Kimzey weathering tough summer patch

Every rodeo season has its ups and downs, and rookie bull rider Sage Kimzey is fully aware of that fact.

The cowboy from Strong City, Okla., is back in action after having to sit out a few weeks nursing an injured groin earlier this month. Kimzey, who also lost time this summer resting a sore riding arm, suffered the injury at the Lovington, N.M., Xtreme Bulls stop on Aug. 5 and sat out until the Champions Challenge event in Kennewick, Wash., on Aug. 19.

The groin injury was a pesky detour for Kimzey, who didn’t have much choice but to sit on the sidelines and let it heal.

“It’s pretty much just a sit around and wait game,” said Kimzey, who celebrated his 20th birthday on Tuesday. “I’d pulled a groin when I was younger, but nothing as extreme as this was. I took a couple weeks off and came back, and everything’s good.

“I’m wrapping it and putting compression on it, but it feels totally fine now.”

The talented bull rider proved he is back and ready to go by winning the Xtreme Bulls Division 2 event in Bremerton, Wash., on Aug. 20. He rode Growney Brothers Rodeo’s Shin Bone Alley for 85.5 points to win the short round and pocketed $2,977 after finishing as the only cowboy with two qualified rides.

“I had two good ones,” Kimzey said of his draws in Bremerton. “Everything was a little bit fast at the Kennewick Champions Challenge since it was my first event back. At Bremerton, (my timing) was a little bit fast on the first bull, but after I rode him, it was like riding a bike again. You don’t forget how to do it.”

Dealing with the injuries has been a nuisance, but Kimzey doesn’t view his summer as frustrating or a disappointment.

“It’s not been so much of a frustrating summer, but all of the events just came back to back to back, and then I had (issues) with my arm and groin,” said Kimzey, who has also placed in Rapid City, S.D., and won a CBR event since returning from the groin injury. “It hasn’t been a frustrating summer, just a slower one than what I had planned. But, you just keep going.”

Four-time World Champion J.W. Harris has caught the front-running Kimzey in the world standings and headed into the last week of August with a $14,295 lead over the rookie. Despite relinquishing the top spot to the future Hall of Famer, Kimzey – who has $107,218 in season earnings – hasn’t been disheartened by recent developments.

“It really doesn’t bother me,” he said of losing the world standings lead. “It’s really overwhelming and prestigious just to have your name on top of the leaderboard at all, but it doesn’t bother me that I’m sitting second now.”

Sage Kimzey

Sage Kimzey

With roughly a month left to earn money for the 2014 season, many contestants are hitting the road full-time in last-dash efforts to qualify for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo or improve their rank in the world standings. The level-headed Kimzey, however, is taking a different approach.

“I’m actually taking this last part of the season pretty chill and not going to too many,” he said. “There’s too much money at the Finals to really worry about a couple thousand here or there. So, I’m just taking these last couple months pretty easy, being easier on my body and picking and choosing where I go.”

Kimzey knows December’s Wrangler NFR will be where gold buckles will be decided, and he’s going to spend the remaining months between now and then staying sharp and preparing for the 10-day spectacle.

“I don’t know that anything will matter once I get out there (to Las Vegas), as far as being run down,” he said. “It’s an ultimate dream come true, and I’d say that if I was a little tired or beat down from the road, that place would probably fix it. It’s all going to come down to 10 rounds in Vegas.”

Hitting the centennial mark is special treat

Has it really gone by this fast?

Am I really writing my 100th “NFR Insider” blog today? Wow, how time sprints away from you.

It’s hard to believe, but I’m full bore into year four of this enterprise, and it has been quite the experience so far. When I dreamed up this idea in 2011, little did I know how well it would be received and the life it would take on as time progressed.

It’s been hard work and, at times, challenging, but the ride has been a blast from the start. I’ve been able to cover the world’s most amazing rodeo and write about some of the sport’s most compelling and impressive athletes the past three-and-a-half years, and it has been a treat.

