PUEBLO, Colo. – Robson Palermo was staring at the snow-capped mountains this past weekend at the Eldora Mountain Resort in Nederland, Colorado, and the peaceful setting could not erase the tightness in the pit of his stomach and in his heart.
The uneasiness had nothing to do with the fact that this was his first snowboarding/skiing trip either.
Rather, the anxiousness inside him had been with him for almost a year, and it had only gotten worse in the last month or so with the 2019 PBR season close to beginning.
The 36-year-old knew what he had to do, especially after talking with his wife, Priscila, just after Thanksgiving, but he was still scared of admitting what he already knew to be true as he stood on that mountain.
“I did not want this hard feeling in my mind, heart and gut anymore,” Palermo told PBR.com on Thursday morning. “I wanted to spit it out and say yes, it is time to quit and retire.”
It was time to publically announce his retirement, Palermo thought to himself.
The Palermos were on a mini-Christmas vacation with three-time World Champion Silvano Alves and his family.
On Sunday night, Palermo and Silvano’s wife, Evelin, had a chance to speak for an hour or so about how Robson was doing after he decided to take a year off from the sport.
Palermo announced 11 months ago that he was stepping away from the sport to attempt to get healthy and refocus on what he wanted his future to be.
With the 2019 season right around the corner, Palermo still had yet to make a final decision as of this past weekend.
“When are you going to retire?” Evelin asked.
“Now,” Palermo recalled saying before laughing.
Deep down, though, Palermo seriously knew it was probably time. He simply had been unable to gather the courage to finally call it a career.
So as he made the 18-hour trip back home to Bullard, Texas, this week, Palermo finally found the peace that he was struggling to find on the top of that mountain in Nederland, Colorado.
“It took a long time for me. It took almost a year for me to say it, but it is time for me to retire,” Palermo said. “I have been thinking a lot. All of this time, I have been home with my family. I am really, really sad, but I am very happy to tell everyone I am retiring because it has bothered me for a year. I am not happy to say this, but I got up this morning and then I knew I had to finish this.”
Palermo had badly wanted to make a return to bull riding so that he could retire at the PBR World Finals like his best friend and 2008 World Champion Guilherme Marchi did this past November.
However, Palermo could never get fully healthy enough this past year to make a confident return to bull riding.
“It is hard because this is not how I wanted to quit,” Palermo said. “The picture I see in my mind to quit bull riding would be on the top. Be riding good. Finish out like most of those guys. Like Guilherme did. Justin McBride. Adriano (Moraes). Retire right there at the Finals. Ride your bull. Grab your rope. Go home and know you are retired.
“I really didn’t want to do this over the phone, but my body is not working no more like it used to. My shoulders are really bothering me. Everybody knows I already had four surgeries on my shoulders and I need two more to get them fixed to be around my family and stuff.”
Palermo is one of the greatest bull riders to nod his head in PBR history.
The Rio Branco, Brazil, native is the only three-time World Finals event winner, and he is the only back-to-back World Finals champion (2011-2012).
Palermo went 32-for-57 (56.14 percent) in 10 World Finals appearances and won $1,173,591.67 of his $2,590,230.82 career earnings at the PBR’s season-culminating event.
He made his PBR debut at a Touring Pro Division event in West Plains, Missouri, on November 26, 2005, and less than three months later made his premier series debut in Portland, Oregon.
Palmero rode Hurricane for 84.75 points in Portland for the first of his 310 qualified rides on the premier series. He went on to win 13 premier series events and make 37 90-point rides on the premier series.
“He is no doubt going to be remembered for a long time for what he was able to do,” nine-time World Champion Ty Murray said. “He was a great competitor. He had so many of the components. He knew how to get to the right place in his mind where you never saw him pressure up. He didn’t even know how to spell the word pressure. You never saw him choke. He had a great game going in both directions. That was something that made him very strong. Then he worked at it more. He was fierce. He had a perfect style. He had great form and style on top of it.
“He was a great asset for the sport of bull riding. There will be people that look up to him for a long time.”
Many believe Palermo is one of the greatest bull riders to have never won a World Championship.
Palermo was a perennial world title contender from 2007 through 2012 before multiple shoulder surgeries three years in a row and permanent nerve damage in his riding arm forever altered his career.
He never gave up, though, and still qualified for the World Finals three more times after undergoing season-ending surgery in 2013.
“He is one of the best riders,” three-time World Champion Adriano Moraes said. “He is a World Champion who never got to wear the gold buckle. Just like Clint Branger. Two of the greatest riders that never got a title and more than deserved it.
