SUTHERLIN — Rob Smets provided many thrills and spills as a rodeo bullfighter.
Now the 59-year-old, a former Oakland resident, is contributing to the sport he loves as a speaker, announcer and employee for the World Champions Rodeo Alliance — a professional sport and entertainment entity created to develop rodeo by aligning all levels of competition.
Smets, who retired as a bullfighter in 2006, will co-announce the 28th annual Sutherlin Stampede with Joe Oakes on Friday and Saturday at the rodeo grounds. Performances begin at 7 p.m. both evenings.
Admission is free, but fans are asked to bring canned foods which will go to the Sutherlin Food Pantry.
“It’s an opportunity to come and help for a great cause,” Smets said Tuesday in a phone interview. “I’m excited. To be a part of something and giving back to the community makes it awful special.”
Smets, who lives in Poteet, Texas, still has family in the Sutherlin area, including his 92-year-old mother, Ebe.
“I’ll get to see family and a lot of old friends, and it’s going to be fun,” Smets said. “I’m working with Joe Oakes, and I’ve known the Oakes boys since they were in diapers.”
Smets will announce in the arena on horseback or on foot.
“I know what the heck’s going down in the arena,” he said. “I’ve been around the best guys in the world my whole career.”
Smets was known as “The Kamikaze Kid” during his Wrangler bullfighting days. He won world titles in 1983, 1985, 1986, 1988 and 1994.
He overcame broken necks in 1992 and 1996, and after suffering a third broken neck in 2006 he decided to call it a career.
“My wife (Carla) looked at me (after the third broken neck) and asked ‘what more do you have to prove?’” Smets said. “I don’t want to push you in a wheelchair. It was hard. I loved the game with all my heart ... I was blessed to play the game.”
Smets has received many honors for his performance in the arena, getting inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 2006. He was the recipient of the Jim Shoulders Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011. Shoulders, who died in 2007, was a 16-time world champion in bull riding, bareback riding and all-around.
“To go into the ProRodeo Hall was icing on the cake,” Smets said. “It says you can play with the best of them. The Jim Shoulders award means the world to me.”
Events at the Sutherlin Stampede include peewee barrel racing, junior barrel racing (boys or girls ages 10-15), junior bull riding (boys ages 12-15), open barrel racing, team roping, open bull riding and a saddle cow riding race. Kids events are mutton bustin’ and calf riding.
Beck Bucking Bulls will supply the stock.