It was late Tuesday afternoon in Merkel, Texas, and bullfighter Rob Smets knew he should be on the road.
But he didn't want to leave until his wife, who works as a teacher, got home from work. It was a decision that meant he would not arrive at his destination in Pueblo until well after midnight. Still, getting the chance to visit with his wife for a few minutes before the long road trip was worth losing a few hours of sleep.
"I didn't want to leave until I got to see her," Smets said. "I've had a pretty hectic schedule lately, so we haven't had a lot of time to spend together."
It's a way of life for the bullfighter.
Smets is scheduled to work a midweek Professional Bull Riders event in Pueblo before heading to Steamboat Springs for the Steamboat Pro Bull Riding Classic on Sunday.
He has traveled to more than 40 rodeos this year, but he thanks God every time he has the chance to step into an arena to make money doing what he loves.
"I've had a very successful career with the blessing of the Lord," Smets said.
A bullfighter works in the ring to distract the bull when a cowboy falls. The job is sometimes confused with the job of the barrel man, or clown, who entertains the crowd and helps the bullfighters protect the cowboys.
In the past 27 years, the cowboy has won five world bullfighting titles and has been to the National Rodeo Finals six times and the PBR finals six times.
He has broken several of the vertebrae in his back on two occasions and once was gored by a bull. The injuries could have ended his career or left him paralyzed.
But even after spending months in rehabilitation, Smets never thought about giving up. The man upstairs has a plan for him, he said, and if he was supposed to stop bullfighting, then the injuries would have kept him out of the arena on a more permanent basis.
"I think my greatest moment in the rodeo arena came in 1994 when I won a world title after my first broken neck," Smets said. "The doctors told me that I would never fight bulls again, so I take a lot of pride in making it back."
During a yearlong rehabilitation process, Smets' wife, Carla, stood by him and his decision to return to rodeo.
"I dedicated that season to my wife," Smets said. "I don't wear that gold belt buckle, because it belongs to her."
These days, the 44-year-old bullfighter and father of four girls spends most of his time working the televised Built Ford Tough Cups, but he also manages to work at a few U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Challenger Tour events during the course of a season.
"I work a half-dozen tour events every year," Smets said. "I've known (Steamboat event organizer) Brent Romick and (stock contractor) Dona Vold Larsen for years, so Steamboat is just a natural place to come."
Smets, who has worked several big Steamboat Pro Rodeo Series events, said he is happy he will be in the Steamboat arena at 7:30 p.m. Sunday when the chutes fly open on Steamboat's third straight PBR event. It will be the first time he's worked a PBR event in Steamboat.
"It's going to be great." Smets said. "Steamboat has great fans, and it's always a good event. There isn't a bad seat in the house."
Fellow protection men Aaron Loewe and Dennis Johnson will join Smets in the arena. Loewe also works most of the Built Ford Tough Cups.
"We have two-thirds of the Built Ford Tough team," promoter Brent Romick said. "They are part of what makes this a great show."
But for Smets, working in the PBR isn't about entertaining the fans. It's about protecting cowboys.
"The guys who are on top of those bulls are half my age," Smets said. "But they have the confidence in me to know that I will get the job done."
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