Part of the perks of being able to see the Wrangler NFR from the inside include photo ops with Vegas showgirls, like I had here in 2012.

One of the perks of being able to see the Wrangler NFR from the inside includes photo ops with all kinds of people, including Vegas showgirls like I had here in 2012.

Whether it’s interviewing country music legend Charlie Daniels, all-around king Trevor Brazile, winners of the Miss Rodeo America pageant, actor Mickey Jones or a slew of PRCA world champions, I’ve enjoyed it all. The variety of topics and features I’ve been able to cover and experience has been amazing when I look back on it.

My first blog was about the Fremont Street Experience and the Downtown Hoedown, and I’ve been running around Las Vegas covering the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo from every angle ever since. I’ve written about Cowboy Christmas, after-parties, buckle presentations, FanFest, the ProRodeo Fan Zone, the PRCA Exceptional Rodeo, the rodeo’s television production, helmets in bull riding, bullfighters, announcers, judges, injuries, triumphs, defeats, families in rodeo, pickup men and the glory of gold buckles.

I even became part of the story – a la one of my favorite writers Hunter S. Thompson – in 2011 when my back went out on me early during the Finals and I was nursed back to health with the help of the amazing Justin SportsMedicine Team at the Thomas & Mack Center. I had another memorable experience that year at the now-defunct Studio 54 club inside MGM Grand, although that blog didn’t sit well with some folks who’d rather not see that side of Las Vegas so in-depth.

I ended up in the Justin SportsMedicine Room in the bowels of the Thomas & Mack Center in 2011 when my back went out on me early during the Finals. The great staff worked on me for days and got me walking more like myself than Groucho Marx, and I still owe them a debt of gratitude.

That is not me in the photo, but I ended up in the Justin SportsMedicine Room in the bowels of the Thomas & Mack Center in 2011 when my back went out on me early during the Finals. The great staff worked on me for days and got me walking more like myself than Groucho Marx, and I still owe them a debt of gratitude.

It was also the year that Brazile was kind enough to let me see how the sport’s top dog lives in style at MGM Grand during the Wrangler NFR. He took me up to his massive suite to hang out with the family for a bit, and it was amazing to see where he kicks up his boots when he’s not being pulled 100 different directions during the Finals.

Being able to see Trevor Brazile's amazing MGM Grand suite during an exclusive interview in 2011 was one of the best experiences I've had at the Wrangler NFR.

Being able to see Trevor Brazile’s amazing MGM Grand suite during an exclusive interview in 2011 was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had at the Wrangler NFR.

Arguably my most popular column ever, “The Amazing Mary Walker,” came before the 2012 Wrangler NFR, when I wrote about the beloved barrel racer overcoming the loss of her son and a major injury to qualify for her first Finals. She went on to win the gold buckle that year and was the feel-good story of the entire rodeo, and I couldn’t have been happier for her.

I had the pleasure of doing an exclusive interview in the Thomas & Mack Center security office with Daniels before he performed during the opening of one of the performances in 2012, and he was gracious and engaging. He loves rodeo, and I could tell that he was enjoying every minute of being at the Finals.

Charlie Daniels was a great interview, and I was lucky enough to get an exclusive with the country music legend in 2012.  --PRCA ProRodeo photo by Greg Westfall

Charlie Daniels was a great interview, and I was lucky enough to get an exclusive with the country music legend in 2012. –PRCA ProRodeo photo by Greg Westfall

Some of the highlights from last year included writing about the friendly and humble Sherry Cervi, family ties in the sport and my top 10 moments from my first 10 Wrangler NFRs. Every day at the Finals is an adventure, and you never know what will happen that will turn your head and make you want to write about it.

That’s part of the beauty of the event, and it’s a treasure trove of great storylines for any writer. The fact that I’ve been able to expand NFR Insider to a nearly yearlong column is a testament to the scope and magnitude of the Wrangler NFR, and it just shows how much cache and weight it carries in the sport.

