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First Black man to win bull riding's world championship remembers life in the rodeo



Today from StoryCorps, remembering life in the rodeo. Charlie Sampson rode bulls competitively for 20 years. He was the first Black man to win the bull riding world championships. He told his son Daniel that he found his calling when he visited a carnival as a boy.

CHARLIE SAMPSON: Outside the tent was ponies. And we gave the man a quarter, went around the ring five times, and that was the beginning of a lifestyle that I never dreamed of. You know, if you ever been on a roller coaster and you're holding on to that handle and as you go down screaming, holding for your dear life, that's the only way I can describe riding a bull.

DANIEL SAMPSON: You broke every bone in your body except your nose. Is that accurate (laughter)?

C SAMPSON: That's true. I've been hit upside the head, had the bull step on my chest, crush my sternum, broke two ribs, punctured a lung, broke every bone in my face. Another injury lost my ear. But I done survived this livelihood that I love.

D SAMPSON: And then to get back up and get back on - that shows your love and passion.

C SAMPSON: It was a fear love that I had for riding bulls. I was scared of them, but I loved the challenge. That's just who I was, a bull rider.

D SAMPSON: So was it hard being away from us when we were younger?

C SAMPSON: I'm a traveling cowboy. I didn't have no other life to live. But the sad part was leaving because your mom would tell me that you would cry, like, where my dad at? Where my dad at? And it was joy to see you guys when I came home.

D SAMPSON: I remember you would come to career day dressed up in chaps, spurs, cowboy boots, cowboy hat. It was kind of cool seeing people amazed by what you did.

C SAMPSON: I guess I was a pretty cool dad.

D SAMPSON: (Laughter) Yes. So how'd you come to the decision to retire when it was time to stop?

C SAMPSON: I got hurt again. Then the Lord just hit me and said, OK, Charles, you're done. And I haven't been on a bull since. You give so much to the sport. Then when you're done, you're done. But your family is more important than a lifestyle. I had two beautiful sons, four grandkids that I love. My joy now is just to see them be happy. You know, I worked hard for the little things I have. I thank God all the time that I'm here to tell the story.


FADEL: Former bull riding champion Charlie Sampson with his son Daniel at StoryCorps in Denver. Today, Charlie works at a dude ranch and takes his grandkids to the rodeo. This conversation will be archived at the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Esther Honig