By: Justin Felisko
January 11, 2016
DENVER – Mike Lee was preparing his bull rope on Saturday night inside the locker room at Allstate Arena when he was informed that he was closing in on 500 career qualified rides on the Built Ford Tough Series.
Lee stopped aggressively using his wire brush to clean off his bull rope and glanced up.
“Didn’t Guilherme (Marchi) do that?” Lee asked before adding, “I hate coming in second. I might last a little longer, but I don’t know.”
Then the 2004 World Champion laughed.
Lee finished this weekend’s Chicago Invitational 2-for-3 and now has 484 qualified rides in his 15-year BFTS career.
He rode Strong Heart for 86 points in Round 1 and Lieutenant Dan for 85.75 points in Round 2. He finished 10th overall in the event
Barring injury, Lee will join Marchi as the second rider in PBR history to achieve 500 career rides.
It is an impressive record and one that few will ever achieve.
“Shoot, I am an older guy on tour so it is probably expected,” Lee said. “I just go as hard as I can and I love what I do.”
Lee is competing this week at the BlueDEF Tour event in Denver. The event will be streamed exclusively on PBR LIVE starting at 9 p.m. ET on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
He is currently ranked fifth in the world standings and trails world leader Paulo Lima by 330 points.
In fact, what makes Lee’s eventual accomplishment even more remarkable is that he has done it while competing nearly yearlong.
Very rarely has Lee ever taken a break and, according to Probullstats.com, Lee has nodded his head at various levels of competition more than 100 times in each of the past 10 seasons.
The 32-year-old has nearly 800 qualified rides at all levels of competition and more than 1,500 outs.
Even more impressive is that those numbers don’t include the endless number of practice bulls, open bull ridings and other bulls that Lee has been on since beginning to ride bulls as a kid.
The Decatur, Texas, bull rider likely has more than 1,000 qualified rides and 2,000 outs.
With that kind of wear and tear on his body, it isn’t always easy waking up in the morning.
An easy task such as putting on his socks can be harder than making the 8-second mark.
“You crawl out of bed and you try and get your socks on. It is really hard to get your socks on when your back is really sore,” Lee said. “You take a really hot bath and you try and stretch it out before you get on another bull.”
Lee then laughs again.
To him it is just part of his lifestyle.
While it may not be the easiest, it is what he loves to do. Lee’s passion for the sport has not gone unnoticed by Ty Murray and Cody Lambert.
“If you don’t truly love it, then you are not going to set benchmarks,” Murray said. “That is just how it is. Mike Lee is a guy that you can tell loves bull riding.”
Lambert added, “When you reach that number, it is a lot closer to the end than it is to the beginning. The impressive thing about Mike Lee is all of the other places he rode at along the way and he still continues to right now.”
Lee credits his wife, Dana, and his family for helping him remain positive throughout his career when he may be in more pain than usual or begins to doubt himself.
“Soreness is part of the game,” he said. “Pain is part of the game. Shoot, I am pretty used to pain by now. I might get a little grumpy, but my wife is usually the only that knows when I am in pain.”
Lee added that working out and being mentally focused are not the only habits that have helped him continue traveling up and down the bull riding trail while other veterans tend to compete in fewer non-BFTS events.
“I don’t know. 100 percent is God is keeping me here,” Lee said. “That is probably the only reason I am here. There are some people in my life like my wife and my family that never really quit on me. No matter how bad it gets or how wrong I am, they keep supporting me. That is the important stuff. That is the stuff you need to keep in your back pocket and not let anyone else mess with.”
Lee is sixth all time in PBR career earnings with $3,714,958.24. When he won his World Championship in 2004, it was the PBR’s second year awarding its champion the $1 million bonus.
Despite all of the wear and tear on his body, he seemingly never slows down.
“I mean. It is who I am. It is kind of weird,” he said. “It is hard for everybody to kind of understand. When you are a child, you start a career and you never stop. To take that away from a person is kind of like taking away oxygen or something.
“It isn’t an easy life to live as a bull rider, but it could be a lot of fun and profitable. You have to be pretty mentally strong and just roll with the punches. Enjoy life and don’t get to serious about things.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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