Richmond “Richie” Champion owes a lot to his older brother Doug. If it wasn’t for following in Doug’s footsteps he might never have gotten on a bareback horse, or at the very least his path to becoming one of the world’s best would certainly have taken different turns.
Richie gained a lot of fans when he became the first contestant to win $1 million at RFD-TV’s The American. At the time he was a junior at Tarleton State University. It was the inaugural event in March of 2014 and set off a string of success that got him to his first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR).
That was something that he started dreaming about when he was still in high school. His father, Greg, works in the hospitality industry and his job took them from California where Richie was born to Alaska. After six years there, the family moved to the Dallas, Texas area and when Richie was eight-years-old, they went to Mesquite for the rodeo.
It wasn’t love at first sight, but the youngster was certainly intrigued by the rodeo. His mother, Lori, had competed in equestrian show jumping in Virginia. His dad had been a cowboy in New Mexico. When they settled in Plano, Texas, Richie started riding lessons. All he could think about was horses.
The drive to be a rodeo contestant saw him first getting on bucking bulls. They moved to The Woodlands, near Houston and bull riding was his focus. But that focus came with a price. When he was in eighth grade, he rode 10 bulls then broke his leg. He came back after that and rode bulls the first two years of high school.
He was overthinking everything about riding bulls and getting bucked off bulls that he should have ridden. Doug was going to the Branded for Christ Cowboy Church in Huntsville where he was going to get on a bareback horse. He invited Richie to come along.
The church is run by Bubba Miller who is the rodeo coach at Sam Houston State University. They always have horses for the college rodeo athletes to get on and it is a Sunday tradition in the area. Richie not only decided to go with Doug, he decided to get on his first bucking horse.
While bull riding had never come naturally, riding a bareback hose did. He borrowed Doug’s gear and even though Richie was nervous about getting on, there was a sense of calm and purpose, like this was exactly what he was supposed to be doing.
After that first ride, Richie was craving getting on bucking horses. He did that every chance he got, went to every school he could and won the Texas high school rodeo championship as a senior. When he turned 18, he bought his PRCA permit and started dreaming about riding in the yellow bucking chutes inside the Thomas & Mack Center at the NFR.
Along with those dreams came ideas for a tattoo, and not even his win at the American could compete with his first NFR back number. He started thinking, planning and preparing for a tattoo that would reflect his passion. Again, Doug paved the way.
They had an uncle that lost a battle with pancreatic cancer. Doug, an Ironman Triathlete, got a partial sleeve that honored their uncle. Richie had an idea of what he wanted for his own tattoo, so he headed to Huntsville to the shop he had decided on.
Richie was living in Stephenville and met with the artist. Because the studio didn’t release any artwork, Richie had to make the drive to Huntsville to see renderings. Each trip down and back took about seven hours. The first two drawings weren’t what he wanted. So, he had the guy that was doing his tattoo get in touch with the girl that did Doug’s and collaborate.
“They put it together and when I saw it, I knew it was exactly what I wanted,” Richie said. “I was like boom. Put it on me.”
The process started. And, after a couple more trips to Huntsville, his back number is now a permanent part of his chest surrounded by leaves that resemble tooled leather.
“Doug already had a sleeve on his left arm. I didn’t want to put it on my right arm because of all the taping I do,” Richie explained. “I didn’t want it on my back because I wanted to be able to see it. So, I went with the chest.”
So far it is his only Ink, but the leaves will make it easy to add more art to it, either on the shoulder or over his back.
“It would have to be something really special for me to add to it,” he said. “I’ve been looking forward to getting the NFR tattoo since I started riding bareback horses.”
Richie had a life-changing event this past year when he married Olympic pairs figure skater Paige Lawrence. Two years ago, he finished second at the NFR and as the reserve champion bareback rider. A gold buckle or children for the newlyweds might be some inspiration for more ink. But in the meantime, he’s got 10 more bucking horses to get on in the Thomas & Mack Center in December.