Jose Leme won the 2020 Professional Bull Riding championship earlier this November. In looking at his impressive resume in the sport, you wouldn't be able to tell that his professional bull rider has actually been brief. Unlike other PBR champions, who are focused solely on bull riding from a young age, Leme got his athletic start as a soccer player and switched sports at the age of 18.
Leme was always around the sport, as his dad was a bull rider, and he began riding at a young age. But took a detour before going the PBR route.
Looking back on when how sport gripped him, he noted the difficulty of it all is what intrigued him.
"It's something you just fall in love with," Leme told CBS via a translator. "The bulls don't have a manual to look through. It's something I really love because of those challenges. I love a challenge."
After spending a few years at the semi-professional soccer level, Leme decided to put his first love aside and take a chance at bull riding.
He began to stand out almost immediately, and by 21 Leme became only the second Brazilian rider to win the PBR Brazil national title, the Brazilian Finals and be named Brazilian Rookie of the Year all in the same year. Three years later, the 24 year old was crowned champion after his 95.75-point, Round 3-winning ride aboard Woopaa, the perfect cherry on top of an already impressive season.
"I don't think I never felt regret about it," he said. "It was not like I was making millions of dollars playing soccer and I quit to go bull ride ... I was not sure soccer was going to work out for me either."
While his semi-professional soccer career is now behind him, Leme says he has soccer to thank for his success in bull riding.
"Without a doubt the soccer helped me a lot," he said. "And if you see me playing soccer, I play soccer similar to the way I ride bulls. I'm really quick and I can make big moves and big decisions in a little bit of time ... without a doubt soccer's helped me big time.
He believes that part of his success in bull riding also comes from his athletic background and betting on himself.
"I knew it was going to happen because based on how hard I trained," Leme said. "I knew if I continued to do that hard work every day, one day I was going to be a champion and it was just a matter of time."
The reward has been about more than just proving he can do it and seeing his name at the top. Giving his family a better life and watching how proud they are of him is what means the most to him.
"We cannot ride two bulls at the same time, we have to go one at a time," Leme said.