By: Justin Felisko
November 17, 2016
NEW TOWN, N.D. – It was 4:02 p.m. last Saturday when Mike Lee walked into the secretary’s office inside Citizens Business Bank Arena to pay his dues for the Real Time Pain Relief Velocity Tour event in Ontario, California.
Despite having 15 years of prior experience, the 2004 World Champion was still the first bull rider to show up for the event and had no qualms about having three hours to prepare for the kickoff event of the 2016 season.
“Well, I was trying to beat traffic,” said Lee, who was spending the night an hour away in Los Angeles.
All joking aside, the 33-year-old has made a habit out of always being one of the first bull riders at an event, regardless if it is a Built Ford Tough Series event or a lower-level Touring Pro Division event.
In fact, Ontario marked the beginning of Lee’s 16th season, which is the most in the PBR.
“That’s a lot of years, huh?” Lee quipped. “I feel great. I’ve been taking my vitamins. Total People Plus and Play Again Now.”
Lee, who was bucked off by Buckmaster in Ontario, is the only World Champion consistently competing at non-Built Ford Tough Series events on a yearly basis.
The Decatur, Texas, bull rider has attempted over 100 bulls at all levels of competition in 11 straight seasons and has been to nearly every location on the PBR calendar at least once.
He will add another pin to the map of places he has competed in this weekend when he nods for the gate inside the Four Bears Casino and Lodge Events Center in New Town, North Dakota.
Lee is one of 40 riders set to compete at the Real Time Pain Relief Velocity Tour event. RVT leader Reese Cates, 2016 PBR Brazil champion Dener Barbosa, Fabiano Vieira, Mason Lowe, Kasey Hayes, Gage Gay, Derek Kolbaba and North Dakota native Stetson Lawrence are just some of the top riders scheduled to tentatively compete.
“There is good money added here and I ride bulls for a living,” Lee said about his seemingly 365 days a year bull riding career. “That is pretty simple.”
2016 was a year of milestones for Lee. He joined 2008 World Champion Guilherme Marchi as the only riders in PBR history with 500 qualified rides on the BFTS and his 10th-place finish in the world standings was his seventh Top-10 finish of his career.
Lee went 24-for-87 (27.59 percent) on the BFTS this year with two second-place finishes, four Top-5s and 10 Top-10s.
He also competed in a PBR record 15th consecutive Built Ford Tough World Finals.
“I can ride a lot better than I did last year,” Lee said. “That says a lot. I was 10th last year and I can ride a lot better than that.”
In ways it is easy to forget that Lee did finish Top 10 in the world this past season. It also can seem like ages ago when Lee was a 21-year-old, wide-eyed kid winning the PBR World Championship and $1 million.
Yet when a rider has a gold buckle around his waist, a World Finals event win on his resume and 506 career rides on the BFTS, he shouldn’t be forgotten about.
The bull rider who very rarely boasts about his past world title or makes bold predictions about his future said he has the same goal that every rider has inside the locker room.
“It is a long shot to think it, but I want to get another world title,” Lee said. “I think I am capable of it.”
When Lee won the 2004 world title, he wasn’t talked about in the days leading into the Finals as a true contender. He then went 7-for-8 to steal the show and win the world.
In ways, another Lee championship in his 30s would be similarly just as shocking.
Nowadays, Lee admits “sometimes it surprises” him when he does reach the 8-second mark.
“I expected it more as a rookie,” Lee said. “I probably had more confidence than I do now. I was never really a confident person to be honest with you, but I have faith. That is what took me this far. If I didn’t have that, I wouldn’t be here.”
Outside of the confidence factor, Lee has to now deal with the realities of being a bull rider past his prime.
Just as two-time World Champion J.B. Mauney, who will be celebrating his 30th birthday in January, and Marchi have said, it gets harder to pick yourself off the dirt when you get tossed like a 30-something-year-old sack of potatoes.
“When you hit 30, stuff hurts more,” Lee said in agreement. “The pain is what gets old. Going home every night and trying to put your socks on and you quite reach your feet. Stuff like that. We just have to work harder than those younger guys.”
Lee is trying to the kick the nights of pulling into a McDonalds after a bull riding and ordering a cheeseburger to the curb. He now tries to find a convenient store that has veggies and protein shakes for his late-night victory meal or snack.
“I am eating a lot better,” Lee said. “I am trying to stay away from fast food. It is hard to eat right on the road because you get done with the bull riding and everything is closed. I just learned to go to the gas station and try and find a 7-Eleven or something that has some veggies and drink a protein shake instead of going to McDonalds.”
He can eat healthy all he wants, but Lee knows ultimately he has to make the 8-second mark if he wants to build off his 10th-place world finish in 2017.
“Be more consistent,” Lee concluded. “I really don’t have to change a whole lot. I just need to get my head right. If your head is right, that is consistency.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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