There’s no telling what the future will hold, but what I do know is that I’ll have a lot of fun covering the 10-day rodeo and giving readers exclusive and behind-the-scenes insight into the spectacle of the sport’s premier event. I owe a lot of thanks to Las Vegas Events for believing in my ability and standing behind me as a partner in this endeavor through the years.

I’ve been proud to have also provided photos for many of my entries, as any writer or journalist wants to be as well-rounded as possible, and I hope they’ve added something to NFR Insider.

Las Vegas is a wonderful and magical city, and I can't wait to explore it once again this December for "NFR Insider" fans.

Las Vegas is a wonderful and magical city, and I can’t wait to explore it once again this December for “NFR Insider” fans.

It’s been awesome, and I can’t wait to see what the next 100 articles bring. I hope it’s been enjoyable reading and has offered one-of-a-kind looks at the Wrangler NFR for fans, and I’ll be sure to keep looking for new things to explore in this blog.

Keep reading, and I’ll keep writing.

Whitfield staying strong through rough patch

Fred Whitfield has every right to be frustrated.

He’s dealt with bad draws, bad luck and even the death of a horse during a dry spring and summer that has him on the outside looking in at another Wrangler National Finals Rodeo berth. But the Hall of Famer from Hockley, Texas, is keeping his chin up and mind strong as the season hits its stretch run, and he has not changed his plans of earning a 21st trip to Las Vegas.

“I’m not frustrated at all,” the eight-time world champion said. “I’m mentally tough, so that’s not a problem. It ain’t like it’s never happened before, and I think (my experience) will help a lot.

“The thing for me is just going around here and not winning and having bad things continue to happen, it just drains you. I’m not that worried about it, really. It’s either going to happen, or it’s not.”

Whitfield started the season with a whirl, banking $19,484 through March to firmly solidify himself in the top 10 in the world standings. Since then, he’s only been able to add $21,189 to his total, dropping to 18th in the standings, $6,490 behind 15th-place Jesse Clark.

Eight-time World Champion Fred Whitfield is gunning for a 21st career Wrangler National Finals Rodeo berth, but has had a challenging summer that could threaten his chances.  --PRCA ProRodeo photo by Mike Copeman

Eight-time World Champion Fred Whitfield is gunning for a 21st career Wrangler National Finals Rodeo berth, but has had a challenging summer that could threaten his chances. –PRCA ProRodeo photo by Mike Copeman

Whitfield said he doesn’t feel “snake-bitten” but acknowledges that the rodeo gods have not exactly smiled upon him in recent months.

“It’s not been good,” said Whitfield, who did not qualify for last year’s Wrangler NFR. “I had a horse die in Ogden the other day that I’d been borrowing from some friends of mine, and I’ve just been having Hell. I was 10 (seconds) in Caldwell and broke the barrier to win Castle Rock (Colo.), so it’s just been a nightmare, really.

“I don’t know what the problem is.”

The luck of the draw has been a factor, he says.

“I haven’t been drawing good at all, honestly,” said Whitfield, the 1999 world champion all-around cowboy. “I’ve just been drawing bad, and it’s just been the whole nine yards.”

The rough summer run included frustrations North of the border, and Whitfield had to abandon his goal of also qualifying for the Canadian Finals Rodeo.

“It was not good,” he said of his Canadian quest. “I quit that deal after I didn’t have enough money won or enough rodeos up there.”

Whitfield had to rest his prized mare, Jewel, after she fell ill, but he said he likely will go to her for the stretch run.

“I’m going to start riding my mare, Jewel, again,” he said. “She got sick in Calgary, and I’ve run a few calves on her, but not too many. I think it’s about time to get back on her.”

The seven-time world champion tie-down roper plans to stay on the road most of the next month-and-a-half as he chases down a Wrangler NFR spot. He will nod his head in Caldwell, Idaho, Gooding, Idaho, Moses Lake, Wash., Rapid City, S.D., Pueblo, Colo., and San Juan Capistrano, Calif., among others, the next couple of weeks alone.

Whitfield is $19,899 behind the $60,572 it took for Randall Carlisle to grab the 15th and final spot in last year’s Finals, but he doesn’t feel overwhelmed by the ground he needs to make up.

