By: Justin Felisko
March 09, 2016
PUEBLO, Colo. – All eyes were on Matt Triplett during a visit to the Walmart Supercenter last week in Hillsboro, Texas.
What were they all looking at?
Well, it was the contraption taped on Triplett’s right arm.
The 24-year-old has spent the past three weeks wearing his new elbow brace on his riding arm everywhere he goes.
“People have been looking at me when we go to stores with it taped on, but I got used to it,” Triplett said with a laugh Wednesday morning. “I basically put it on so I could get really comfortable wearing it to a point where I don’t feel like I am wearing it.”
Triplett is making his 2016 season debut this weekend at the Duluth Invitational in Duluth, Georgia. The Columbia Falls, Montana, bull rider is using the first of eight guaranteed BFTS exemptions he earned from his fifth-place finish in the 2015 world standings.
He has missed the first nine BFTS events because of offseason elbow surgery after tearing two ligaments during the 2015 Built Ford Tough World Finals attempting to ride Calypso.
“It is going to be fun,” Triplett said. “Since I have known Monday that I was going, the days haven’t been going by as fast enough. I just want to get on one.”
Triplett, who has posted 33 qualified rides in back-to-back seasons, has never ridden with an elbow brace before outside of the practice pen.
PBR Director of Livestock Cody Lambert said any rider coming off an elbow injury needs to focus on riding with finesse.
“Elbow problems are so different on every guy,” Lambert said. “The main key is you have to ride better and it is just that simple. If you ride falling off the side and are out of shape and are trying to hang on, you are more likely to hurt it than if you are in the middle. That is just even more incentive to try and ride better.”
Triplett has been working out twice a day in preparation for his return to the PBR’s elite series, but he also has spent a lot of time wearing his custom-made elbow brace outside of the gym so that when he returns he will not notice it while attempting to make the 8-second mark.
“I got a sweet little brace I am going to wear,” he said. “I am going to tape it up lightly. I got a custom brace that is awesome. You can’t even see it. It is under my shirt and it is real small. It does its job and feels great.”
He has attempted four practice bulls in the past two weeks with the brace, including two bulls on Sunday at Mike Young’s ranch in in Stephenville, Texas.
While the Top 35 bull riders in the world were competing at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Triplett was nodding his head in the practice pen.
Triplett had originally hoped to be back on the BFTS as early as Iron Cowboy, but the last two weeks he wanted to make sure he had 100 percent confidence in the elbow. It is why he backed off his word when he originally said he would compete in Phoenix last weekend.
Triplett, with his brace discreetly covered by his riding shirt, was at Iron Cowboy, for some sponsorship obligations, but was unable to compete.
“It was terrible, but I knew mentally I wasn’t ready because my elbow wasn’t ready,” Triplett said. “I didn’t want to do like I did a year before and come back too early and just make a fool out of myself and get one jumped where I wasn’t prepared, I wasn’t ready. Sometimes you just have to make them decisions and forget about and be ready for when you can come back. The biggest deal is I wanted my doctor to tell me it was OK.”
Triplett started to make a strong push for his first world title last year before shredding his MCL in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at the Ty Murray Invitational, which celebrates its 20th anniversary in two weeks. He was the No. 1 bull rider in the world standings at the time of his injury.
He returned to competition in just four weeks, going through periods of wearing a protective brace to axing the idea of using any protective gear at all.
The flip-flopping was a sign of Triplett’s wavering confidence in his knee. The nagging injury led to seven consecutive buckoffs in his return.
He also never regained the world No. 1 ranking.
“It showed last year when I came back early, it didn’t do good with my confidence aspect,” Triplett added. “This year I wanted to make sure I didn’t want to come back and deal with my head. I am ready to ride bulls and not worry if my elbow was going to hurt. I just wanted to be 100 percent confidence.
“If you have to think about your knee, you are not thinking about what you need to take care of. You need to thinking about the things you need to take care of and when you are thinking about things that are hurt it is not going to help your bull riding.”
He’s now trying to avoid the same mistake with his elbow.
He attempted his first practice bulls two days after Iron Cowboy earlier this month and realized he mentally wasn’t confident. The fourth-year pro was still thinking more about his elbow and less about riding bulls.
“I basically just got on last week (Monday) to test it out,” Triplett said. “The first time I got on, I was a little sore and I wasn’t quite ready. That is why I didn’t go to Phoenix. It was just sore a couple of days after.”
On Sunday, Triplett finally felt like he hadn’t missed a beat.
“It was a good bull into the gate, and he was really up in front of me,” Triplett said. “The reason I really got confidence too is he jerked on me and I actually fought through. It was good. I got jerked on and it didn’t hurt it and it didn’t irritate it. I landed on both my feet and it felt like I hadn’t taken a day off.”
He then texted his surgeon – Dr. John Conway – who called him to give his blessing to return to competition full time.
“That was a huge load off my shoulders that I would be OK,” Triplett said.
He will get his first real test against Flex on Em (0-0, BFTS) in Round 1 on Saturday.
“I haven’t even set out to think about my long term deals yet,” Triplett concluded. “I am just going day by day and taking it one day at a time. I am going to go after one bull and try and dominate the one I get on and go from there.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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