By: Justin Felisko
June 10, 2016
PUEBLO, Colo. – Mike Lee stood above the bucking chutes on the white-painted platform at the Wise County Fairgrounds and took in a deep breath.
It was home sweet home for the 2004 World Champion, but not just because Decatur, Texas, is his hometown or for the fact that he attempted one of his first steers when he was 12 years old at these same fairgrounds.
Instead, Lee could smell the summer bull riding season kicking off.
He could see the clear blue Texas sky for miles in front of him, he could feel the late afternoon air curl up under his mustache and he didn’t feel any sort of entrapment like an indoor Built Ford Tough Series event.
With the return of the summer, comes Lee – the King of Summer.
Lee went 0-for-2 at the J.W. Hart PBR Challenge BlueDEF Tour event, but Lee has been synonymous with summer success the last two Built Ford Tough Series summer breaks.
He has earned the most world standing points in each of the past two summers and there is no World Champion more active during the break than Lee.
But with 500 qualified rides under his belt, and at least another 235 at non-BFTS events, why does the 33-year-old keep putting his body through the summer grind?
This year he is wearing an elbow brace for the first time on his riding elbow, which he hyperextended at Last Cowboy Standing attempting to ride High Chaparral, and is also contending with a separated right shoulder from the BFTS event in Des Moines, Iowa.
“Ever since I was a little kid, my dad would work me in the fields and I would sweat my but off. I am just used to going to work in the summer,” Lee said. “We would (field) watermelons, break colts. It just reminds me of home I guess.”
Lee is getting back after it this weekend at the Deadwood, South Dakota, Touring Pro Division event before riding at the 16th annual Dakota Community Bank & Trust BlueDEF Tour events on June 17-18.
Both nights of BlueDEF competition will be streamed exclusively on PBR LIVE at 8:30 p.m. ET.
“I took a couple of weeks off (before Decatur),” Lee said. “I didn’t do very good at Uvalde, so I might be getting a late start, but everything happens for a reason. I got healed up and I feel quite a bit better.”
Lee is currently 13th in the world standings and is within 912.83 points of world leader Kaique Pacheco, who is competing in select PBR Brazil events before the resumption of the BFTS in Nashville, Tennessee, on Aug. 18.
Lee could potentially take a significant portion out of Pacheco’s lead if he has the kind of summer he had last season. In 2015, Lee posted seven Top-10 finishes, including a pair of victories, at a series of TPD and BlueDEF events. Lee also had three 90-point rides last summer – 91 points on Wipeout; 90.5 points on Joe The Grinder; 90 points on Modified Clyde. Lee earned 320 world points last summer.
One of his victories came in Decatur and this year was still a victory for Lee despite not winning the event.
Lee welcomed a group of veterans with Warriors and Rodeo to his ranch a few days before the BlueDEF Tour event to give them an informal bull riding “clinic.”
“It wasn’t really a clinic,” Lee said with a laugh. “It was more like a mud bath. We got on some horses the other night with them soldiers. They all came to my house. I gave them a little bull riding clinic.”
Chris Skeeters, a Marine Corp veteran who is also a Purple Heart recipient, and Larry Chip Holmes, a six-year Army veteran, were two veterans that competed in a special exhibition round during the J.W. Hart PBR Challenge BlueDEF Tour event.
“Our time at Mike Lee’s was a time to relax and realize that there was a morality behind a champion,” Skeeters said in a Warriors and Rodeo statement. “He invited us into his life to learn from a champion inside and outside of the arena.”
Holmes added, “Going to Mike’s school showed me a lot of people just go and ride bulls and go about everyday life. Mike it radiated through that he does so much more than that. He is a specimen of physical fitness, he is a beast! He trains with his bucking dummy, lifting weights, and more.”
Lee is on pace to surpass 100 outs at all levels of competition for an 11th consecutive season this year and he has already attempted 79 bulls. He is 18-for-54 (33.33 percent) on the BFTS.
He enjoys going to TPD and BlueDEF Tour events so much that sometimes he much rather go to them instead of the BFTS.
It’s why he bristles at the thought of not competing during the summer in a way to save his body for a run at a potential second World Championship.
“Oh no. I can’t do that,” he responded. “To be honest with you, I rather go to a Touring Pro than a Built Ford. That is probably an insult to some people, and I don’t want to piss no one off, but there is a lot more pressure at the Built Fords.
“I like riding outside in the arena.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
© 2016 PBR Inc. All rights reserved.