“There’s still plenty of time, but it just needs to turn around,” he said. “I’ve got 20-something rodeos left, I’ve just got to get to winning.”

Fred Whitfield has enjoyed his time away from the arena promoting his autobiography and connecting with fans.

Fred Whitfield has enjoyed his time away from the arena promoting his autobiography and connecting with fans.

Whitfield has stayed active throughout the summer doing speaking engagements and making public appearances to promote his autobiography, “Gold Buckles Don’t Lie: The Untold Tale of Fred Whitfield.” Connecting with fans has enabled him to forget the hurdles he’s faced this season, and the appearances have lifted his spirits.

“I’ve had a couple signings and have been busy with all that,” he said. “It’s been going good.”

Heading into the home stretch, Whitfield is focused and ready for the challenge ahead.

“I’ve been at this all season long, and I’m not just going to abort my plan,” he said. “I’ve still got a good chance to make the Finals, but I’ve got to win something.

“It’s the start of the fourth quarter, and it’s time to make some stuff happen.”

Timed-event cowboys have methods to their madness

They may only be “on the clock” for a few seconds each night at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, but timed-event cowboys are working well before they back in the box.

Plenty of work and preparation goes into every night’s competition before they nod their heads, from strategizing about their approaches on steers and calves and sharing information with competitors to studying film of previous nights. Most nights, they don’t just wing it and leave their fate to chance, instead employing a methodical approach to each run.

I’ve often seen cowboys huddled around computers in the Wrangler NFR press room or around televisions in the player lounge as they watch previous nights’ runs, looking for the slightest detail or edge that can help them shave time off their marks. It’s a fascinating process most people don’t realize goes on nightly inside the belly of the Thomas & Mack Center.

A lot goes on behind the scenes and in the depths of the Thomas & Mack Center that fans are never aware of, including cowboys' preparations for each night's performance.

A lot goes on behind the scenes and in the depths of the Thomas & Mack Center that fans are never aware of, including cowboys’ preparations for each night’s performance.

For steer wrestlers, preparing means watching some film, discussing each steer with their fellow bulldoggers and putting together a strategy for each lightning-fast round.

“If somebody has a steer I ran, I’ll tell them exactly what I felt, and vice-versa, to try and help them,” said 10-time Wrangler NFR qualifier Trevor Knowles, who is leading the world standings. “A guy will watch the run from the night before just to see if he can pick up on something. A guy likes to watch the steer go in slow motion one time and see if he can speed up what the previous guy did.

“If you have one of the steers that maybe aren’t one of the better ones, you’re better off running them second in the later rounds, because you’ve seen other guys go at them blind. You should be able to pick up on little things that help you throw them faster.”

But Knowles said the ultimate hope is to not have to worry too much about the steers in Las Vegas.

“Generally speaking, you’re hoping to draw good enough that you don’t need to watch any film to try to get an advantage,” he said. “You’re hoping to have steers that you don’t need to have a game plan for or anything different than the norm. Most of the steers there are supposed to be honest enough that hopefully you don’t have to pull out many tricks.”

Steer wrestlers like Trevor Knowles use video and information from each other to try to make the quickest runs each night in hopes of taking a victory lap like this.  --PRCA ProRodeo photo by Larry Smith

Steer wrestlers like Trevor Knowles use video and information from each other to try to make the quickest runs each night in hopes of taking a victory lap like this. –PRCA ProRodeo photo by Larry Smith

Team ropers map out a plan of attack based on the steer they’ve drawn, talk to their partners about the best way to approach each run and try to discover tendencies about the animal they will soon rope.

“Cattle, they end up having patterns just like the horses and people or whatever,” said Hall of Famer and seven-time World Champion Jake Barnes. “The main thing is the speed and how they handle. They do have tendencies.”

That knowledge can be crucial to success.

