KISSIMMEE, Fla. – Ryan Gray was looking for a big win to start the new rodeo season, and he found it 2,850 miles from home on Oct. 4.
The Cheney, Wash., bareback rider won the Wrangler Champions Challenge, presented by Justin Boots, with an 81.5-point ride on Pete Carr’s Classic Pro Rodeo’s Bi-polar. Gray earned $5,780, but just as important as the money was the mental boost it gave him.
“This is exactly what I came down here to do,” Gray said of placing first. “I was excited to come to Florida; I didn’t want to leave home, but I told my wife before I left that I was coming to win first. It’s a huge win for me because I was out all summer, and most of the last season. Financially, it’s huge for my family, and it’s a big deal to get a jump on next year’s standings.”
Gray, who represented Team Justin Boots, battled through pain for several months during the 2014 season. He finally decided enough was enough, and had surgery to repair abdominal muscles and a torn groin in July.
He says the process was an unfamiliar rollercoaster, which was frustrating. After making it to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo eight of the past nine years, Gray finished outside the top 22 in the world standings for the first time since 2003.
“Being out all year was bittersweet because my wife (Lacy) and I had our first little boy in January, and I was able to spend 90 percent of my time at home with them,” Gray said. “It was kind of a blessing to be home and spend that time you can’t get back, because they’re only a baby once.”
While family time with Lacy and son, Ransom, was special for Gray, he never stopped craving rodeo. He says he’ll surely miss being in Las Vegas this December, but is now healthy and ready to start anew in 2015.
“I don’t feel any different now than I did before the injury,” the 31-year-old said. “I’ve been pretty fortunate in my career that I haven’t had too many injuries, and this one just happened to hit during the wrong time of the year. I’m excited for 2015, and was happy with the win tonight.”
Gray received a congratulatory video after his win in Kissimmee.
“Lacy and Ransom sent me a video telling me good job,” he said. “They’ll be excited to see me tomorrow, and I’m just as excited to see them. I feel like I’ve been riding well since I came back in August, but just hadn’t been able to get a big check until tonight. This felt really good.”
Other winners at the $132,000 rodeo were steer wrestler Dakota Eldridge, B&W Trailer Hitches (4.2 seconds), team ropers Clay Tryan and Jade Corkill, RAM (5.5 seconds), saddle bronc rider Jake Wright, B&W Trailer Hitches (84 points on Silver Spurs Club’s Best Hope), tie-down roper Matt Shiozawa, Pendleton Whisky (6.9 seconds), barrel racer Callie Duperier, Wrangler (17.43 seconds) and bull rider Parker Breding, Experience Kissimmee (87 points on Silver Spurs Club’s Stinky Sanchez).
B&W Trailer Hitches was the team winner for the night with total earnings of $15,980, edging Pendleton Whisky by just over a thousand dollars.
Courtesy of PRCA