PUEBLO, Colo. – It is sometimes not so easy for riders to let go of their failures at a Built Ford Tough Series event when the lights of the arena go dark and the dirt from an event is hauled away.
Instead, their shortcomings and disappointment can sometimes linger and that defeated feeling can follow the riders back to their hotel rooms or all the way home.
Dana Lee felt her husband Mike’s pain, frustration and disappointment throughout the first 10 Built Ford Tough Series events this season. She witnessed the doubt creeping into his mind, and she could see the soreness and fatigue setting into his 31-year-old body.
All she wanted to do was take it away for him.
“You want to do it for him,” Dana said. “You don’t want him to struggle. You want to heal the injuries. You want him to not have any injuries. You want him to have everything. We ride the bulls with him. Every jump you are there and you feel that excitement for him and you feel that pain and that disappoint he has in himself.”
Therefore, you can bet how excited she was Saturday night when she saw her husband grinning from ear to ear as he walked to the top of the shark cage in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to receive the belt buckle for winning the First PREMIER Bank PREMIER Bankcard Invitational.
It was Mike’s first victory since winning the Laughlin, Nevada, BFTS event last August.
“We are so happy for him,” Dana said with the Lees’ 1-year-old- son, Peter, in her arms. “As long as he is happy, that is all I care about. We will be cheering for him whether he bucks off at 1 second, 7.99 seconds or rides every bull.”
Mike began the weekend with an 86-point ride on Strong Heart to earn 30 of his 530 total points for placing fifth in the round.
Following Round 1, Mike admitted that he has been struggling with his confidence.
“I ain’t going to lie. It has been freaking real bad,” Lee said. “It was all in my head. It is funny, I am a World Champion, but sometimes I have no confidence.”
He has finished within the Top 10 of the world standings the past two seasons, but he had gone 13-for-40 since winning in Laughlin. The 32.5 percent riding average was far below his career BFTS average of 48.66 percent.
Dana said the couple has talked about Mike’s doubts many times.
She “gingerly” tries to remind him that he still has what it takes to compete on the BFTS.
It is the confidence thing,” she said. “It goes back and forth. ‘Can I still be here?’ He always discredits himself and he says in 2004 the bulls were different. ‘They weren’t as good as they are now.’
“But he has been on tour every year since then, so he needs to take a step back and realize it and remember that.”
Mike added, “Me and Dana are kind of the same. We have been married long enough where we have turned into one person. My struggles are hers and her struggles are mine. She just tells me to quit thinking about it and quit fighting, just go have fun and believe in yourself. It is nice to have someone believe in you all of the time, even when things are bad.”
The Lees were married in 2012.
Mike’s position in the world standings is not nearly as bad as compared to when he first arrived at the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center on Friday afternoon. He began the weekend on the verge of being cut from the BFTS and was the No. 33 bull rider in the world before leaving Sioux Falls as the No. 15 rider after accumulating 530 points.
Beyond winning the event average and its 400-point bonus, Lee picked up 100 points for winning the second round with an 88.75-point ride onCooper Tires Semper Fi.
“Yeah, this helps me believe in myself,” Lee said. “I just have to keep working out and keep doing my yoga and not be lazy. No matter how much chaos is at home, I have a lot of stuff to do at home, I need to put it all aside and remember what the priorities are at the arena.”
Beyond being a father to three kids, he also runs a trucking company and has a group of bulls on his Decatur, Texas, ranch.
There are many things needed to be accomplished throughout the day. Not to mention just trying to train and rehab his body that has withstood more than 13 years of wear and tear from the PBR.
“A lot of things can be going on,” he said. “My kid can be throwing up one morning or my bulls can break the satellite dish or break the fence. I have four or five trucks on the road and truck drivers that sometimes can complain a lot. There are a lot of things that can go wrong.”
Dana knows her husband can feel the added pressure of taking caring of X, Y, and Z. However, she tries to convince him to sleep in a little bit later and to take care of his body.
CBS Sports Network color commentator J.W. Hart agrees with Mike that it can be harder for guys during the later portion of their careers when they have family/responsibilities at home versus just being a single guy chasing a gold buckle.
“I can say from experience that when you are single and kind of living out of a gear bag, you are just going with the flow and going where you want to be with the wind in your hair and you are chasing a dream,” he said. “Nothing else is more important, but when you get kids at home, have a family, you have a ranch, you have cattle, you have this, you have that – it takes a big toll on you. You start maturing into the things that are more important to you.”
Hart didn’t get married until the latter half of his career (2005) and didn’t start a family until after he retired (2008).
“Looking back, I couldn’t imagine having a wife and kids at home and leaving and coming to this port. It ain’t like you are leaving to go to Pensacola, Florida, to play 18 holes of golf or whatever. You are coming to a bull riding and it is a generous sport. I don’t know how guys stay focused and do it with a family.”
Mike explained, “You have to learn to be OK with the chaos and enjoy it.”
He also was able to enjoy a BFTS victory and the notion that he indeed still has what it takes to compete against the top bucking bulls in the world.
The foggy cloud of doubt in his mind has finally cleared.
“I just got in my head,” Mike concluded. “I was making this into a job instead of having fun riding bulls.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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