“Knowing a steer is going to do something, there’s moves you can make to counter their moves,” said Barnes, who is fifth in this year’s heading standings. “You basically have an idea of the pattern the steer is going to run, and any time you have any information like that, it’s to your advantage. It’s almost like a boxer, football player or basketball player knowing what their opponent is going to do and the move they’re going to make.”

Jake Barnes

Jake Barnes

Barnes said that the first round of the Wrangler NFR is the first chance they have to rope the steers chosen for Las Vegas, so all previous preparation is key.

“They rope those steers through a couple days before the NFR, and everybody has someone there to film them,” said Barnes, who is looking to qualify for his first Wrangler NFR since 2011. “I think another things fans don’t know is that there are three sets of cattle. One set gets roped four times, and two of the other sets get roped three times.”

Sometimes, Barnes said, having too much knowledge can be a hindrance.

“It doesn’t always work, and a lot of times it’ll bite you in the tail,” he said. “I hear guys talking in the bull riding telecasts about setting up the bulls and trying to make a move before the bull makes it, but then the bull fakes them out and does something different. The same thing happens with steers.”

Reigning World Champion Tie-Down Roper Shane Hanchey prefers to have all the information he can, especially since calves can be unpredictable.

“I like to have the info and don’t like to wing it with something that pays that much,” said Hanchey, who is third in the 2014 world standings. “I like to watch what the calf did the round before, like everybody, and pick out some positives and negatives with each calf to try and pinpoint what I think the calf is going to do. They’re animals, they’re not robots or machines, and they change their courses and change their paths, just like any other animal.”

Shane Hanchey

Shane Hanchey

Hanchey said tie-down ropers routinely share information – not to mention horses and horse trailers – with one another, a strong sign of sportsmanship in the sport.

“Whoever ran that calf before, I’ll ask how the calf was, because they know how they felt and what they might do the next time,” he said. “We’re all buddies for the most part and want each other to win, and we’re competing against that calf and not so much against each other.”

Talking about the Wrangler NFR had Hanchey looking toward the future.

“It’s starting to get that time of year where you’re starting to look forward to December,” he said. “It’s coming up quickly, and you’ve got to finish the year off strong and get ready for the NFR.”

 

Kimzey heads into August optimistic, atop standings

It’s beginning to seem that there is very little that will rattle rookie bull rider Sage Kimzey, despite his age.

A four-time world champion closes the gap on him in the world standings? His arm gets sore again after a bunch of rides in a short time and he has to take a break?

No worries, Kimzey is taking it all in stride.

The 19-year-old from Strong City, Okla., leads the PRCA World Standings heading into August after a solid check at the Cheyenne (Wyo.) Frontier Days pushed him past $100,000 in season earnings. He finished fourth at the famed rodeo, a feat that put a smile on his face.

“Any time you can go to ‘The Daddy of ‘em All,’ make the short round and win some money, it’s dang sure an accomplishment,” Kimzey said. “I got on some really good bulls there, was lucky enough to make the short round and did my job in the short round.”

A check for $4,308 at the Cheyenne (Wyo.) Frontier Days helped Sage Kimzey cross the $100,000 mark in season earnings.  --Photo courtesy of Fred McClanahan Jr.

A check for $4,308 for finishing fourth at the Cheyenne (Wyo.) Frontier Days helped Sage Kimzey cross the $100,000 mark in season earnings. –Photo courtesy of Fred McClanahan Jr.

He took a check home worth $4,308 from Cheyenne and pushed his season total to $101,184. Kimzey is just $11,906 shy of Steve Woolsey’s rookie record for pre-Wrangler National Finals Rodeo earnings, and eclipsing that on his way to Las Vegas would be a feather in his hat.

“It’s awesome to cross the $100,000 mark, and it’s pretty much the gold standard, as far as money won before the NFR,” Kimzey said. “So, crossing that before the beginning of August is pretty cool and a pretty good experience. (Beating Woolsey’s record) is a small goal and is something that would be cool to achieve, but it’s not something I’ve really been dwelling on.

“Having the most money won in the regular season as a rookie is always a great accomplishment.”

