He couldn’t help but notice the irony. Here he was, at one point one of the world’s top 20 professional bull riders, performing in a rodeo after just completing a benefit for a paralyzed bull rider.
At the time, Walker, who has since become a Manatee County real estate agent, could barely breathe, let alone move.
Paramedics gingerly lifted him into a helicopter bound for a hospital in Temple, Texas, where doctors made their prognosis. Walker’s spinal cord suffered a deep and massive contusion. He might never walk again.
The day of the injury is vivid in his mind’s eye. The bull jolted its head backward, colliding with Walker’s head on the front right side.
His right hand was tangled in the bullrope, so that as the animal lunged and leaped across the ring, Walker was dragged along beside it. Rodeo clowns eventually helped free Walker.
“It dazed me a little bit, but I remember. It dragged me around about 15, 20 seconds,” he says. “I was paralyzed, I couldn’t move anything.”
No doubt his bull riding career was over. At age 34 and married with two children, Walker had just attained a sponsor for the first time and was hoping to finally break into the sport’s celebrity ranks.
Now he was hoping just to walk again.
Slight feeling in his left toes gave him hope. Years of rehab, including on a therapy horse at Smith Center for Therapeutic Riding in Sarasota, helped him transition from bed to wheelchair to a cane. Likely, that’s as far as he’ll improve.
But Walker, who grew up in Bradenton, graduated from Southeast High School and now lives in Sarasota, never severed his ties with rodeo.
For years after the injury he organized “jackpot rodeos” and similar events around the state through his promotional company, Diamond W Rodeo.
He still runs rodeos. The work challenged any helpless or bitter feelings. He still gets a thrill from the roar of the crowd.
He drives a Ford F-350 outfitted with a knob on the steering wheel to make wide turns. He can move his right hand but mobility is limited to where he can’t open and close a fist. When he walks, a cane braces his left forearm. He had to learn how to write left-handed.
“I knew I would always walk again,” he says.
Now Walker is starting a new chapter in his life: real estate
. . . al estate sales.
That he chose real estate shouldn’t be surprising. It’s the career option for about 5,000 agents and brokers in Sarasota and Manatee counties.
For now, the 42-year-old is working at A Paradise Realty in Ellenton under longtime friend and mentor Bill Kipp.
Kipp, 71, has sold real estate for more than 40 years, mostly to farmers and developers. The two met 20 years ago when Walker worked on a ranch. Kipp, himself a rancher, employed Walker at cattle ranches for years.
The two became friends long before Walker’s injury. But Kipp maintains that his friend possesses real traits that could play well in real estate.
Plus, he knows scores of ranchers and farmers across the state and understands that farmland is tomorrow’s housing development.
“I’ve traveled all over. I’ve learned a lot about negotiating deals through rodeos,” said Walker, adding that his job for now is to learn from Kipp.
“Just to listen and not say a whole lot,” he said.
He admits that might be difficult. “I like talking with people.”
But before Walker can learn about land sales, he’ll have to master home sales. Residential real estate is the industry’s hottest, most competitive field. Walker says he’s not worried about working weekends and nights, or the competition.
“If I didn’t drive myself I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am, where I can walk,” he said. “So I can do this.”
Also, his daughters, 14 and 18, will be attend college soon, plus he wants to save for retirement. He doesn’t plan to leave the rodeo business for real estate anytime soon, though.
If anything, he wants to expand his business.
“When it gets in your heart, you just can’t leave it behind.”