Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of guest columns that will be featured on the NFR Insider page on NFRExperience.com from time to time leading up to December’s Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. Seven-time World Champion All-Around Cowboy Ty Murray is a ProRodeo Hall of Famer, a member of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum Hall of Fame, a Professional Bull Riders’ Board of Directors adviser and one of the most popular cowboys in the history of ProRodeo. Here, he gives exclusive insight into his experience while winning his record-setting seventh all-around gold buckle in 1998.
BY TY MURRAY
My goal from the time I was a little kid was to win more all-around world championships than Larry Mahan.
I don’t even remember when I thought of that, it was so long ago. I was a little kid.
I won six in a row up through 1994, and I was injured and out with surgeries in 1995, 1996 and 1997. In that timeframe, I had both knees done and both shoulders done. I was out in 1995 with my knees and thought I’d be back in 1996. I was out with a shoulder injury in 1996 and thought I’d come back in 1997. Then, I was out in 1997 with the other shoulder.
One of the all-time legends of ProRodeo, Ty Murray (second from left) usually keeps good company while in Las Vegas. Here, he is pictured with (from left to right) Fred Whitfield, a cardboard Tuf Cooper, Charmayne James, Billy Etbauer and Lewis Feild. –Las Vegas Events photo
So, I hired a guy by the name of Jesse Marquez, who was a four-time national champion in the martial arts form of Nippon Kempo, and I started training with him. I started training really, really hard, and I was doing a couple thousand sit-ups a day. It was that sort of training. It wasn’t like if you go to 24-Hour Fitness and hire a trainer. I’m talking about training six days a week for four or five hours a day and getting after it.
Physically, it was really hard, but you get to a point where you can’t get tired. Once I got in shape, I could do 4,000 sit-ups a day if you wanted me to. We could go in there and do a two-and-a-half-hour training session and go as hard as we could go, and when it was over, I felt like I could do anything.
For the first month of training though, I remember I threw up almost every day. I would get home, and I had this rock floor in my living room, and I would just go and lay on that rock floor for 30 or 45 minutes thinking I was going to die.
I had stayed in riding shape my whole life, and I had trained ever since the seventh grade. When I missed that first year, it was the first time in my life when I wasn’t riding. I rehabbed my knees six days a week, and when I went back, I was in shape, but my body wasn’t in riding shape the way it had been.
Then, I dislocated my shoulder and did all the rehab work again, came back and dislocated the other shoulder. That’s when I realized I had to get my body back to game shape, and that’s when I started training really, really hard. When I came back in 1998, I was in the best shape of my life.
Ty Murray worked hard to return from injuries and was dialed in and focused in 1998. –PRCA photo by Mike Copeman
I think somebody from the ProRodeo Sports News told me one time that I entered 54 rodeos in the bull riding that year and got a check at about 51 of them. Bulls couldn’t do to me what they could have done to me before, because of the shape I got in.
When you’ve wanted something so bad for a lifetime, you’ll do anything it takes to get there, and I think that’s where the desire to do all of that training came from.
When I was hurt, I remember I started getting a little nervous about my chances to set the record, and I had sponsors that were letting go of me. I think people were starting to think, ‘He’s not going to be able to come back and compete at the level he did,’ and I don’t blame them. I think if I had been a bystander or a fan watching, I no doubt would have thought the same thing.
But I felt good in 1998, and when I got to the Finals, I felt like I was at that place all athletes want to be, where you’re in great shape, you still have people on your side and you also have experience on your side. It is the intersection of youth, great shape and experience, and I think that’s when athletes do their best.
What I mean by experience is, I think I was at a point and a place where I knew how to enjoy the process. I knew how to enjoy the journey, and I knew how to overcome the nerves and pressure. It’s pressure you put on yourself, because when you’ve been dreaming of something since you were born, that can be a very pressure-filled situation.
At that point of my career, I felt like I knew how to control my emotions and control my brain and could remember that the journey was what it was really all about. I settled into it, and I felt like I enjoyed that Finals.
Over my seven all-arounds, I got to see every side of the coin. I got to see years where they couldn’t catch me and I had it sewn up before the NFR ever started, I had years where I had to battle for it, and for my first all-around title, I battled my uncle, Butch Myers.
I knew the kind of Finals Herbert Theriot was having, and Herbert was a great cowboy. He was a very special all-around hand. We were trading the lead back and forth and battling, and I think that’s where my experience helped me. It helped me settle in and get to the place I was at when I crawled down into that chute on the last bull.
It was tough, and there were several bulls that bucked me off that shouldn’t have, and that Finals didn’t go my way every night. It sounds cheesy to say, but being a champion is about how you get back up off the ground and how you’re able to turn those sort of things around. When I watch football on TV, the greatest thing to me is when you see Peyton Manning come back from when it’s 24-0, and that’s what I enjoy about sports.
