By: Justin Felisko
June 09, 2016
PUEBLO, Colo. – When Tanner Byrne became the first Canadian in over 12 years to win a Built Ford Tough Series event this past January, Byrne’s social media accounts and cell phone began to chirp, buzz and ring nonstop.
North of the United States border, bull riding fans were relishing in the fact that Tanner Byrne had finally broken through for the Great White North with a victory in Anaheim, California.
He then showed his Anaheim win was no fluke by winning the Duluth Invitational six weeks later and thrust himself right into the thick of the 2016 World Championship.
He may not have broken the country’s Stanley Cup drought, but he may be their best hope at bringing the PBR World Championship to a country not named the United States of America, Brazil or Australia.
“The people and the support they showed me afterwards was pretty amazing,” Byrne said. “With the whole country that is behind me and with social media and how everybody can get into it. Winning Anaheim and actually getting that first win with all the pressure of being the first Canadian to win one in so long behind it. Maybe winning it that event, I guess, kind of gave me the confidence that I can go win more.”
Byrne is 12th in the world standings and is 855.33 points behind world leader Kaique Pacheco. He is 17-for-42 and tied for the BFTS lead with two event victories.
Most of all, Byrne just turned 24 this week, putting him right there alongside the new generation of 8-second superstars.
“I kind of like seeing these guys come on tour, from the fire they got more than anything,” Byrne said. “You see how excited they are to be at the event and how everything just fell into place. It makes me work harder to do better because obviously these guys are wanting it more than anybody right now. They are going to come in and take it. It gets my fire going again.”
People often forget Byrne is still so young after seeing him grow up since beginning to ride full-time on the BFTS tour two seasons ago. He was always Dickies Bullfighter Jess Byrne’s Eifel Tower-tall younger brother in those first couple of years.
2014 was Byrne’s rookie year after making his debut at the Tulsa, Oklahoma, 2012 event. He married his childhood sweetheart Megan in August 2014 and he still lives in his childhood hometown of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. This year, the couple welcomed their first child, Layla, to the world 10 days after Byrne’s first victory.
Tanner even talks like he is a bit older than his fellow riders.
“I am not much older than them, but I have been on tour a little bit longer than them so I have a little more experience on the Built Ford Tough Series,” he said. “It is cool to see the sport and the young guys coming in and competing and making us guys on tour rethink things a little and step up our game.”
Every young rider on the Built Ford Tough Series goes through the growing pains of adjusting to competing alongside the Top 35 riders in the world. During that adjustment period, there comes a moment where a rider has to realize he is no longer competing alongside his heroes and idols.
Now, the job is to defeat them at their own game.
Byrne made that realization once he finally tasted victory in Anaheim.
He was no longer satisfied being a BFTS rider, it was now time to become a true believer that he could contend for a World Championship.
“You put it up on such a pedestal of winning an event and being in the Top 10,” Byrne said. “Mostly because as a kid you grew up idealizing those guys, watching those guys. They were your heroes doing that. It takes a bigger step to be able to do that in your own mind. Just the confidence and being comfortable realizing that I am that top caliber guy and it is a big deal, but the world isn’t going to end if you win an event or the world. It is just a confidence thing and having fun and not really overthinking stuff.”
During his first two seasons, Byrne admits he struggled with bouncing back from buckoffs and failures in the arena. He finished third in the 2014 Rookie of the Year Race and 15th in the world standings. In 2015, Byrne showed even greater promise with a third-place finish at the World Finals and finished eighth in the world standings.
Byrne has won the past two Glen Keeley Awards, which is awarded to the Canadian-born rider who earns the most world standings points.
Fellow Canadian rider Aaron Roy has won a PBR record five Glen Keeley Awards. In fact, Byrne and Roy’s first two seasons on the BFTS were very similar. Roy went 52-for-123 (42.27 percent) with two 90-point rides and Byrne went 56-for-124 (45.16 percent) with zero 90-point rides.
Roy has noticed a change in Byrne since he turned pro.
“What surprised me the most is he kind of stopped losing his cool,” Roy said. “He got rid of that and it kind of changed his whole riding style. He is a great guy and is riding phenomenal right now. He has one of the highest riding percentages in the PBR this year and his ability to stay on bulls impressed me. It doesn’t matter what bull they are, he finds a way to stay on.”
The two once again are battling it out for the Glen Keeley Award as Byrne’s role on the BFTS has continued to evolve. He is no longer just another young gun on the rise or Jesse Byrne’s cute little brother.
He has become the face of Canadian bull riders.
No Canadian-born rider has won the PBR World Championship and Byrne has repeatedly said that he wants to change that in the near future, regardless of his age or experience level.
“It is all good and fancy and fun, but I am here to win a World Championship and that is what I am going to strive for every weekend,” Byrne said. “I want to become the first Canadian to win a World Championship.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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