PUEBLO, Colo. ― Three years ago, Clayton Baethge couldn’t walk because of a broken right femur.
Sunday, he will step into AT&T Stadium with an opportunity to walk away with $1 million at THE AMERICAN.
The Johnson City, Texas, native earned the final qualifier spot for the upcoming rodeo in Arlington, Texas, which is the richest one-day rodeo in the history of the sport, by winning the Mesquite, Texas, Touring Pro Division event this past weekend with a 90-point ride aboard Morning After.
“Man, my heart was racing,” Baethge said. “I was so pumped up. It was just like so exciting. It was totally crazy.”
Baethge was able to make the 8-second mark after the bull burst out of the chutes before turning back into his hand. He admits he didn’t even hear the whistle go off inside the arena and just held on until he thought it been long enough.
There were a variety of emotions running through Baethge’s mind late Saturday night and early Sunday morning. The adrenaline rush of his first 90-point ride in close to four years had him certainly excited, but Baethge also had the overwhelming rush of nerves weighing on his mind as he stood behind the chutes Sunday at Resistol Arena.
All he could do was watch on as rider after rider attempted to knock him off the top pedestal of the three-day event.
“I went over there and watched everybody,” Baethge explained on Monday night. “I was nervous. Shoot, I wanted everybody to ride good and do all that, but I just wanted everybody to be 89.5 points. I didn’t want anybody to go 90 points.
“I just hoped they all did good, and as long as they came up half a point short, we would have been fine.”
Baethge was more than fine, finishing ahead of Scottie Knapp (88 points),Ty Pozzobon (88), Joseph McConnel (86.5) and Bonner Bolton (86) to seal his spot in the upcoming draw for THE AMERICAN.
The 24-year-old joins Tanner Byrne, Stormy Wing, Matt Triplett, Jory Markiss and Matt Triplett as qualifier winners. The five qualifiers, along with bull riding exemption invitee and two-time PBR World ChampionJustin McBride, will be eligible to take home a share of $1 million if one of them can be victorious in THE AMERICAN’s bull riding event – which also features the Top 10 PBR riders from 2013: J.B. Mauney, Silvano Alves,Joao Ricardo Vieira, Guilherme Marchi, Cody Nance, Marco Eguchi,Eduardo Aparecido, L.J. Jenkins, Shane Proctor (not competing due to injury) and Mike Lee.
THE AMERICAN takes place a day after the PBR’s Dr Pepper Iron Cowboy V, which is slated for Saturday at AT&T Stadium.
Baethge, who has competed in 16 Built Ford Tough Series events – his last being Biloxi, Miss., last year – says THE AMERICAN is going to provide him a great opportunity to build on his confidence and judge himself against some of the sport’s greatest riders and rankest bulls.
“I just think it will make me ride to the best of my ability knowing I am there against that quality of people. I think it’s better for me and it will make me try harder.”
Saturday night was Baethge’s first 90-point ride since he rode Tower 59 for 90 points in Casper, Wyo., in March 2010. A month earlier, he had earned 90.75 points on Far West at the Built Ford Tough Series event in Oklahoma City.
However, the next two seasons saw Baethge get struck by the injury bug. In 2011, he suffered a broken right femur when he was stepped on by a practice bull and was only able to compete in two events.
Then in 2012, he also suffered a hip/back injury at a San Antonio rodeo that hindered his performance and resulted in him missing just over a month of action.
“I couldn’t get away from the accidents in those two years to save anything,” Baethge said. “It was horrible.”
The worst part was the fact that he had to work his way back, especially mentally.
“That was way worse,” Baethge explained. “Knowing that you had to start over and just it was the hardest part. It all came back though.”
Baethge hopes he can earn some significant prize money at THE AMERICAN to help his finances as he attempts to travel and compete at more TPD events with the ultimate goal, of course, to one day ride at the BFTS level again.
However, on Sunday, he will be focused on competing in one of the most historic events in Western sports history.
“It’s hard to put into words about how you feel about something like that,” Baethge concluded. “Bringing more history into (AT&T Stadium) is very awesome. Just getting this opportunity is a totally exciting feeling.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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