FORT WORTH, Texas ― Retirement is, perhaps, the most difficult topic for any professional athlete to talk about.
Brendon Clark, 32, is the latest professional bull rider to announce his pending retirement from the PBR. The 11-year veteran from Australia announced his plans to retire from bull riding at the conclusion of the 2013 season.
"It's hard to know in this sport when the end is coming," said Clark, who will turn 33 in September. "Thinking about it, this is probably going to be my last year, which is a hard thing to say.
"I want to walk away from the sport when I'm ready. I don't want the sport to make me walk away. By that, I mean, I don't want to ride until I'm not good enough to be here."
For the past few years Clark has dealt with ongoing hand issues and after experiencing only soreness last season, he hurt his right hand again at the first Built Ford Tough Series event in New York.
"I just think as a professional athlete you have to recognize when it's time."
This past weekend, in Sacramento, Calif., he posted a Top 5 finish and is currently ranked 19th in the world standings.
Although he has discussed the situation with his wife Alison and a few close friends and family members, like so many athletes before him, Clark avoided using the word retirement and said only, "I'm thinking this is probably going to be my last year.
"It's extremely tough," he continued. "I just think as a professional athlete you have to recognize when it's time."
Clark's best statistical season came in 2004 when he finished eighth in the world. That year he set career marks for qualified rides (37), riding average (47.95 percent), Top 5 finishes (5), Top 10 finishes (11) and earned his first of three BFTS event wins.
His most recent BFTS win came in 2010 in Charlottesville, Va., after winning a PBR-record four consecutive sanctioned events when he claimed Touring Pro Division wins at West Jordan, Utah; Lancaster, Calif.; St. Paul, Ore., and Greeley, Colo.
He's ridden in more than twice as many BFTS events (211 to date) as any other Australian in PBR history and is arguably the second most-popular rider to come from Australia behind only former World Champion and mentor Troy Dunn.
In 10 previous seasons Clark has qualified for the World Finals nine times.
Prior to his announcement, Clark had only shared his plan with his wife Allison, his parents and immediate family, and close friends Luke Snyder and Justin McBride.
McBride's decision to retire in the prime of his career, at the conclusion of the 2008 season, was a major influence on Clark's own decision-making. McBride was 29 years old when decided to walk away from the sport at a time in his career that many felt as though he was leaving one, perhaps multiple, world titles on the table.
The two-time World Champion remains an impressionable friend and confidante to Clark.
"This year is time for me," Clark said. "I've had fun and there are other things I want to do in my life. Bull riding has always been everything I've ever done and I love it, but my body just can't do that at this level. Unfortunately it's a tough sport on your body and if you can last 10 years in any sport you're doing good ― let alone bull riding.
"I'm happy with where I'm at right now and it's going to be a fun year."
Clark has posted solid career numbers.
To date he's recorded more than 200 qualified rides (207) and four times he's had a season-long riding average of more than 40 percent, 50 career Top 10 finishes, 20 career Top 5 finishes and career earnings approaching $1 million.
In recent years, injuries have made it more difficult and Clark admitted last year he "had to fight for it" in order to make it back to the BFTS after being cut and eventually qualify for the World Finals.
The toughest part of walking away is no longer being in the locker room and the camaraderie with fellow riders.
He noted the energy from the crowd this past Friday and Saturday, in Sacramento, Calif., as being something he'll equally miss, while not having to travel each and every weekend "might be a blessing."
"I'm going to give it everything I (have) this year ― regardless of win, lose or draw ― I want to know that I'm going to go out hard," said Clark, who spoke of this being a joint decision with his wife, "so we both decided that's the decision we're going to make. This year I'm going to work harder than I ever have and focus on bull riding.
"I think it's going to make this year fun."
Clark acknowledged he saw the relief Chris Shivers felt a year ago when he made his intentions known early in the 2012 season.
He's hoping that by having squelched any talk of whether this would be his last season will help him to focus on the enjoying the last season of something he's done for the better part of his entire life.
Clark recently began preparing for an alternate career involving reined cow horse training, which is one of the most disciplined horse training events. Reined cow horses are well-trained horses that riders can make do whatever they want, but also able to break cows.
Although he's only just begun learning the craft, Clark said the competition provides the same sort of adrenaline rush as bull riding.
A prolific user of social media, PBR fans may have noticed his regular use of the hash tag #EyeOnThePrize, which is his daily reminder of the importance of having small goals that lead to larger goals.
In 2012, his "prize" was to qualify for the World Finals. This year, the "prize" is to qualify for a 10th Finals and, in the process, surpass $1 million in career earnings. With $969,087.53 already in total earnings, Clark is likely to become the 27th rider in PBR history to reach the milestone.
"Ten years ago, when I left Australia I had no idea if I was going to be good enough to win a $1,000."
He later added, "We all know that good things are going to come to an end. I think it's the right time to tell everybody."
Follow Keith Ryan Cartwright on Twitter @PBR_KRC
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