OKLAHOMA CITY – Gage Gay dragged his bull rope into the silent Chesapeake Energy Arena locker room following his 4.64-second buckoff against Red Dingo Friday night.
He tossed his rope to the ground next to his stall before slumping into the wooden cubby. The 20-year-old gnawed on his mouth guard deep in thought, letting the anger and frustration of his ninth consecutive buckoff this season slowly slip away like the sweat on his pulsating brow.
2015 has merely not gone his way, and Friday night was another moment that left Gay searching for answers.
His season began with a disqualification in the bucking chute against King Buck in Baltimore, and the Staley, North Carolina, bull rider has only seen his struggles continue to pile up.
“I am just trying not to blow a gasket,” Gay admitted. “After being thrown off this many in a row, it just gets worse and worse every time. I really don’t know what it is. I just can’t figure it out.
Robson Palermo understands the frustrations that are running through Gay’s mind. The 31-year-old is off to the worst start in his career (1-for-9) and believes the main culprit of his struggles has been a mental block more than anything physical.
“Not having your mind right is hard,” he said. “When you start to fall off, it is bad. I know because I went through that a couple years ago. It takes a while.”
Palermo has bucked off six consecutive bulls, including Little Jacob in 7.56 seconds in Round 1 of the Express Employment Professionals Invitational on Friday night.
In past weeks, Palermo has appeared almost bewildered about what was going on with his performance, however, in the first round he showed the confidence to try and fight to the front of Little Jacob and attempt to work his way to the 8-second whistle.
“I feel good today,” Palermo said. “I got more confidence. I move a little bit better today. I threw my arm and I saw everything. I was kind of leaning back a little bit, but I was moving to the front.”
Palermo said his vision – figuratively speaking –returned as well. He admitted that in New York everything appeared like a blur once the gate swung open. He would blink his eyes and things weren’t slowing down like they normally do.
Therefore, when he returned from New York on Monday he immediately went to a friend’s house near Tyler, Texas, to get on practice bulls. After bucking off his first bull, he proceeded to make 8 seconds four times.
He was prepared to go at it again the following day before cooler temperatures hit Texas and his friend decided to not buck any more bulls.
Palermo also credited his wife, Priscila, who is six weeks pregnant with the family’s third child, for helping him through his struggles.
Gay, who even dabbled with a Brazilian bull rope earlier this season to no avail, also headed to the practice pen and an open bull riding event in Virginia this week.
Unlike Palermo, Gay wasn’t able to solve his rideless riddle.
“I got on two and they felt good, but I fell off both of them,” Gay said. “I don’t know. I am just having a hard time keeping them between two legs. I am not hurt. My thumb is giving me a problem like Douglas (Duncan’s), but that shouldn’t be throwing me off.”
Both riders agree that it is hard not to let the outside noise of critics and concerned fans affect them as well.
Palermo has received countless phone calls asking if his shoulders and bicep are OK following last year’s surgeries, and Gay’s struggles have been well documented on television broadcasts.
“Everybody says you can, but you can’t (block it out),” Gay said. “You can somewhat block it out, but you are still hearing them in the back of your mind saying, ‘He can’t do it, he can’t do it.’”
Palermo said, “I have so much stuff in my head. I kind of forgot what I need to do for my work to ride bulls. There is lots of talk about my health and people call me every day and ask. Everything is perfect.”
The three-time World Finals event winner says he knows he will break out of his slump, and he believes Gay can as well.
“I am one of the old guys and I know how to handle that,” Palermo said. “I know how to handle the pressure and everything. For young people, it is hard. It is the PBR and all of the lights. PBR makes you big. Some guys come over to the tour and have real potential and never come back. He can come back, but he needs to ride good.”
Palermo is currently 69th in the world standings and is only guaranteed one more BFTS event next week before being subject to a potential cut from tour. It can be daunting to face the harsh reality, but he isn’t concerned about having to battle his way back on tour if he has to.
“I was thinking about that too,” Palermo said. “I have been in the PBR since I started riding and I have never fallen off tour. You kind of worry about it and try to ride, but you just need to have fun. This points system is going to change a lot and lots of old guys are going to fall down and it is going to be hard to come back. I hope I make points to stay and not have to go to Touring Pros and all this stuff.
“If it happens, I will go to Touring Pros and get it right and make points and come back here. This is where I want to be until I stop riding bulls.”
Unlike Palermo, who finished 2014 35th in the world standings and is guaranteed five BFTS events, Gay is guaranteed eight BFTS events before being subject to the cut due to finishing within the Top 30 of the world standings (11th) last year.
He has yet to earn any points toward the 2015 standings.
Gay knows all it takes is one ride to swing the pendulum in the right direction.
“We all go through it no matter who you are,” Gay said. “J.B. Mauney goes through cold streaks, Silvano (Alves) does and I know I will come out of it soon. When I am on a buckoff streak like this, all of us know that is why it is so frustrating because it only takes one bull to get on track.
“I am just looking for that one right now.”
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