PUEBLO, Colo. – 2014 was a year of career and life milestones for Tanner Byrne.
The 22-year-old made his Built Ford Tough World Finals debut, rode at a career-high 15 Built Ford Tough Series events, won the 2014 Glen Keeley Award and, most of all, married his childhood sweetheart, Meghan, in August.
“I got married, so that was awesome,” Byrne said. “She is a big supporter of me, and my whole family supports me hugely. They always come to events and are a part of my team. I always say I don’t feel like it is just me out there riding, I have a full team. It was the best year of my life so far and kind of my breakout year in the PBR.”
In the arena, Byrne finished the year 14th in the world standings thanks to a strong seventh-place performance at the World Finals, as well as four Top-5 finishes and five Top-10s to go along with a 50 percent riding average. He joined Silvano Alves (54.35 percent) and Fabiano Vieira (54.55 percent) as the only riders to finish the season with a riding average at or better than 50 percent.
Byrne also earned the most points in the world standings for any Canadian-born bull rider to claim his first career Glen Keeley Award.
“It was amazing to receive the Glen Keeley Award,” Byrne said. “It has definitely been my goal forever. As a Canadian, that is one of the biggest things you can win if you are the best Canadian bull rider in the world. I have known about the award for a lot of years and was really honored to have my name beside it. Glen Keeley was just an amazing ambassador for the sport and a great person and a great Canadian. Anytime you can win an award named after a great man like that, you know you have done something good. It was one of my goals for the year, and to achieve that was a job well done and hopefully I can win it many more years to come.”
Byrne made his 2014 debut in Phoenix and rode all three of his bulls, including Compact for a career-high 88 points in the Built Ford Tough Championship Round, to finish second to J.B. Mauney. His perfect performance helped him jump to 28th in the world standings at the time and he remained on tour ever since.
The following week in Tacoma, Washington, he tied for second-place and he would notch one more second-place showing this year in Laughlin, Nevada.
The 6-foot-4 bull rider started off his first career World Finals 3-for-4 and was trying to make a late push for the 2014 PBR Rookie of the Year title before bucking off I’m Your Huckleberry and Mick E Mouse.
“It was a really good finish,” he said. “It wasn’t a 100 percent finish – I didn’t win the Rookie of the Year title or the (World Finals) – but you have to take what you can. I only got to go to 15 events and to finish at the World Finals going into my first year there was a lot of nerves and jitters and I just had to roll on with it and let my riding take over.”
Byrne later added, “The Finals, I expect to win every time. I know I am good enough to be there and I know I am even better than I showed there. It was a stepping stone and a good first Finals, and I can grow on that.”
What made Byrne’s World Finals showing that much impressive was the fact that his riding hand would sometimes go numb around the 6-second mark of a ride because of a lingering wrist injury on his riding hand, which he first sustained in Canada during the summer break.
“That was the one thing that was hindering me during the whole second half of the year,” Byrne said. “It would numb about every 6 or 7 seconds and I could start to feel it and I was just kind of hanging on and hoping I would hold onto my rope.”
The injury limited him to only nine ride attempts in the second half and, of course, put a damper on a strong start to his BFTS career. Even with the frustration though, he credited Meghan for keeping him positive.
“She is always there,” Tanner said. “I get down on myself and when I start to freak out or something when I buck off she just tells me or makes sure I realize that it isn’t the end of the world.”
After placing sixth at the PBR Canada Finals last weekend, Byrne plans to rest for the next six weeks before the Built Ford Tough Series resumes in Baltimore. His wrist has begun to feel better and he is able to work out with no limitations.
Most of all, Byrne hopes he can duplicate the success Matt Triplett had in 2014 and make a run at the world title next year. Triplett barely qualified for the 2013 World Finals, before using a strong performance there to spearhead him into the 2014 campaign.
“I look at a guy like Matt Triplett last year who snuck into the 2013 Finals and had a great Finals and coming into 2014 ended up third in the world,” Byrne said. “It is pretty cool. You have to set goals for yourself and you have to have confidence to achieve those goals and I feel like I am a top contender in the bull riding game and I feel like next year I will be going for that World Championship.
“That will be my goal until the end of my career.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko.
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