PUEBLO, Colo. – A veteran of six surgeries before the age of 27, one could completely understand if Reese Cates felt jaded or angry about how his eight-year career has gone since turning professional in 2008.
However, the 2008 Rookie of the Year may have actually become a stronger bull rider because of the injury cloud that has followed him for most of his professional career.
“Man, you cannot replace the learning experiences,” Cates said. “I am not happy that I ever got injured, but I am thankful for the things I have gone through that have gotten me to where I am at right now.”
That kind of attitude that helped Cates bounce back in 2015 with a 17th-place finish in the world standings – his highest since 2008 – and has helped Cates remain composed despite an offseason broken leg that he sustained while roping calves on a young horse in the rain in November.
Dr. Tandy Freeman operated on the leg, inserting a plate and eight screws to help heal the injury, and Cates, who has a follow-up appointment with Freeman on Monday, believes he will be good to go by the time the 2016 BFTS season-opener arrives on Jan. 9 in Chicago.
“The leg is doing good,” Cates said. “This should be my last appointment. I have been in physical therapy and been back working out. Seeing as we only have a few weeks until the season starts back it is time for me to really be pushing it. I have had to miss a lot of the preparation time because of my leg and now that everything is healed up and ready to go I should be ready to go in Chicago.
“If I hadn’t broken my leg I know I would have gone to those BlueDEF events and I know that I probably wouldn’t have given myself the time to relax and let my body kind of heal up from the Finals and the season last year with my bicep injury and all that stuff. So in a roundabout way it hasn’t been a bad thing. Now that I am nearly cleared to do anything, it kind of puts that pressure on you that you don’t really have any time to waste. You can’t waste any of those opportunities. It is kind of crunch time to get ready for the season in my opinion.”
Cates was a BFTS alternate at the beginning of last season when he won the season-opener in Baltimore and then four weeks later he was standing on top of the shark cage at Sleep Train Arena as the event winner in Sacramento, California.
In addition to the two BFTS wins, The El Dorado, Arkansas, native also won the Billings, Montana, 15/15 Bucking Battle with a 90.5-point ride on Boot Jack and also won the BlueDEF Tour event in Salinas, California.
Cates finished the season 21-for-71 (29.58 percent) and set career-highs in Top-5 finishes (five) and Top-10s (six). His 21 rides were four more than his previous three BFTS season totals combined.
The 26-year-old’s two BFTS wins were the first of his career. He also competed in 26 BFTS events – his most since 2009.
“Whenever I was out, I got to work so much on the mental aspect of the sport that I got myself convinced that if I wasn’t having fun, I didn’t need to be doing it,” Cates said. “That is the reason I started riding bulls, because I had fun and that is the reason I am going to continue riding bulls because I have fun and I enjoy it. Win, lose or draw, we are here living our dream and that is as much as anybody can ever ask for.”
Cates mindset wasn’t always positive, and rightfully so.
After bursting onto the scene as a 19-year-old rookie, finishing 11th in the world, his career began to take an unexpected turn for the worst. He would only finish in the Top 35 of the world standings one more time (32nd 2011) in the next six seasons as a slew of injuries/surgeries would begin to take their toll.
First there was the 2009 groin injury that has hindered him ever since and then there was the 2013 practice pen incident when Cates sustained three fractured ribs and a collapsed lung that ended his season.
He then missed six months in 2014 because of reconstructive shoulder surgery after injuring his right shoulder at the BFTS event in Phoenix.
Once again frustration and a defeated mindset began to take over for Cates. For the second consecutive year, his season was all but over because of an injury.
Although this time, Cates was challenged by a new friend to strengthen his thought process. San Diego Padres starting pitcher Andrew Cashner had met Cates earlier in the week in Phoenix and the two had started to become good friends.
Casher, who grew up riding on horseback and calf roping in Conroe, Texas, challenged Cates to think about how he could build off this experience and become a stronger athlete.
“That is the way you have to look at injuries,” Cates said. “Hey, this is an opportunity for me to come back even better than I could if I had been on the road and I had been riding.”
Cashner had gone through his own shoulder injuries and the ups-and-downs of being a prized young prospect that then became labeled as “injury prone.”
As he sat in the emergency room there in Phoenix last season, he couldn’t help but feel for Cates.
“Just being an athlete, you are never going to always be on top,” Cashner said in August. “At some point, you are going to fail or you are going to deal with injuries or adversity. There are going to be periods of time of where things don’t go your way. I think the biggest thing is more on challenging your thought process of everyday thinking. When you get hurt in anything, you kind of go to the lowest of the lows. You can’t do what you love or what you have been training to do. I just challenged him to read this book (“The Secret”) and not just read the book and put it away, but to more so live each day by challenging yourself to think certain ways or to do certain things.”
Cates took Cashner’s advice to heart, and he also read “The Secret,” an inspirational book by Rhonda Byrne.
The bull rider spent the next six months rehabbing his shoulder, while also building up his mental strength by also participating in a couple of sessions with a sports psychologist.
“My buddy Cashner. I have to give him the most credit,” Cates said. “He had gone through a similar situation with his shoulder, except his was costing him way more money. He was pitching in the Majors for the Chicago Cubs and when he got traded to the San Diego Padres he had to figure out a way to stay positive through all of that to come back stronger.
“That is the ultimate goal whenever you get injured – to come back stronger.”
The two athletes have remained close since Phoenix. They still talk frequently and they even went hunting with Chase Outlaw during the 2014 offseason.
This offseason Cates and Cashner’s schedules have not matched up, but Cates and Outlaw have been able to go on multiple hunting trips together.
Both Cates and Cashner agreed that having someone to talk to outside of their respective sports has been beneficial.
“I think a lot of our lives are the same and the fears and all that kind of stuff are the same, as far as failure and being away from home a lot,” Cashner said.
Cates added, “Anytime that a guy has to sit out and then they come back, you are always rooting for them. Then whenever they do capitalize on those opportunities, you have to be happy for them. You have to use that to help motivate you. If a guy can sit out that long and then come back and do it, why can’t you?
“True champions can find strength through adversity.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
A portion of this story ran in the 2015 8 Seconds Vol. 2 Game Program
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