By: Justin Felisko June 24, 2015 @ 07:00:00 PM
PUEBLO, Colo. – Riley Samford was 12 years old when he would head south of Abilene, Texas, to J.W. Harris’ house in May, Texas.
Samford – an aspiring bull rider at the time – would look on in awe as Harris would get on bull after a bull with a look of determination unlike any of the other older teenagers that were nodding their head aboard some of J.W.’s dad’s bulls.
“Up until he was 18 or 19 he was just a regular bull rider like any other kid,” Samford said, “but the whole time he was growing up, I would see him get on 15-16 bulls a day while the most anybody else was getting on was five or six. Before you knew it by the time he was 20 he had trained himself to be that good. Like, that was all he has ever done and all he ever wanted.”
Harris added, “I have known him ever since I was a kid. Him and his dad would bring bulls over and I would get on bulls for them and stuff. I had just known them my whole life, they don’t live very far from me.”
Eventually, Harris turned professional and went on to win four PRCA championships, while Samford focused his attention on the stock contracting business.
Despite going down different paths in the forks in the road, the two have remained close and have recently teamed up for this weekend’s Touring Pro Division event in Abilene.
Samford, who grew up just outside of Abilene, reached out to Harris earlier this year about renaming his TPD event, now in its second year, the J.W. Harris Challenge Big Country PBR.
Harris went 2-for-3, including an 89.5-point ride on Kung Fu Fighter, to win the inaugural event last year.
“He did it last year and I went to it and it was a good event,” Harris said. “He asked me if he could put my name on it and I said, ‘Yeah, sure.’ I have helped him try and sell some sponsors and get some other stuff lined up for it and stuff like that. Hopefully, it will be another good one.”
Harris is scheduled to compete, as well as fellow BFTS riders Douglas Duncan and Stormy Wing. The event will also feature some up-and-coming ABBI Classic Bulls, says Samford.
“I have one of Chad Berger’s bulls here that he bought this year and left with me to take to the Classics because I go to most of them,” Samford said. “He won the Classic in Stephenville, Texas, earlier this year and his name is Pile Driver. I also have Crazy Days, one of my bulls in the Top 10 of the Classic standings. Then I have another bull that belongs to some guys in Abilene who is called Red Moon. He is third or fourth in the Classic standings. I also have J.D. Dunn bringing Wired Child. He won the Classic in Colorado Springs.”
There will be a mini-bareback riding competition for kids in between the long round and the championship round.
Harris said his leg has improved since being stepped on by Black Jack at Cody Ohl’s TPD event in Hico, Texas last month. That injury combined with his nagging arm injury led to him opting out of Last Cowboy Standing and the Built Ford Tough Ring of Honor: Unfinished Business pay-per-view in Decatur, Texas.
“The bull went and turned back right into the gate, and he posted me and sored my leg up,” Harris said. “So shoot, I figured I have been on to many bulls in my life. I figured I would take a month off and get maybe healed up a bit.”
The bigger cause for concern was the numbness that Harris was dealing with in his riding arm following the Seattle Invitational when he was slammed twice by Smooth Operator. In Bismarck, Harris explained that his injury was eventually diagnosed as thoracic outlet syndrome.
“What they finally decided to call it was outlet syndrome,” Harris said. “From having too many stingers, it pretty much finally caught up with me.”
Harris took a month off and did various exercises with resistance bands at home before returning earlier this month at a couple of rodeos. He then went 0-for-2 at the Dakota Community Bank & Trust BlueDEF Velocity Tour event in Bismarck, North Dakota.
“It feels good. It didn’t go numb on me,” Harris said. “It makes you feel stupid. It is something I should have done a long time ago and I wouldn’t have had the problem.”
Harris went 1-for-9 following Seattle and said that the injury didn’t cause him much pain, but it was more of a nuisance.
“Nothing hurts,” Harris said. “It was just numb and it was just aggravating. No matter what I did it would just go numb. You go to thinking about it. Is it going to go numb on me? Is it not going to go numb on me? That was more of a mental block than anything.”
Harris heads to Abilene as the No. 9 bull rider in the world standings. He trails Joao Ricardo Vieira by 1,952.5 points.
He is no stranger to putting together memorable comebacks. Of course, last year he rallied at the World Finals to win the PBR 2014 Rookie of the Year title. Then there was his 2010 PRCA title that he won by going 7-for-10 at the National Finals Rodeo to rally from eighth in the world standings.
Harris knows he needs to get ready to put another run together sooner rather than later if he hopes to add a PBR world title to his resume.
“Shoot, I am going to hammer down and try and make up some ground that I lost,” Harris said. “I have a lot of catching up to do, so you just put the deal to the metal and see what happens.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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