PUEBLO, Colo. – Mike Lee’s Wranglers were drenched in sweat and dirt when he climbed aboard David’s Dream during the championship round of last year’s J.W. Hart PBR Challenge in Decatur, Texas.
Lee, who was tripled-entered in the Touring Pro Division event, was able to hang for 88 points, which was the second-highest score of the event behind his 91-point effort on a hard spinning and bucking Bruiser in the long round, and went on to place first and second in the event.
“I was so tired and my pants were full of sweat and sticking to me and everything else,” Lee recalled about one of his favorite moments from 2014. “I was sweating so much. When you get on that many bulls it just takes the pressure off.”
It was only the beginning of a common theme for the Decatur, Texas, rider throughout the course of the 2014 summer break. The 2004 World Champion would enter, double-enter and triple-enter at events whenever possible.
He knew there were many people who thought at 31 years old he couldn’t compete at a high enough level, or that his body could not withstand the rigid schedule he was attempting to use as a way to remain a strong contender for a second World Championship.
“I like being the underdog,” Lee said. “I felt like last year I was older and people didn’t give me a shot, so I was like piss on it. I don’t care anymore. I am just going to nod my head and what happens, happens.”
Lee used an impressive summer run, which included four TPD event wins and an additional 1,493.12 points toward the world standings, to finish seventh in the world standings at season’s end. It was the highest Lee has finished since concluding the 2010 season fifth in the world. In 2014, Lee won two BFTS events (Thackerville, Oklahoma, and Laughlin, Nevada) and posted seven Top-5s and nine Top-10s. He also finished the year with a 41.56 percent riding average.
However, Lee’s bid for a second world title came up short last season at the Built Ford Tough World Finals after Circle T’s Crossfire slammed him to the ground in Round 2, dislocating his left shoulder. The injury clearly affected his riding style for the rest of the Finals and Lee wound up going only 2-for-6.
“I didn’t have a lot of strength in it at the Finals, your arm kind of turns into a limp noodle,” Lee said. “It kind of messed up my riding after that. It made me hunch over because of my shoulder. It was just hard to sit straight because it was pulling on that shoulder. No excuses though.”
Lee said he was “blessed” to have made it through the majority of the season healthy despite getting on so many bulls. According to Probullstats, Lee attempted 153 bulls at 54 combined TPD and BFTS events. In 2013, he attempted 159 bulls at 58 events.
Lee, who missed two BFTS events in March because of a torn meniscus, had seemingly escaped significant injury for most of the 2014 season, only to get hurt during the most crucial event of the year.
It was clearly not the way Lee had hoped to end 2014, but he still wasn’t too disappointed. He was actually more disappointed about how he failed to conquer Bushwacker, who he previously rode to the 5-second mark in Salinas, California, during the three-time World Champion Bull’s final out of his career.
Bushwacker bucked off Lee in 2.13 seconds and was marked 46.5 points inside the Thomas & Mack Center.
“The gold buckle thing wasn’t big a deal to me,” Lee explained. “It was more that I was disappointed in how I rode Bushwacker there at the end. That hurt more than anything. I overrode him and he set me up. I took the bait. He faked left real hard and I was sitting over him a lot and he jerked me down pretty hard.”
Not only did Lee fail to make the 8-second mark, but Bushwacker tossed Lee so hard that the bull rider left the Thomas & Mack Center with a concussion to go along with his injured shoulder.
Lee said his shoulder has since improved and he was able to avoid surgery after meeting with Dr. Tandy Freeman this offseason. He began climbing aboard practice bulls a little more than two weeks ago, and he recently competed this past weekend at the Luke Snyder Invitational in preparation for the 2015 BFTS season-opener in Baltimore, which can be watched exclusively for free via CarbonTV.com, on Jan. 2-3.
“It don’t hurt that much,” he said. “I just have to get used to it. It feels weird because those bones rub on each other, but it doesn’t really hurt that bad. I got slammed on it in the practice pen the other day and it felt OK.”
With the changes in the 2015 points system, Lee may be able to duplicate his summer success to an even greater gain this coming season if he chooses to hit the summer trail hard and compete at BlueDEF Velocity Tour events.
Once again though, Lee reiterated that it comes down to his health; but he will certainly be up to the challenge.
“Oh yeah, I believe so,” Lee said. “I am pretty sure my body is going to be able to hold up. I was really lucky last year. I didn’t really get hurt. I got on a lot of bulls and a lot of things can happen. A bull can step on you and get you really sored up, but I got by it.”
Lee said part of his health came from luck, but it also is a product of riding well. He added that when you are riding well, you don’t get caught or hung up in bad positions that may leave you vulnerable for injury. Instead, you are able to disembark from a ride and keep yourself in a safer position.
“Believe it or not, if you are riding bad and you are trying to hang on a lot of times you do get hurt,” Lee said. “You hit the ground harder and you’re underneath the bulls and they step on you. When you are riding good, a lot of times you feel a little bit more catty and you land on your feet. That had a lot to do it with it.
“I am not saying I have the best riding style, but I know if I can stay healthy I think I can be one of the more consistent guys.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko.
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