SEATTLE – Markus Mariluch reached his right arm down into the bucking chute and grasped on tight to his bull rope last week at Cody Brown’s Godley, Texas, ranch.
It had been close to six months since Mariluch last nodded his head for the gate when he gave a quick nod and left the chute firing his hips aboard one of Brown’s practice bulls.
“It kind of felt like I didn’t miss a beat,” Mariluch said. “Everything was clicking when I got on these practice bulls. I felt good.”
Following that first attempt, Mariluch stopped thinking about his surgically repaired right bicep that he had torn last year attempting to ride Jo Jo at the September BFTS event in Springfield, Missouri.
Instead, when he got on additional practice bulls of 3D Bucking Bulls in Big Sandy, Texas, he was back to reacting to what the bulls were doing vs. thinking about how his arm may react.
Mariluch now feels ready to make his 2015 season-debut at the Seattle Invitational after getting on five practice bulls last week in his first bull riding action since having his 2014 breakout season cut short because of the biceps injury.
“I am firing into my bull rope and my feet are firing,” Mariluch said before boarding his flight at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport Thursday afternoon. “I am just reacting. Nothing was slow. Everything was just happening like it did when I was riding last year.”
The 29-year-old is hoping he can rekindle his success that came to a crashing halt in Springfield. At the time of his injury, Mariluch had competed in every 2014 BFTS event – a career-best 21 – and was 10th in the world standings. He was riding at a career-high 40 percent clip and had posted career-highs in qualified rides (24), Top-5 finishes (five) and Top-10 finishes (six).
“I am getting tired of getting hurt,” Mariluch said. “It sucks. It is hard for us to be down for six months. There is no income what so ever.”
Mariluch has drawn I Got This (0-0, BFTS) in Round 1 and More Big Bucks (4-7, BFTS) in Round 2.
He had originally opted to not get season-ending surgery last year and was going to try and fight his way through the World Finals, but he knew he needed the surgery sooner rather than later after a failed attempt at riding practice bulls at Mike White’s DeKalb, Texas, ranch.
Mariluch was cleared to start doing light workouts in December and by the end of January he was given full clearance to start an intense weight training program.
Even though he was still three months away from being allowed to get on practice bulls, Mariluch decided to use the time to start training at Michael Johnson Performance to get in shape and help prepare for his eventual comeback.
“Man, I never worked out a day in my life until this Michael Johnson deal,” Mariluch said. “I ran and stuff before, but that was the first time I ever picked up a weight in my life.”
“They help out a lot,” he added. “They really focus on getting your hips strong and to be able to set your hips to your bull rope. They really work on your upper body too.”
He also chatted with Nathan Schaper this offseason for some advice seeing as Schaper suffered a similar injury in 2012.
Mariluch, who has a guaranteed eight BFTS events because of his 22nd–place finish in the 2014 world standings, attempted the practice bulls last week with no protective brace or extra tape on his arm and felt no setbacks.
He even feels like his biceps may be stronger than before he injured it in September.
“Yeah, my arm is sore right now, but I haven’t been on bulls for five or six months,” he explained. “It takes you about 10 or 15 bulls before you quit getting sore. Every bull I have been on I haven’t bobbled. I have felt really good and am looking forward to this weekend.”
He isn’t backing down from his goals either.
Mariluch has set big goals for this weekend’s event and hopes to leave Seattle in the Top 30 of the world standings. He would need to earn at least 275 points to tie Sean Willingham for the 30th position.
“My goal this weekend is to get into the Top 30,” he said. “That way I have all of my injury exemptions still. I would really like to be within the Top 10 before break.”
Two-time World Champion and CBS Sports commentator Justin McBride said before the season that Mariluch may be poised for a big year once he returned.
“I may be crazy, but I expect big things out of him,” McBride said in December. “I think he was turning the corner last year and got hurt.”
In particular, McBride pointed out the growth he saw from Mariluch in the three second-half events before he got hurt.
“He was doing some good stuff last year,” McBride added. “We saw him make a championship round (in Tulsa, Oklahoma) and got bucked off Apollo Stripes. Then we saw him ride (Jack Daniel’s After Party for 90.25 points) in the championship round (in Nashville) and finish second. You could see it. He was starting to get that confidence of, ‘I belong right in this place,’ and competing for event titles each and every weekend.”
The Elko, Nevada, bull rider will have five BFTS events before he and his fiancé Megan Williams get married on May 16. He then will also have Last Cowboy Standing, the feature event of Cowboy Spring Break on May 22-23, to try and make up the 1,000 points he lacks to be a Top 10 rider before June.
It is not an ideal scenario, but Mariluch isn’t going to let it faze him.
“I am going to go at it like I always do and try to ride every bull, but it kind of sucks coming in this late in the season because you are way behind the wolf pack,” Mariluch said. “You just have to stay on a lot more bulls and stay in it until the end of the year.
“Then anything can happen.”
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