THACKERVILLE, Okla. – Lachlan Richardson used his left hand to lower his cowboy hat down over his eyes on Saturday night.
Richardson had his first 15/15 Bucking Battle gold buckle in his right hand, but he struggled to gather his thoughts as tears began to formulate in his brown eyes moments after a marque moment in his career.
The 23-year-old had just ridden Seven Dust for a career-high 92.25 points, but that was the last thing on his mind.
Richardson tried to keep his composure, using words such as “special” and “excited” to describe his victory during the Winstar World Casino and Resort 15/15 Bucking Battle.
However, Richardson couldn’t hold his tears back anymore once he got a minute into his post-event interview.
“I hope so,” Richardson responded said when asked if he thought his childhood friend Blake Hallam would be proud of his ride. “This is for him.”
The Gresford, Australia, native then let the tears roll down his face and let his body convulse into a series tremors of sadness.
“It only has been a couple of days,” Richardson tried to explain as he fought to stop his upper lip from quivering.
“I know this ride isn’t going to change much…”
Hallam was a 23-year-old rodeo superstar in Australia who tragically passed away on Thursday in a car accident near Charters Towers, Australia. According to the Townsville Bulletin, Hallam’s car he was driving “left the road and rolled several times, throwing him from the car and killing him instantly.”
Hallam’s death has rocked the Australia rodeo community and his death was certainly felt here in the United States by the PBR’s top Australian bull riders.
Richardson grew up about 3 hours from Hallam, a Tamworth native. The two rode mini bulls, steers and junior bulls together as kids and both had aspirations to one day be World Champions in their respective disciplines.
Richardson began to pursue his bull riding dream by winning his debut Built Ford Tough Series event in 2012 at 18 years old and has been a BFTS mainstay in the United States ever since. Meanwhile, Hallam rose to stardom in Australia by developing into one of the best all-around cowboys in the country.
Hallam won the 2014 Australian Bushmen's Campdraft and Rodeo Association (ABCRA) all-around championship and was the runner-up in 2015.
He was an impressive steer wrestler and won the 2015 ABCRA Steer Wrestling championship, as well as the 2015 aggregate title at the ABCRA Finals, two years after being named the Rookie of the Year in steer wrestling. Hallam also was a three-time Team Roping Heeler champion.
“He is like a month younger than me,” Richardson said. “He rode steers and junior bulls, like when I was young, and then he steer wrestled and roped and team roped. He was a big winner.”
Richardson last saw Hallam at his brother’s wedding in December.
“We grew up riding together and he was a pretty good buddy,” Richardson said. “I hadn’t seen him in a while because I had been over here.”
Richardson jumped between present tense and past tense when recalling Hallam. Along with his display of emotion, it was evident that Richardson was still trying to come to grips with such a tragic death.
He also rode Cash Flo for 84.5 points Sunday during the conclusion of the regular-formatted BFTS event in Thackerville.
Fellow Aussie Cody Heffernan is only three years older than Richardson and Hallam. Heffernan was good family friends with the Hallams and wanted to extend his condolences to Blake’s parents, David and Diane.
Heffernan said the past few days has been very hard for the Australian rodeo community.
“He was like one of the best all-around cowboys in Australia,” Heffernan said. “He is the man. When I heard the news I was pretty devastated. I always remembered him as being great folk. He was not only a champion in the arena, but a champion person. He would always say hi to you and was always nice.”
Heffernan saw Blake last month at a rodeo in Australia a week before he returned to the United States for the Music City Knockout in Nashville.
“I haven’t been in the rodeo scene in a long time, but I actually had seen him a week before I came over here,” Heffernan said.
The 26-year-old then paused and lowered his head.
Heffernan shook his head in disbelief.
“The Hallams are great people,” he continued. “It is very sad. It has rocked the whole Australia rodeo family. Everyone can’t believe it.”
Richardson rode this weekend with a piece of blue tape on his riding vest. Many rodeo athletes in Australia are wearing blue in remembrance of Hallam, and some are using the hashtag #RideforBlake to remember him as well.
When he got back into the locker room on Saturday night, Heffernan, Kurt Shephard and Fraser Babbington were there to console their friend.
They could tell how hard, and special, his 92.25-point ride on Seven Dust truly was.
“After he rode, he was emotional and we were all there for him,” said Shephard, who had only talked to Hallam on a few occasions. “We knew why he was emotional. He was pretty close to him so it was really cool to see that ride.”
Heffernan is pretty sure Hallam was watching from above on Saturday night.
“Loco (Richardson), and all of us, had Blake on our mind,” Heffernan said. “No doubt Blake was watching.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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