By Eric Butler: CNJ correspondent
L.J. Jenkins has probably got a pretty good claim to being the richest teenager in Texico. If Jenkins were ever in Texico, he would be basking in the glow of his accomplishments.
As it is, Jenkins is busy criss-crossing the nation with the PBR (Professional Bull Riders) association as a rookie and making a name for himself as the boy wonder of the tour.
Though he only turned 18 in July, Jenkins made himself part of the lore of the moment when he successfully rode a bull called Reindeer Dippin’ at a PBR event in Laughlin. The bull had bucked 17 straight riders until Jenkins went eight seconds and picked up a fifth-place finish worth around $7,700.
“He is probably one of the rankest bulls I’d ever been on,” Jenkins says. “I just tried riding him like any of the others and it seemed to work out.”
Then, last weekend in Columbus, Ohio, Jenkins pulled off a big one — an overall victory worth $67,980. In all, the young man has pocketed over $120,000 (with five percent donated to victims of hurricane Katrina) since deciding to forego his senior year at Texico High. He is being home-schooled to get his diploma.
It might sound glamorous in many degrees, but there is one downside to Jenkins’ success — his home is now wherever the next “Built Ford Tough” series stop is.
“I’ve been home, like, six hours in the whole month of October,” Jenkins says. “I went in late one night and I had to wake up early the next day to go see the doctor (in Dallas). I just stopped in late, went to sleep, then got up the next morning and hauled butt.”
Jenkins and his mother, Sandy Bowers, moved to Texico from Missouri four years ago.
As a junior in high school last year, Jenkins frequently spent only three days in the classroom as he juggled his burgeoning bullriding career. In the summer, Jenkins gave himself a birthday present by winning a challenger event on July 17 and garnering around $8,000. Soon after, Jenkins earned the right to move up to the top-level Built Ford Tough Series and decided to make the jump to professional.
“We always said, the whole time, that he was going to finish high school — until he won his first one,” Bowers says. “Then the PBR office said he was on alternate status and that if bull riding was what he wanted to do, he needed to be there. He had a 3.85 grade point average, but when this happened in July, we were like, ‘Oh my gosh.’”
“I know I’m missing a few things that a senior would want to do, but I’m trying to make a living riding bulls. Now was my opportunity, so I had to take it or leave it,” Jenkins said.
Currently, Jenkins stands 49th in the Built Ford Tough series. That position means he’ll be one of the riders when the PBR finals begins in Las Vegas on Oct. 28th.
The winner of that event will pick up a cool million in prize money. Though only 18, and barely that, Jenkins says the veteran riders on the circuit don’t hold anything against a young man winning in what is, after all, a dangerous event designed very much for men.
“It’s all just competition. We’re there to win, and they are too. They all probably started when they were young too, and now they’re having to compete against us — just like they had to compete against older guys,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins says he has dreamed of being a professional bull rider since the time he first tried it out — when he was around 13 years old.
Unlike bull riders of past decades, the PBR contestants aren’t part of a larger rodeo event when they ride. That means PBR cowboys don’t move from event to event with a horse trailer or various other accoutrements with which regular rodeo participants are saddled.
“He just takes a gearbag,” Bowers says. “For now, if you just want to ride bulls, the PBR is the way to go — that’s where the money is.”
And, for now, an 18-year-old from Texico always seems to be sticking his hand in the pot.