Four-time World Champion J.W. Harris has had a big few months and cut Kimzey’s lead to just $7,408 heading into this week. Trey Benton III is also in the mix with $87,652 as well, but Kimzey isn’t stressing too much about standings at this point of the season.

“You can’t worry about it at this time of the year,” he said. “There’s so much money going back and forth between the top guys, and any of the top guys are capable of having a $20,000 or $30,000 week. Those guys are phenomenal bull riders, but you can’t keep looking at the standings.

“I’ve just got to keep staying on my bulls.”

Sage Kimzey

Sage Kimzey

Kimzey left Cheyenne with a sore riding arm, so he’s decided to take some time off to rest and recuperate before hitting the road full-time again.

“I got on eight head in two days, so I was a little sored up,” Kimzey said. “So, I took a four-day doctor’s release and turned out of Spanish Fork, Salt Lake, Ogden and Eagle. That little break has really helped me, and I feel rejuvenated and ready to finish out the year.

“It’s really hard to take the time off that you need to – especially this time of year – but it’s also a lot easier to win when you’re feeling 100 percent healthy. It’s a fine line you have to walk, but last week I was at the point to where I felt like it was going to hurt getting on (a bull) and I wasn’t going to be enjoying what I was doing.”

The talented teen has also continued his stellar run in his home state, winning the Woodward Elks Rodeo in mid-July with an 83-pointer on Powder River Rodeo’s Tee Time. Kimzey has enjoyed riding in Oklahoma this year.

“It’s always great to get to ride so close to the house at a rodeo like Woodward that has so much history and prestige behind it,” said Kimzey, who has also won in Guymon, Tulsa, Duncan and Claremore this year. “I feel comfortable at (Oklahoma rodeos), and I’ve also drawn really well at them this year for some reason. It’s been a good year in my home state, that’s for sure.”

If he keeps riding the way he has been, Kimzey could have a good chance to take a gold buckle back home to the Sooner State come December.

This is the fourth in a series of monthly articles featuring rookie bull rider Sage Kimzey and his path toward the Wrangler NFR. Each month, NFR Insider Neal Reid will catch up with Kimzey to talk about his progress, successes and setbacks as the rodeo season marches on. Stay tuned for more about Kimzey.

Murray: Seventh all-around title was dream come true

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.  --Las Vegas Events photo

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

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

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.

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.

Cowboy Christmas huge for cowboys with Wrangler NFR dreams

Heading into this year’s Cowboy Christmas, Nick Guy was, well…just another guy.

The bulldogger from Sparta, Wis., had won some checks, but was nowhere near the coveted Top 15 in the PRCA World Standings. That all changed in a hurry the week leading up to the Fourth of July.

Guy, who qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in 2010, got tapped off and finished Cowboy Christmas as the bulldogger with the biggest haul. The 6-3, 245-pounder pocketed $9,345 for winning the average in St. Paul, Ore., and added big checks in Molalla, Ore., Cody, Wyo., and Red Lodge, Mont., for a $22,209 total.

Nick Guy

Nick Guy

That catapulted the 29-year-old from 44th to fifth in the standings with $35,338 heading into mid-July and put a big smile on the affable bulldogger’s face.

“I’ve always wanted to have a week like that, and a guy dreams of having a $20,000 week over the Fourth of July,” said Guy, who finished 17th in the world last year to narrowly miss a trip to Las Vegas. “For a lot of guys, that doesn’t happen, and there are just very few guys who can get on a roll like that. This year, it happened for me.

“I was just due for a big week like that. I knew I had the ability and I knew the horse had the ability, and I’m just glad it all came together.”

Guy, who finished 21st in the world in 2012, said the key to his success was a talented four-legged athlete named Roany. Owned by his traveling partner and hazer Cody Kroul, Roany has given Guy a consistent and quality mount he feels supremely confident aboard when he backs in the box.

“He just gives me the same trip every time,” Guy said of the horse. “He doesn’t run wide, he doesn’t run too tight and just gives me the same trip every time. In the bulldogging, that’s important.

