LAUGHLIN, Nev. – It was almost the end of the 2013 Built Ford Tough World Finals and Eduardo Aparecido had no idea if he would be coming back to the United States in 2014.
Even though he had been in the thick of the Rookie of the Year race with 2013 winner Joao Ricardo Vieira, he wasn’t sure if he quite had the experience or ability to be a true contender for the world title. The Built Ford Tough Series was a long grind on his body and mind, and he had almost had enough following 23 events.
“Last year was hard because I kept bucking off, and when I bucked off I would get hurt,” Aparecido admitted with the help of Megan Bradford translating. “If I wasn’t hurt, I was hurting.”
He was 23 years old and competing in a completely foreign country. His family was back home in Brazil, and even though he was living with Vieira in Decatur, Texas, everything was so mysterious and unknown to him.
Neither of the riders could speak English. They were in a different country, around a new language and trying to ride the rankest bulls they had ever encountered.
The transition wasn’t easy and certainly not always enjoyable.
Then something clicked for Aparecido. In the fifth round of the Finals, he rode Bad to the Bone for 87.75 points and it was in that moment inside the Thomas & Mack Center that he realized this is where he wanted to be.
He was beginning to build on his friendships with other Brazilians who had made the transition, Silvano Alves and Emilio Resende, and believed he could ride at the elite level.
“I decided on Saturday night in Las Vegas that I would return,” said Aparecido, who finished 2013 ranked seventh in the world. “I had ridden my bull and decided that was the best place to ride a bull, here in the United States. I got my mindset around riding bulls here, being in the best place and that is when I decided this is where I want to stay and ride.”
In 2014, Aparecido is riding almost identical to how he was last season. His 47.54 percent riding average is the third best in the PBR for riders who have competed in 20 or more events and the percentage is just about even with his 2013 rate (47.14 percent). Aparecido is also currently ninth in the world standings heading into this weekend’s Desert Showdown in Laughlin. He earned his first BFTS victory in Nampa, Idaho, by going 3-for-3.
The 24-year-old meets Wicked in Friday night’s 15/15 Bucking Battle, which can also be seen on CBS on Saturday at 2 p.m. ET.
The Gouvelandia, Brazil, native began the second half of the season on a tear, riding five of his first six bulls to soar up to sixth in the world after entering the Tulsa, Oklahoma, event 15th. He has cooled off some as of late (1-for-6), but he is only 2,188.07 points behind Vieira for the world lead.
However, the biggest evolution this year for Aparecido may be his happiness. He admits last year was not always enjoyable. He missed his wife, Kelly, and two daughters, Maria Eduarda and Maria Luiza, in Brazil. He also missed life on the ranch at home and was worried about his personal visa issues, which actually caused him to miss the 2014 season opener in New York.
He has lived with Emilio Resende this year and has spent a lot of time away from the arena team roping with Resende and Alves. It gives Aparecido – a header – a taste of home and he has adjusted to how to remain in contact with his family, who he still misses, back home.
“I have become more accustomed to it and still speak to them every day,” he said. “I have her send them kisses for me. It is also not that long. I go back every two or three months.”
At this time, he is unsure if his family will move to the United States. Aparecido is currently working on getting Kelly a visa for this year’s World Finals in Las Vegas.
There is happiness in Aparecido’s face at events now. He is relaxed, confident and just comfortable.
It can be heard in his calm voice, which was once shy and quiet.
“Yes, a lot more happy. I am a lot happier because I have become accustomed to how it is here – the place, the rodeos, the way of the bulls,” Aparecido said. “I have adapted completely to the culture.”
Part of his comfort comes from his budding friendship with Resende, who he has known for the last seven years, and Alves.
“They are family for me,” Aparecido said with the help of Marchi translating. “I have known Emilio for a long time and Silvano is a great buddy. He does all kinds of things for me. We train together and get on bulls during the week together. It’s been great living with them two guys.”
Alves said he has noticed a change in Aparecido this season.
“He is a good friend and a good guy,” Alves said. “He is in a different state. His mentality is good and he came back here with more confidence.”
Resende added, “Anything he needs, he ask us. We talk everyday about bull riding and about the season and about our families.”
Aparecido aspires to one day win the prestigious gold buckle that Alves has already won twice in his first three seasons. Originally, he doubted himself, but Aparecido knows what he wants to do more than ever.
“That is what is on my mind now, to be a World Champion,” he concluded.
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko.
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