Professional bull riding star and Texas cowboy McKennon Wimberly has a dual passion: bull riding and boxing.
Wimberly, who grew up in Texas, learned bull riding as a small child and, at the age of 12, started boxing. He went on to earn a Golden Gloves title.
He’s learned that bull riding and boxing are intense, addictive, dangerous, exhilarating, and, strangely similar sports.
On Friday, just after he arrived in Albany for this weekend’s Professional Bull Riders shows, Wimberly, 19, met with some local youths involved in the free after-school boxing program at the Quail Street Boxing Gym run by the city’s Department of Recreation.
He talked about the importance of staying focused and disciplined, his own workout routine, and what it takes to be a champion.
“Boxing is similar to bull riding. You have so many other things going on around you,” said Wimberly. “You have to keep your focus on your opponent in boxing. If you’re not paying attention to what you’re doing, the bull will buck you off.”
And bull riding, like boxing, is about mental toughness, he said. “You have to give it everything you’ve got when you ride the bull. The bull has no negative thinking, they are always trying to buck you off. You have to put forward your hardest fight.”
Brittany Nati, 17, of Colonie, who was at the boxing gym Friday afternoon, couldn’t agree more. “You can’t be nervous,” said the Colonie High School senior, who loves to spar.
When she enters the ring, she tries to stay as focused and calm as she can and does not worry about being injured. She started boxing about a year ago and tries to get to the boxing gym every day to jump rope, shadow box and work on the bags.
Wimberly, who earned his Golden Gloves title when he was 17 years old, uses boxing as his conditioning workout to help his bull riding. “Boxing is the best workout I’ve found to help my bull riding,” he said.
“Use boxing to keep out of trouble,” he said. “A lot of times, instead of being in a gang or doing drugs, you’ll find something you are good at. I guarantee everyone who boxes has a fighting spirit, that’s why you are here. Hopefully, you will have a positive mind frame in everything you do in life and stay on the right track and make something of yourselves.”
Wimberly, who is from Cool, Texas, about 40 miles west of Fort Worth, said every time he goes into the boxing ring, he’s training himself to be a better bull rider.
When he was eligible to compete in the Professional Bull Riders, at the age of 18, he quickly advanced from 134th in the world to 24th. He won $50,000 at the Professional Bull Riders Challenger Event Qualifiers and Finals in February 2007 in Oklahoma City.
These added earnings allowed him to compete in the World Finals Bull Riding Championship in Las Vegas in November. He hopes to be world champion one day.
“My dad rode bulls since he was about 15, and I just grew up in the cowboy life and learned to ride bulls,” said Wimberly. “It’s what I’ve always done.”
He took his first bull ride when he was 8. “From the time I was born I was riding something — dogs, sheep or bottle calves.”
He said some of his mentors are Adriano Moraes, Tater Potter, Troy Dunn and his father, Joe Wimberly, who’s retired.
“It’s an adrenalin rush and like any sport, when you are good at it and having fun, you love it,” he said. “When bull riders quit having fun, they quit riding bulls.”
A few years back, mechanical bulls were all the rage, but Wimberly said there are few similarities between a mechanical bull and the real thing. A real bull surges 15 feet forward and back in the blink of an eye.
Wimberly, who stands about 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighs about 150 pounds, will compete with the top 44 bull riders tonight and again on Sunday at the Times Union Center in performances with the Professional Bull Riders. It’s one of 34 Professional Bull Riders events and 15 smaller events he’ll compete in this year.
He couldn’t single out the most difficult thing about bull riding. “It’s all hard. It’s mostly a mental game. You need to be good mentally. You need a lot of balance and strength, but if you don’t have the right state of mind it will get you.”
He’s broken a leg, broken and re-broke his collarbone four times and damaged his elbow while riding bulls, but he said you can’t dwell on it or fear an injury. “You have to throw it out the window. You go out and give it your all. Give it the best. If you are thinking of getting hurt, you have a better chance of getting hurt. You have to go at it like you won’t get hurt.”
Vladimir Koshnitsky, director of the city boxing program, said in boxing, like bull riding, the individual has to have strong character and be mentally and physically strong. “You have to take a risk,” he said.
Cory Landy, a trainer in the boxing program, said boxing is a great way to get conditioned, and those who succeed in boxing are good students and aggressive.
Nati and her younger sister Casey, 14, who has also took up boxing, said a boxer has to remain focused and must rely on leg strength like a bull rider.
The 2,000-pound bulls are trained to buck. Initially, a 50-pound dummy attached to a remote control is put on the bull to get it started.
During competition, each rider selects the bull he’ll ride in a random draw. “It’s never the same. The strategy is that you have to go with what your bull does.”
In the split seconds before he goes out the chute, Wimberly thinks to himself: “Hold on, give it everything you’ve got.”
Bull riding has taught Wimberly people skills. He said he’s learned about being around people and meeting new ones. “It’s one of the funnest parts of it, making kids smile and making friends around the world.”
He said he’s addicted to danger.
“I’ll probably do it till the day I die,” he said.
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