“Over the Fourth, I got a great start wherever I went and he caught up (to the steers) quick, and when that happens, I’ve just got to do my job. I’m definitely feeling pretty good about it.”

Near-misses from the past two seasons have left Guy hungry for a return trip to the Thomas & Mack Center.

“After you’re there once competing, it’s really hard to watch from home, because I bulldog with those guys all year long and feel like I can bulldog with the best of them,” Guy said. “To have a big week like this is huge. My ultimate goal this year was not having to be sitting on the couch in December.”

The monster Cowboy Christmas pay day took a heap of pressure off Guy’s shoulders, and now he can focus on the task at hand without having to obsess about the standings.

“The last few years, it’s felt like all summer long all I’ve been doing is chasing the Top 15, where you’re almost having to win twice as much as everyone else just to catch up,” he said. “Now, I’m in the Top 15, I’ve got quite a bit of money won and I’ve got a lot of rodeos left to go to. I feel like I can just keep plugging away, and I feel like I’m in a good spot.

“I don’t feel like I’ve got the Finals made by any means, but I’m in the position now where, if I just keep doing what I’m doing, keep my head down and keep bulldogging good and the horse keeps working good, I feel like I can make it back to the Finals.”

Nick Guy qualified for the 2010 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, ultimately finishing 12th in the world.  --PRCA ProRodeo photo by Mike Copeman

Nick Guy qualified for the 2010 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, ultimately finishing 12th in the world.               –PRCA ProRodeo photo by Mike Copeman

Guy heads into the final 12 weeks of the season confident, focused and excited.

“Once you start winning, it’s almost like a snowball effect and you’ve got that confidence,” he said. “Every time I back in the box, I feel like I’m going to go win something or make a good run. I’m never second-guessing myself anymore. I’m just going, letting it happen and am not trying to make it happen anymore.

“Over the Fourth, I didn’t try too hard, and it just happened. Sometimes, when you’re trying too hard is when things don’t work out. I just let it come as it did, and I was awfully excited to have it happen.”

Second-year tie-down roper Marty Yates can relate. The Stephenville, Texas, cowboy put together a stellar Cowboy Christmas of his own, raking in $20,978 to move to fourth in the world standings.

Before then, he’d been on the outside looking in, itching for a big check that would give him a chance at his first Wrangler NFR qualification. Yates won multiple substantial checks over the Fourth of July run, including $8,926 from St. Paul, Ore., and $4,253 from Livingston, Mont.

Marty Yates

Marty Yates

It was a huge week for the 20-year-old.

“Oh man, it was awesome,” said Yates, who celebrated his birthday on July 6. “It got me right where I needed to be, and I’m on the cruising track to my first NFR. I’d like to get things finished off and see how far (up) I can be in (the standings) when Vegas comes around.”

Yates now has $51,128 in season earnings thanks to his Cowboy Christmas haul, and he gave credit to his 7-year-old gelding, Chicken, for the big week.

“I can’t say enough about my horse this year,” he said. “I had zero confidence in the horse I had last year, so it was 100 percent different. This year, this little horse, we’ve come a long way together, and it’s been amazing.”

Yates finished third in the Resistol Rookie of the Year standings last year and viewed the season as a disappointment.

“Last year, my rookie year, I didn’t have a very good year,” he said. “It was pretty rough on me, but I think it was a good stepping stone and learning year for me. It taught me a lot.”

The windfall over the Fourth will allow Yates to fine-tune his traveling schedule for the remainder of the season, which ends Sept. 30.

“I won’t go to as many (rodeos) and will just concentrate on going to the big ones,” Yates said. “I won’t enter up too much and will take care of my horse to try and make him last longer.”

If a Wrangler NFR qualification is in the cards for the young talent, Yates will be realizing a dream by punching his ticket to Las Vegas.

“My whole life, it’s all been about making it to the NFR,” he said. “It’d mean the world, and it’s what I’ve been waiting for my whole life. That’s what it’s all about!”