attention to the PBR fulltime in 2006. He's qualified for the World Finals in five of the past seven seasons - missing it in 2009. He'll officially finish the 2012 season ranked outside the Top 50.
His best season came in 2008 when he finished 20th in the world standings. Unfortunately he rode in only five Built Ford Tough Series events, in 2009, after suffering multiple vertebra injuries in a wreck in November of 2008.
That year he recorded eight Top 10 finishes, including three in the Top 5. He's won three BFTS events in his career, including the Iron Cowboy Invitational, in 2011, at Cowboys Stadium.
He had advanced to the semi-final round with a career-high 92.25 points on Carrillo Cartel. He eventually won $50,000 that night in front of 38,641 fans chanting his name, which was made all the more special by having earned a spot in the draw as an alternate less than 72 hours prior to rider introductions.
"Being in that building," Yates said, "and being my home deal and all those people yelling for me, it was the most amazing feeling I've had in my life. I'll honestly never feel that again. That's something that I'll hold forever and I can - when I think about it I still get butterflies. It's just crazy."
Colby Yates scores 92.25 on Carillo Cartel during the 2011 Iron Cowboy Invitational.
Yates said while some of his struggles this past year had to do with an injured hip, a lot of it is because of his attitude.
Yates once craved being on the road traveling from one event to another; winning created a drive to accomplish all that much more. But the time came competing and winning was no longer more important than being home in Texas.
Whereas he once never wanted to go home, now he has a family of his own to return to and it's this year it got to where, according to Yates, "I don't want to leave." In fact, he is also electing not to pursue the music career most people assumed he would transition toward.
"I'm dropping that too," he said, "because I don't want to travel, and they'll travel more than a bull rider will."
Yates released his debut album, Right Amount of Renegade, last October, prior to the World Finals.
He is not the only family member to have pursued music. His grandmother, Ruth Ellen Yates, was a vital member of the gospel group The Chuck Wagon Gang, who sold more than 40 million albums worldwide. Yates said he'll continue to write and play "every now and again" in his spare time.
"It's tough to take," admitted Yates. "Whenever I want to do something I want to do it full blast. If I want to do something I set my mind to it and I just go full blast on it."
However, the reality that he'll never ride bulls again has weighed heavily on his mind; so too has the camaraderie he had with fellow riders in the locker room. He said his closest friends - Pistol Robinson, Harve Stewart, L.J. Jenkins, J.B. Mauney, Cord McCoy, Luke Snyder, Ross Coleman, Chris Shivers, Mike White and Brendon Clark - will be his friends "for the rest of my life."
Lambert said he empathizes with what Yates is coming to grips with.
"It's hard," Lambert said. "There's a void there. You're never ever going to have a better job than being a professional athlete."
"For a lot of guys, that's all we have ever done or thought to do and nobody ever thought of the after-bull-riding life," Yates said. "Luckily I saved a little bit of money, but it's going to be tough and I'm going to be just like every other non-athlete; I'm going to have to get a job."
"Competition is always in our blood." --Colby Yates
As a professional athlete competing at the highest level of bull riding, Yates, like other PBR riders, proved himself to be among the best in the world. Now he faces life after bull riding. As tough as it might be for Yates to walk away, wondering if there's something out there that he'll be equally as passionate about as he was bull riding is proving to be a tougher question to answer.
Those are the thoughts that he grapples with from day to day.
"Most of the bull riders that I know were driven by a winning feeling," Yates said, "so that competition is always in our blood."
With the help of his uncle Mike Reilly, he has been putting together a resume.
While he initially worried he knew little outside of bull riding, he has since come to understand that many of the skills the PBR helped him to develop are transcendent skills that will benefit him in the future. For instance, by regularly taking part in public relations campaigns, Yates has acquired media training that includes everything from communication to being a spokesperson to developing a natural ability to work with others.
At the same time, he said, he's never interviewed for a job in his life.
That's all part of the emotional weight he's carried with him for the past few weeks.
In any case, bull riding and the PBR has been such a big part of his life that he plans to continue being involved in one fashion or another, perhaps as a mentor to young hopeful rider.
He might also take part in various bull-riding schools, which is something that reminded him of the time Aaron Semas came to his high school one afternoon to offer some instruction.
Yates said he doesn't have all the answers when it comes to questions about the future - "I wish I did" - but he's prepared for whatever lies ahead outside the arena.
Follow Keith Ryan Cartwright on Twitter @PBR_KRC.
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