Considering bullfighting was something he simply wanted to check out at a school, a Manitoba resident has nothing but fond memories upon saying goodbye to the boys.
The adage – business before pleasure – forced the hand of Selkirk native Eddie Phillips to retire from dancing with danger at the end of 2008, upon being laid off as a network analyst and venturing into his own computer company full time.
“REP4 Technologies (www.rep4.com)is a business I have been running casually for the last seven years in addition to my regular day job that I held for 15 years in Winnipeg,” said Phillips. “Now that I am full time, along with doing web design, computer repair and custom computer programs, I am also handling IT services for small and medium businesses in Selkirk and Winnipeg.”
And while it has been a huge adjustment in his life, and the life of his wife Cheryl and daughter Talon, he has no regrets in hanging up his cleats.
“Dedicated to a new career path, I knew within my heart there was no way that I could commit to stock contractors to be at rodeos. Having achieved everything I wanted to as a bullfighter, the timing was right.”
Taught by Wrangler champion bullfighter, Dwayne Hargo, Phillips structured himself around his greasepaint hero – Rowdy Barry of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association – a thinking bullfighter.
The transplanted United States citizen (better known as “The Eagle”) landed within Manitoba bull-riding circles back in 1998. Paying his dues over the years, he had the honour of watching over a number of exceptional high school, amateur and semi-professional cowboys, aboard rank bulls within the Manitoba High School Rodeo Association, the Heartland Rodeo Association, Manitoba Rodeo Cowboys Association and the Canadian Cowboys Association (CCA), including events at Hamiota, Shoal Lake and his hometown of Selkirk.
“Getting my CCA card a few years ago, I achieved everything I wanted to as a bullfighter,” said Phillips. “I realized that if I were to ever go pro, I’d have to move, and I wasn’t prepared to do that.”
Looking back, Phillips said the icing on the cake was working a couple of rodeos for Stan Weatherly (Big Country Rodeo) last year, thanks to the recommendation of professional bull rider Chris Johnson, who saw him fight a bunch of shows in Manitoba. “The Weatherlys are a great family. They treated me like I was one of their own.”
He also tips his hat to stock contractors – Adrian Bruce, Al Brown, Murray Clearsky and Mike Bellisle, his father Norm Sterzer, Ward Macza, Jimmy Lawrence, Art Francis and Carl Barrett – whom he either worked for or was aided by in reaching his goals. But for Phillips, there were other aspects of bullfighting that he enjoyed other than looking at it as work.
“Like a goaltender in hockey, first and foremost, the rush one gets of saving bull riders. I could make saves all day, every day,” he quipped. “That is closely followed by the fans. The people I have met along the way, the e-mails I’ve received and the opportunities to talk to kids – at a school or in the stands – has to be the greatest unexpected enjoyment I received from fighting bulls.”
A big part of his rodeo career has also been about spending time with his family. His parents run Seven Cross Rodeo Company based in the Manitoba community of Narcisse with his siblings, so it was always an opportunity to spend time with them. It was also a great opportunity for the Phillips to spend quality time with each other, as his wife is not only a true cowgirl, pushing steers in the back pens, but also his hero.
Another intricate piece of the rodeo puzzle, when one talks of the Phillips family, is the fact that Manitoba’s No. 1 rodeo clown Gordo Bones is a cousin to the man who put his life on the line for others. “Over the years, I got to become great friends with cousin Gordo (Gordon Mark) who was there to give me advice and push me to be a better bullfighter,” said Eddie.
The last show fought by Phillips was the Bullz and Boyz bull-o-rama in Eriksdale in November. A fitting end, since it was at the exact same event in 1997 when at a bullfighting school held in combination with the event he began his career. And through it all, Phillips got off pretty lucky, with no broken bones, but some injuries. His most serious was being knocked unconscious twice, once in Ste. Rose a few years back and in Eston, Sask. last year.
For youngsters who are looking to enter the bullfighting profession, the veteran says have confidence in yourself. “Appreciate and be proud of everything you achieve, but stay humble. You will miss out on so many opportunities if it goes to your head,” he added. “Lastly, go to as many clinics as you can, as you never stop learning.”
And for Phillips, while he may not share the spotlight with athletic cowboys and bucking stock, the values of rodeo will remain true.
– Darrell Nesbitt writes from Shoal Lake Manitoba