|PUEBLO, Colo. (May 4, 2011) - Paulo Lima loves to laugh and smile.
He even grins when recounting a harrowing experience in his youth, when an older boy held a gun in his face at a local dance.
Lima had just asked a girl to join him on the dance floor when the boy approached and asked to cut in. “He said, ‘No. I’m dancing with her,’” explained Paulo Crimber, who helped to translate Lima’s Portuguese to English.
The boy, whom Lima didn’t recognize from school, pulled a handgun from his pocket. Scared for his life, Lima ran off into the darkness.
After he called home, his father Paulo Sr. went to the party.
“I don’t want any trouble,” the elder Lima told the miscreant. “I’m asking you to just leave the kid alone.”
Once again, the boy brandished his gun. This time, though, the elder Lima had one of his own. “You talk too much,” he said. “You want to play? Then let’s play.”
The younger Lima explained, “They stand up for the family name” in his hometown.
Crimber helped to clarify. “If there’s an issue between me and you, we’re going to resolve it right there. … It’s how they solve problems.”
“It’s not really a dangerous place,” Lima said of his home state. “If you treat people right, you’ll be OK.”
He was born in the Brazilian city of Buique, on the western side of the interior state of Pernambuco, home to the second-largest archeological site in the country.
His father works as a ranch manager and moved the Lima family east, where Paulo and his five siblings – four sisters (Claudileide, Paula, Sara and Claudia) and a brother (Joao Paulo) – grew up outside the small town of Bezerros.
At one time, the area was the center of coffee production, but now it relies on tomatoes and cattle as the main sources of commerce.
Lima’s mother Josefa de Oliveira Lima saw to it that her children got an education, unlike most of his Brazilian counterparts on the Built Ford Tough Series.
“Oh yeah, he has a good education,” said Guilherme Marchi. “When he comes to the arena or to your house, he’s very polite, very respectful of everyone. I am so proud for him.”
Lima attended school through what would be considered eighth grade in the United States before dropping out to pursue bull riding.
He was 16 when he rode a bull for the first time.
Years earlier, his father, who never rode bulls or competed in any other rodeo events, used to watch Adriano Moraes compete. He told his firstborn son he would help him become just like Moraes and the other riders who were famous for winning cars and motorcycles.
There were no rodeos or bull riding events in Pernambuco, so Lima learned the sport by trying to ride bulls in the pasture of a ranch his father managed.
Soon thereafter, the younger Lima left his family and moved to Sao Paulo to pursue a professional career, hoping one day to buy his family a ranch they can call their own.
He’s yet to win a car – “I will one day,” he said – but he won 10 motorcycles before he started riding at PBR Brazil events, which unlike the other organizations pay out prize money instead of vehicles. He won over 60,000 Reals before coming to the United States last year.
A career inspired by the PBR’s only three-time World Champion was further encouraged by the same man.
Moraes had traveled home to watch Lima on a number of occasions before adding the then-24-year-old as an alternate to the 2010 Brazilian World Cup team. Not only did it give Lima a chance to come north, but the 14 BFTS events he rode in last year gave him a chance to get on quicker, more athletic bulls.
He covered 47.5 percent of his 40 bulls, recorded three Top 5 finishes, and earned $146,198, but it took a while to adapt.
“I never met him in Brazil,” said Marchi, “but some people tell me about how good he rides and that he rides everything. When he came to the United States, I don’t know, he was kind of slow to ride because the bulls here are different.”
According to Lima, the bulls in Brazil are bigger and more muscular, which also means they seem much slower than U.S. bulls. Another transition was that he was used to riding in outdoor venues in Brazil.
Crimber agreed, adding that Lima benefitted from the 2010 experience when he came back again for 2011. Since returning in late December, Lima said he finally felt comfortable with his surroundings.
He opened the new season with a third-place finish in New York, and five weeks later he won his first BFTS event in Oklahoma City. However, afterward he said, “It didn’t feel real.”
Lima was bothered by how he won, and won’t be satisfied until he wins an event by going into the Championship Round first in the average. In Oklahoma, he was second behind Aaron Roy when he rode Crosswired for 92.25 points. Lima, who is currently ranked 17th in the world standings, won when Roy bucked off Black Pearl in 4.8 seconds.
“I was happy,” Lima said, “but it’s not what I want.”
Crimber again helped Lima express his feelings. “He was really happy, but he said he doesn’t want to depend on someone else to buck off for him to win.”
He’s yet to have that chance, because two weeks later, he was matched up with Bad Moon in the second round of the St. Louis Invitational. The 25-year-old was knocked unconscious and transported to St. Louis University Hospital.
Although X-rays and a CT scan showed no signs of a fracture or serious injury, Lima knows he hasn’t been the same since. He said his body wants to counteract what the bulls are doing and to ride them jump for jump, but that his mind feels slow to react.
Always one laugh, he joked that before the wreck, he felt like a “big lion and now I’m just a little kid.”
“It was a bad wreck,” Crimber said, “and I think he got a little bit scared.
“He knows he’s not riding the way he’s supposed to be, but he doesn’t know how to explain it. He knows he was better before that and he hasn’t figured it out yet.”
Shaking the ghosts
Last weekend in Seattle, he looked more like himself.
Things had gotten so bad that before riding his first two bulls at KeyArena, he hadn’t covered any in eight events. In fact, he hadn’t even made it longer than 3.6 seconds in the five events leading up to Seattle.
It was an 0-for-15 stretch that proved disheartening, but still he kept trying and he certainly kept smiling.
“He asked me to help him,” said Marchi. “He doesn’t know what happened to him.”
Lima spent last Wednesday with Marchi, and showed marked improvement last weekend. The two traveled back from Seattle and are spending the whole week working out and practicing together at Marchi’s ranch in Ferris, Texas, before traveling north to Des Moines, Iowa.
“He told me he doesn’t feel good,” Marchi said. “He’s still scared of something.”
Marchi said the confidence Lima got last week from one session in the practice pen coupled with riding two bulls Friday night and finishing sixth in the average will go a long way toward helping him.
The 2008 champ said Lima’s a small, flexible rider capable of dressing up a ride, and that at this point his issue is mental – for whatever reason, he hasn’t gotten over his St. Louis wreck.
With three more days together, including one day in which they plan to practice at McKennon Wimberly’s ranch, Marchi feels Lima will be that much closer to being his old self.
“He’s coming home with me because I need help, too,” Marchi said. “We’re going to ride bulls together. We’re going to train together and we’ll see what happens later.
“He’s a good guy and he respects everybody. He’s such a good kid. He loves my kids. He loves everybody, and when you’re down he tries to make you happy.”
Lima has three more BFTS events before the summer break. Then he plans to return to Brazil for the Brahma Super Bull events. He’s already earned more than $71,000 this year and that’s enough to keep him grinning.
“Everything is fine,” he said. “I’m in good health. My mom and dad are in good health. I’m doing what I love to do and there are a lot of people in bad situations, so I have no reason not to smile.”
—by Keith Ryan Cartwright