That’s when you see the mark of a real champion and a real competitor. That’s true in life, too. I think you see a person’s character when things get tough.
I don’t know what the actual numbers were, but as far as I knew, when I was crawling on that last bull, I had to ride that last bull. That’s a moment you can look at two ways. You can look at it like that’s the moment you’ve dreamed of your whole life, or you can look at it like that’s the most pressure-filled situation of your life and you can choke and puke all over yourself.
I had a real sense of calm come over me when I climbed down in the chute on that 10th bull, Harper & Morgan Rodeo’s Hard Copy, and he was a big, dangerous bull. He was a bull that weighed about 2,200 pounds, and I’d seen him jerk some guys down and knock their heads off. I saw him stick a horn in Chris Shivers’ mouth.
I just remember when I got down in that chute, I knew I had to ride him. It felt like home when I climbed down into that chute. I was in a comfortable place where I needed to be, and I knew what I had to do. I’d spent my whole life doing it and had done it 6,000 times, and I was ready for that moment.
When the whistle blew, I knew I was the seven-time all-around world champion, and I jumped off that bull and put my hands above my head. That was the moment I’d spent a lifetime working toward.
It was an unbelievable moment for me. It was reaching a benchmark that I’d set for myself and had been working toward for a lifetime.
Winning his record seventh all-around gold buckle was a dream come true for Ty Murray, who had set his sights on Larry Mahan’s and Tom Ferguson’s record at an early age. –PRCA photo by Mike Copeman
I think what makes things different for a professional athlete is, you see people reach success in a lot of different fields, but there’s not a defining moment where there’s 20,000 people giving you a standing ovation. If you want to set out to become the world’s best brain surgeon, it doesn’t come from a single, defining moment like that.
That was something I always remembered. That was THE moment I’d waited and worked for my entire life.
It felt like it sunk in right away. I walked out of the arena, and Larry Mahan was the first person that shook my hand. It felt great, and it felt like a relief.
Cody Lambert was my lifelong partner, and we’re best friends to this day. He’d entered me in rodeos that whole year, and that’s the kind of friend he is. As soon as the Finals was over, he was the first person I called, and that was a real special moment for both of us because it was really a team effort. He was the one I’d traveled with since I was a rookie, and he’d put a lot of work into me getting to that point as well. That was a real nice phone call.
Having your family around in those moments is a big deal, because they know full well how much work and how many years had gone into that. They had made a lot of sacrifices as well, my mom, my dad and both sisters, for me to get to that point.
It felt like a lot of blood, sweat, tears and crashes, and I’m not saying that to be clichéd. When you’re a three-event roughstock rider, there is a lot of blood, sweat and tears. There’s a lot of chances to quit.
To come out of that arena and have my all-time hero shake my hand for eclipsing his record, that was a pretty special moment. That’s a big part of the reason I wanted to be there for Trevor Brazile in 2010, because I know what it feels like spending your whole life working that hard toward something.
I was probably 40 years old when I finally got to meet Tom Ferguson, and I felt just like a little kid. It was great, because I spent a lot of time looking up to him and Larry as a kid. He was real proud of me, and it was a great feeling. Even though we’d never met, it was like we’d known each other a long time, and we just took to each other right off the bat.
If you look at Jim Shoulders, me, Larry, Tom, Trevor and Phil Lyne, when you look at guys who’ve done big things or broken records in the sport, it’s almost like we have an unspoken brotherhood. It’s because we spent a lifetime doing the same thing, and we know how much practice and work and how many miles and guts and grit it takes.
Las Vegas has always been a special place for Ty Murray, shown here with legendary gambler Amarillo Slim, right.
Larry was a supporter of mine since I was a 13-year-old kid, and I’ve known him and looked up to him my whole life. Still, to this day, we still have a special friendship.
That ride in Round 10 was nowhere close to the best bull ride I ever made or the best bull I ever got on. I felt fine about the way I rode him, but I’d been on a lot better bulls, had a lot higher scores and made a lot better rides. But I’ll remember that ride forever.
I can remember everything about it. I can remember the smell of the air, everything. That whole ride, that whole experience – from my behind-the-chutes warm-up to climbing in the chute, when the gate opened and what was going through my mind – I remember every single thing about it.
I felt like I had the perfect seat, was in perfect shape, had the perfect timing and rhythm, and I knew I could ride him from the second jump. I remember thinking about the second jump that I couldn’t have been blown off that bull with a cannon.
Murray scored 79 points on Hard Copy to split fifth place in the 10th round and clinch the NFR bull riding average title and bull riding gold buckle. In the process, he staved off Theriot’s rally and won his seventh all-around crown with $264,673 to Theriot’s $228,561, passing Mahan and Ferguson, who had six apiece. It would be 12 years before Brazile eclipsed Murray’s all-around record.