Professional bull rider Ty Pozzobon was described by his friends and fellow cowboys as a “pal,” a “happy” guy, and a “goofball” who would always stop to shake people's hands:
“I can tell you that all of his bull-riding accomplishments, as incredible as they were, paled in comparison to the man that he was.”
He was 25 years old when he took his own life in January, and the loss was not only devastating to his loved ones and the bull-riding community, but it was also a complete shock. In a tribute video following his death, a number of people recalled their favorite memories of Pozzobon, including bull rider Tyler Thomson who said:
“I've got so many moments with Ty at the house just this last year. Ty was so caring and little kids just loved him so much. I've got lots of times just watching him and [my daughter] walk across the yard holding hands.”
He continued saying, “That was my daughter's first boyfriend,” with a smile.
Anyone who knew Pozzobon was, at the very least, touched by his spirit.
His suicide earlier this year shook his loved ones, but some people close to him reportedly knew he wasn't doing well. One of his good friends, Randy Quartieri, told the San Antonio Express-News that after Pozzobon was knocked unconscious for nearly 30 minutes by a bull in November 2014, his subsequent brain scan was frightening:
“His head was lit up like a Christmas tree.”
Pozzobon's scan, mood swings, anxiety, and depression all led doctors to believe he was suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which, according to the Boston University Research CTE Center, is the “progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in people with a history of repetitive brain trauma (often athletes).”
Quartieri continued, saying:
“He was going through hell.”
According to the San Antonio Express-News, Pozzobon's wife, Jayd, began pleading with him to retire, but he did not. She told the publication that “passion is irrational,” and her husband continued to ride:
“As a wife, it was undoubtedly nerve-wracking.”
Soon, however, Pozzobon began doubting himself and losing faith in his own skills and abilities. Quartieri said:
“No one knows what he was thinking or doing. There was more going on inside him than what we know.”
And on January 9, he was found dead in his home. Pozzobon's wife and family decided to donate his brain to researchers at the University of Washington to not only help science, but to finally learn if he suffered from CTE — the disease can only be confirmed after death. Jayd told the San Antonio Express-News:
“Being a 25-year-old widow, I can't really explain how sick that can make you. I've tried to pray about how to handle this and not let it be in vain.”
In the end, they were right. Pozzobon is now the first bull rider to be diagnosed with CTE. His family released a statement saying they don't wish to end the sport, but they hope Pozzobon's life will encourage more riders to adhere to better-informed medical advice:
"Ty's passing has brought so much sorrow and pain to all, we hope everyone, specifically athletes understand that we need to educate each other with regards to head injuries, both short and long-term impacts.
[We believe] not to stop doing what you are passionate about but do it in a smarter way, and listen to both what the medical professionals tell you and what your body and mind are telling you."
Dr. C. Dirk Keene, an associate professor of pathology at the University of Washington, said Pozzobon's organ donation was “an incredible gift”:
“It's the ultimate gift to science.”
More than that, however, Pozzobon's family hopes it turns out to be the ultimate gift for the sport of bull riding, Pozzobon's fellow cowboys, and future athletes to come.