PUEBLO, Colo. – Things could have been very different for Nathan Schaper in 2014 if he hadn’t broken his left leg when Bushwacker stepped on him during the LiftMaster Invitational in Anaheim, California, in February.
At the time of the injury, Schaper was sitting seventh in the world standings and was fresh off his first career win by going 4-for-4 in Oklahoma City two weeks earlier.
Instead, Schaper would miss the ensuing five months of competition after having a 40-centimeter rod and four screws inserted into his leg and returned for the second half of the season trying to regain his previous form.
Schaper said he mentally felt ready to go during the second half. He also believed he was physically ready to compete and could potentially win a few events before the World Finals. Unfortunately, the 24-year-old came to realize he was still trying to readjust to facing the rankest bulls in the sport.
“Yeah, I thought it would come back a little better,” Schaper said. “The first four, five, six bulls I got on I was a little nervous. I wasn’t feeling too good. There were no nerves for me, really. I was mentally ready. It was just timing issues. Riding and getting in time with the bull. Fundamentals and everything was a little rusty.”
Schaper, who concluded 2014 ranked 31st in the world, went 6-for-24 in the second half and finished with only one Top-10 finish in the final eight BFTS events – a ninth-place showing at the final regular-season event in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Overall, he posted one Top-5 finish and three Top-10s to go along with his BFTS victory in Oklahoma City.
“It didn’t go as well as I planned during the last eight events we went to this fall, but I am going to take it as it comes and keep on going at them,” said the soft-spoken Grassy Butte, North Dakota, bull rider.
Although, the more telling tale is the fact that Schaper rode 17 of the 41 bulls he attempted on the BFTS in 2014. His 41.46 percent riding average was not only a career-best, but it was the ninth-best ratio on the BFTS.
Granted, it is a small sample size, but Schaper has shown improvement from his previous two seasons on the BFTS. He recently placed fifth at the PBR Canadian Finals two weeks ago.
Schaper made his BFTS debut at the 2010 event in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and competed in seven 2012 BFTS events before riding in 24 events in 2013.
Schaper felt like before the injury he was really beginning to take the turn in his career this year and admits it was a tough pill to swallow when he broke his leg.
“That was the toughest part about it,” he said. “I was sixth or seventh at the time. I knew I could do it and everything finally fell into place. I was able to win that event. I felt like I was riding really good at the time and could have done (more) at the following events.
“That is part of the sport and you have to deal with it and come back from it.”
During the rehab process, which included six weeks of being on crutches, Schaper continued his normal workout routine of participating in Insanity workouts and even began to mountain bike more as running was harder to return to.
He began to find some summer success in the Touring Pro Division, but to his disappointment, it wouldn’t transfer over to the BFTS.
Still, Schaper was happy to hold on to one of the final remaining spots in the world standings and qualify for his second career World Finals, along with guaranteeing himself a spot in the draw for the first five 2015 BFTS events.
Schaper went 1-for-5 at World Finals, riding Snap Back for 83.5 points.
“I was happy to make it,” Schaper said. “I was only able to go to 15 events. I was about 30th (in the standings) when I came back, and I was just kind of able to hold that spot in this last half of the year.”
While it was an unexpected turn to his season, Schaper hopes to build off the trials and tribulations of his young career.
“The sky is the limit for as hard as you try,” he said. “I am just going to really focus on that and give it everything I got.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko.
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