NEW YORK – Mike Duncan stood atop the bucking chutes during this past weekend’s Monster Energy Buck Off at the Garden every time his son Douglas Duncan began to tie his hand into his bull rope.
Mike would offer an occasional word here or there, but for the most part he simply looked on as his son wiggled back and forth, attempting to get situated for his latest comeback from injury, while thousands of fans inside one of the world’s most iconic arenas stared down upon them.
For a brief moment, Mike’s eyes scanned the horizon.
It had been over 40 years since he last stepped inside Madison Square Garden when he was a bull rider competing at the Cowtown Rodeo in the early 1970s.
“It has been a long time since then,” Mike said. “To me, it was tremendous to come to this place. That was all you heard about. Madison Square Garden.”
The PBR has hosted nine bull riding events in New York since 2007, and Mike admitted that it is a different experience being in New York now than in the 1970s beyond just the new skyscrapers, the taxi cabs with smaller bumpers than he could remember or New York’s continuously bustling tourist industry.
In particular, he said he holds a special place in his heart for the city that felt the heartbreak and devastation of the September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center.
“I have a special place in my heart for these folks after 9/11,” Mike said. “I look at them from a whole different standpoint. It is very humbling when you come to New York now. It is great to be here in New York and I am just thrilled about the fans and the atmosphere.”
Along with the atmosphere of the Garden, he was also excited to be there as his son returned to competition for the first time since undergoing offseason surgery on his left thumb for the second time in less than five months.
Douglas originally had his thumb repaired in May after Last Cowboy Standing, but he ended up tearing a tendon in the thumb again while attempting to ride Stolen Cash in the second round of the Battle at the Beau last October in Biloxi, Mississippi.
He missed the final two weeks of the regular season before the 2014 Built Ford Tough World Finals where he went 0-for-4 trying to battle through the injury.
Following the Finals, Douglas went under the knife once again. This time, the surgeon put a wire meshing around two pins that were inserted into the tendon to hopefully prevent the injury from reoccurring in 2015.
Douglas, who credited his dad and mother, Melody, for always supporting his bull riding career, said the thumb does feel better, except there is one catch.
“It is numb, just from both of those surgeries,” Douglas said. “It was already pretty numb from the first surgery, but now it is really numb.”
The 27-year-old later added, “It is probably better that I can’t feel it at all. When it was torn and I was riding with it, I dang sure could feel it.”
He was “so thankful” that the PBR had moved the New York event back a few weeks because he knew that he was going to miss the first two BFTS events of the season.
“It is my favorite event,” Douglas said. “I knew I was going to have to miss the first two events. It is just awesome. They had traffic shutdown over here in front of Times Square to get the 18 wheeler of bucking bulls coming through and there are people walking with briefcases and they are just in awe.”
Douglas was medically cleared to compete two days before New York and arrived without getting on any practice bulls or the ability to work out as much as he would have liked this offseason. He had to ditch the traditional pull-ups and pushups he was accustomed to doing and instead relied on core exercises with a medicine ball.
He also stayed active on horseback – a similar tactic that Reese Cates used when he was recovering from shoulder surgery – to work on improving his balance once he was cleared to ride bulls again.
“Douglas doesn’t whine about anything,” his father said. “All he does is try to fix what is broken. He is relentless.”
Douglas admits that ideally he would have waited an additional two or three weeks before returning. However, he had already missed the opportunity to gain points at BlueDEF Velocity Tour and Touring Pro Division events and knew he needed to get to work before falling too far behind in the world standings.
“It is not really like you can take a break because the tour goes on with or without you, so you have to keep on keeping on,” Douglas said. I don’t get paid unless I ride. It is not even the pay. I want to win and I want to be competitive, but even I know that it is hard enough to win at 100 percent, much less at 50 or 60.”
Missing the last two and a half months pales in comparison to the first major injury that rocked his career nine years ago and forever shaped his bull riding career.
Douglas had just gotten done signing the paperwork to send to the PBR to receive his pro card when he broke his pelvis two weeks after his 18thbirthday after being stepped on.
It was at the same time that his buddies L.J. Jenkins, J.B. Mauney and Brian Canter were getting ready to begin their own professional careers, which made the injury that much tougher.
“That one was probably the toughest, just because I couldn’t get on a bull physically for two years,” said Douglas, who would also be diagnosed with a sports hernia. “Right when you turn professional. My whole life had led up to it. It was a big blow to my ego. I got put in check. That really changed the way I approached everything. That created my workout habits. I knew if I was going to get hurt again, it wasn’t going to come from being out of shape or not being physically and mentally prepared.”
Mike remembers seeing Douglas’ determination every day of the rehab process.
“If he would have wanted to quit, we would have quit and started doing something else,” Mike said. “Douglas came back every day relentless.”
Douglas said, “I never lost focus. I never lost determination and I knew where I was going to be.”
The Alvin, Texas, bull rider eventually returned to competition by winning the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association southwest title and advanced to the College National Finals in 2007.
He turned pro in 2008 and won the PRCA rookie of the year title that same season. He then nearly won the 2009 PRCA bull riding championship before he suffered a season-ending broken leg.
He competed in his first BFTS event in 2009 and is now in his seventh season on tour. The injuries have never completely gone away and Douglas, who has received injections to help ease the pain in his chronically injured hips, knows he will need to have a hip replacement once his riding days come to an end.
Mike hopes his son can finally have a relatively healthy season.
“I know he wants to win a World Championship so bad and I wanted him to win the world in the PRCA before he came here, but it didn’t work out that way,” Mike said. “It’s been a great ride for him in the PBR, I just wish he could have one year where he is injury free.”
In New York, Douglas, who was also using a new Brazilian-style bull rope, was able to prove to himself that he is ready to go this season even if his thumb may be a tad bit numb.
He rebounded from his first-round buckoff against Botox, to ride Santiago for 84 points in Round 2 and Walking Through White for 84.25 points in Round 3.
What was impressive about his third-round ride is that it came shortly after he rode Get Western and accepted his re-ride opportunity. There wasn’t much time before he was climbing back on board Santiago.
“Last night (Round 1), I was so worried about my thumb because I knew I came back a little early,” Douglas said. “With me coming back before and tearing it right off again I didn’t know how it was going to feel. Using a new Brazilian rope I had never used, not being on a bull since Finals and just a lot of stuff played into it.”
Even though he bucked off I’m a Gangster Too in the championship round at the 2.86-second mark, Douglas said, “I’m back.”
His dad agrees.
“He has come a long way,” Mike concluded. “I don’t think he is finished yet.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko.
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