Sean Willingham is back on top of a sport that many view as one of the most difficult and dangerous sports in the modern era. A man weighing as little as 150lbs climbing onto the back of a bull weighing over 2,000 lbs of almost solid muscle… and that man attempting to hang onto a simple rope and ride the bull for what becomes the most adrenaline-inducing 8 seconds of his life.
At the Jerome Davis Invitational Bull Riding event held September 1-2, Willingham drew a massive bull named Dip Stick and scored an impressive 86.5 ride to split the win with Michael Lane from North Carolina.
“I have been waiting to win this event for 18 years, it’s one of my favorite events of all time and my good friend, world champion bull rider Jerome Davis is an inspiration to us all for what he has done and has had overcome after his career ending accident being paralyzed after breaking his neck. One of the all time greats, someone we all have looked up to for a lot of years. I’m honored to have won this event. And being my first PBR Velocity event since January…It feels good to be back in action and winning,” Willingham told AllOnGeorgia.
Sean is back in the action of the PBR circuit after being sidelined in January with a torn groin muscle. “I have worked really hard in recovery for seven months, I’m so proud to finally see some positive results and back to winning not just riding,” Willingham said.
Willingham trains at Milford’s Gym in Summerville and at his house four days a week for about two hours a day.
When asked if he has any advice for those who are chasing the bull riding dream, Sean had this to say, “this is a very challenging sport, your mind and your body takes a beating. If you want to succeed in this sport you have to be tough and humble at the same time.”
Sean Willingham is a native of Summerville, Georgia and Chattooga High School graduate. He started riding bulls at a young age. At 14 years old, Sean decided, after attending a rodeo, that he would be a bull rider. While many young guys think crazy thoughts such as that, few actually put any effort into chasing their dreams. Sean was determined. He began participating in events everywhere he could. Sean’s fierce determination, will to succeed and love of the sport proved to be all of the incentive he needed to prevail and by age 17, he was winning nearly every event he was in, Willingham turned pro in 1999.
Throughout the course of his career, Sean has had 14 gold buckles (first place wins), 85 top five finishes, and 18 90-point rides in the PBR series. While he has also had his share of setbacks from injuries including a broken neck, Sean has missed only three PBR World Finals since he made the elite roster in 2003.
What keeps Willingham climbing back on, “the challenge to conquer a beast. And the fun of the sport, I enjoy the thrill of the ride.”
Sean and his wife, Kayla reside in Summerville, GA. They began dating in 2006. Sean and Kayla were married in 2011 and have two children; Lani, age 3 and Conlee, nineteen months old. Kayla teaches at Trion Elementary School.
Kayla has been traveling to bull riding events with Sean for 11 years and accompanies him as often as possible making the events a family affair. “The kids love watching bull riding! They had mini bulls there this weekend, Lani Michael said, “I want to do that mom!” Sean and I both said “No Way!” She did ride the mechanical bull though! And was very excited to tell daddy, ‘I didn’t buck off,'” Kayla says. When asked how the children handle the celebrity of their famous dad, “Oh, they love it! When Lani Michael hears his name over the loud speaker, she has this amazed look on her face! She’ll say “that’s my daddy” or “They just said Sean Willingham!!!!”
Up next for Sean:
The life of a bull rider is chaotic, Willingham will have a rodeo Wednesday in Virginia, another PBR Velocity Saturday in Rochester New York. Next Monday Willingham will compete in a PBR Velocity event in Pendleton, Oregon then by the end of the week he will be in Allentown, Pennsylvania for another Velocity event.