Before he ever raced around the world or became host a television series, Cord McCoy was a cowboy who made a name for himself as one of the best bull riders in the game.
Now he’s retiring from the sport that earned him so much fame and acclaim.
“I’d always set my goals for that year, whether it was making the PBR World Finals or accomplishing something else,” said McCoy, who raises bucking bulls and also hosts “The Ride with Cord McCoy,” a TV show that airs at 1 and 11 p.m. Eastern time Mondays on RFD-TV. “This year, my goals didn’t have anything to do with riding bulls.
“Even when you’re hungry for it, bull riding is a dangerous sport. People have lost their lives doing this, something they love. You can’t do it halfway if you’re going to ride bulls.”
Instead, he walks away while still considered one of the very best in the game. In his career, McCoy — a graduate of Tupelo High School — has accomplished just about every goal he set for himself. He owns five International Professional Rodeo Association titles, qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo and earned six trips to the PBR World Finals.
“For the last 25 years, I made a living going up and down the road and in the rodeo arena,” McCoy said as he introduced the Oct. 21 episode of “The Ride.” “It’s time to hang up the bull rope.”
The reason is simple: When one competes in such a ferocious sport, it takes the perfect mindset to stay out of harm’s way, much less excel.
“I put up 100 percent every time I went to a bull riding,” he said. “I wanted to go out on my terms and while I was still at the top of my game. I feel like it’s time to be able to walk away from the sport.
“When you live and you breathe it and you are at the peak of your life, it’s still a dangerous sport. The other day was Lane Frost’s birthday, and he would’ve been 50 years old. He’s one of those guys who died doing what he loved, but it just proves how dangerous this sport is.”
He has faced plenty of adversity that came along with competing on the rodeo trail. He suffered broken bones and, in 2004, suffered a serious injury after being kicked on the left side of his head by a horse while competing in saddle bronc riding during the championship go-round at the Oklahoma State Fair Rodeo in Oklahoma City.
Seven months later, after rehabilitation to re-learn how to even walk and talk, the Oklahoma cowboy returned to bull riding.
“I don’t think there’s anybody that’s overcome as much adversity as he has,” said Jet McCoy, Cord’s older brother by 13 months. “It just seems like looking back at his career, there’s been so many opportunities for him to quit, and every time one of those things happened, the doctors said it was a career-ending injury. Every time that happened, just as soon as he was well enough, he was riding again.”
He’s never looked back.
“I feel so blessed to say I’ve had a good career,” Cord McCoy said
Yes, he has. McCoy was in high school when he began making a living in rodeo. Traveling with Jet, the McCoys became the rising stars in junior rodeo, then matured with each age group. While teenagers, they qualified for the International Finals Rodeo, with Cord McCoy, at age 16, being the youngest cowboy to win the all-around title at the IFR.
“I still hold several records in the IPRA and still wear the buckle from the IPRA,” Cord McCoy said on the show that airs Monday. “All the fans, the sponsors and the committees have made my dreams come true.”
But McCoy won’t stay away from bull riding; he’ll just switch sides of the chute, helping pull the trigger for many bulls that will perform at some of the biggest events in the country.
“I’m going to the PBR World Finals this year not to ride, but I’m taking seven head of bucking bulls and heading out to Vegas,” he said.
While he will still be involved, his grace inside the arena is what fans will miss most. Whether he won a round or was bucked off shy of the 8-second mark, McCoy always shared his infectious smile.
“Cord exemplifies what makes bull riding popular, and that’s effort,” said Jerome Robinson, a bull riding legend and the arena director for the PBR. “Any fan can know absolutely nothing about bull riding, but they can recognize effort. What Cord put in every time was effort.”
Maybe that’s why Cord McCoy was such a fan favorite. He also is one of the bull riders’ favorite peers.
“One thing that always sticks out in my mind is true grit, the true cowboy spirit he showed,” bull rider Dusty LaBeth said. “Overcoming that severe of an injury, then going on to become one of the great bull riders of all time ... that’s what being a cowboy is all about.”
Yes, it is. But being a cowboy is more than riding in the arena. Actually, it’s in the life McCoy lives on the ranch near Tupelo with his wife, Sara.
“I’m excited about what’s coming up,” Cord McCoy said. “We’ve worked on our program on the ranch. Just in the three years that I’ve been married, you can see the progress we’ve done around here. Whatever we’ve had before is just that much nicer now. I think we’re a pretty good team. Just to quit bull riding, I’m not too worried about it.”
But it will forever be part of who Cord McCoy is, and he’s OK with it.
“If I had the opportunity to turn around and do it all over again, no matter how bad it hurt and no matter how tired and sore and hungry I was, I’d probably turn around and do it all over again,” he said.
It’s the cowboy way.