“Palermo tried harder than anyone. Trained harder than anyone. It shows that a little guy with a big heart can do a lot of stuff. He won three World Finals. That is a record. I won three world titles, but I never won the Finals. That is a title I wanted so bad, but I was never able to accomplish it. That is the second most prestigious title, and he’s got three of them. That is a stat of his perseverance, his endurance and his heart. Most of his career he was hurt bad – very bad. With shoulders and all kinds of injuries that he had throughout his career, but he is a very determined person and it showed in his career.”
Palermo says he is honored for people to hold him in the same regard that they do other professional athletes that failed to win a championship, such as Dan Marino, Jim Kelley, Barry Sanders and Denny Flynn.
He has come to peace with the fact that he ultimately fell short of a goal that he set when he first left for the United States in 2005.
“I am really proud when people tell me that,” Palermo said. “To be the only one to win the Finals three times is awesome. It is a hard event to win. Being a World Champion, I do not want to say it is easy, but you have the whole year to get points. You know if you get to the Finals and ride a couple of bulls you are a World Champion. But to win the World Finals, you have to ride all of your bulls to win the Finals. Finals is not easy bulls. They are all hard bulls that Cody Lambert picks.
“I dreamed about that since I left Brazil and came here to be a World Champion. I wanted that buckle in my hands and on my belt, but I never did. But I am happy with my Finals event win buckle on my belt. I will be a World Champ in life now.”
The closest Palermo came to winning a World Championship was in 2011.
Palermo went a career-best 46-for-77 (59.74 percent) with 10 90-point rides, five event wins, including his second World Finals event title, and nine Top-5 finishes to finish third in the world standings.
In fact, the 2011 World Finals victory is one of his favorite memories.
During the championship round, Palermo actually did not believe he was going to win the event.
He was originally ruled to have slapped King of Hearts around the 3.3-second mark, but an instant replay review showed that King of Hearts had actually touched him in the arm pit instead of Palermo slapping him.
Therefore, Palermo was given a 93.25-point score, and he would go to win the Finals.
“My favorite memory would probably be winning the World Finals three times, but the one I remember the most was 2011,” Palermo said. “They looked at the video about four or five times and he gave me a score. In that moment, I was so happy. Because the way the bull was, I thought he hit me and the judge was going to call a slap no matter what. I got a score and I was really, really happy.”
Palermo’s ride on King of Hearts was the second-best of his career, only .25 points behind his 93.5-point effort on RMEF Gunpowder & Lead that he posted less than a month earlier in Milwaukee.
Palermo wound up 2,706.25 points behind Alves, who attempted 24 more bulls and posted 23 more riders than Palermo on the premier series because of injuries, in the final 2011 world standings.
“I am happy (with my career), but I am sad because I did not win,” Palermo said. “I was supposed to be a World Champion. I didn’t because all of the injuries I had. That held me back. I was always good at the Finals, but I was always hurt. I could never ride good for the whole year.
“If I had a whole year in my career, and I was healthy, I would have been a World Champion. I don’t know what happened, but I was pretty much hurt every year.”
Palermo is now working on getting his United States citizenship, and he is hopeful to spend the rest of his life in the U.S., which has become home for him and his family.
The former coach of Team Brazil will be honored at the 2019 WinStar World Casino & Resort Global Cup USAin Arlington, Texas, on Feb. 9-10 at AT&T Stadium.
The former bull rider that was once known as “Jungle Boy” in Brazil has certainly come a long way from his very rural upbringing on the edge of the Amazon Rainforest, which included living without electricity, to now being a millionaire.
Palermo is extremely happy to have achieved his American Dream, and he is thankful for all of his fans, sponsors and friends that have helped him along the way.
He is now looking forward to opening a school or training facility for future bull riders and rodeo athletes in Texas so that they too can chase their own dreams.
Depending on the health of his shoulders, Palermo may even consider a professional team roping career if he can continue to improve.
He is ready for the next chapter of his life either way.
“It is hard to leave the sport,” Palermo said. “I am going to miss a lot because all my life I have rode bulls. Since I was 14 years old. Then I moved here to the U.S. and have been hanging out with all you guys.
“Everything I have, and my family, is because the PBR gave me the opportunity to make money and stuff. I completed a lot. I have a ranch. Everything I have is because I rode bulls and made money. I am so happy for that, but now it is time to do different stuff.”
Palermo can also now let out that sigh of relief knowing that mountainous weight on his shoulders is finally gone.
“There can be a release,” Palermo concluded. “I can now look forward to do what I want to do next.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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