By: Justin Felisko
August 11, 2016
PUEBLO, Colo. – Chase Outlaw had his chin tucked, his feet kicking and his arm flying last month at the Big Sky, Montana, BlueDEF Tour event.
The Hamburg, Arkansas, bull rider was poised for a 90-plus bull ride before a split-second mistake cost him a chance at 8 seconds of glory when Chad Berger’s bovine athlete, Big Sky, popped Outlaw to the ground just in the nick of time – 7.99 seconds to be exact.
Outlaw stormed out of the arena and clenched his fists as he tried to not let his buckoff cause him to lose his cool.
Yet, even if Outlaw is a changed man in his fifth-year of competition, he still has the same passionate, fiery personality that has enamored fans ever since he won his first career Built Ford Tough Series event (Houston) in just his third event in 2012. So, naturally, Outlaw let out a quick vulgarity and slammed his fist in frustration behind the scenes in Big Sky.
However, the 2016 version of Outlaw appears to have mentally marinated into a new bull rider since national fans last saw him at the 2015 Built Ford Tough World Finals.
Outlaw, who missed the entire 2016 BFTS first half while recovering from reconstructive left shoulder surgery, responded to his 7.99-second buckoff by riding Strong Heart the next night for 88 points.
He then once again demonstrated a different level of composure from past seasons when he bounced back from a buckoff against Fire & Smoke in the championship round and converted on Cowtown Slinger for 90.5 points and a fourth-place finish.
And what did Outlaw do following his ride on Cowtown Slinger? Well, he let out a loud celebratory yell with his Arkansas twang and twirled his hand in the air like he has been known to do.
“Man, I am just mentally stronger right now than I ever have been,” Outlaw said via phone on Wednesday afternoon. “Since I have come to the PBR, yes this is the strongest I have been, and, yeah, you could say this is the strongest I have been in my whole life as a bull rider.”
Outlaw has been the best bull rider in the PBR since the BFTS closed its doors for the summer break after Last Cowboy Standing. The 24-year-old has won seven summer events (one BlueDEF, one PBR Canada and five TPD) and has placed in the Top 10 at eight additional events.
He is 25-for-49 (51.02 percent) and has risen to 29th in the world standings since returning to competition at the end of May from his second reconstructive shoulder surgery in six months – Dr. Tandy Freeman repaired his right shoulder in April 2015.
Reigning Stock Contractor of the Year Chad Berger witnessed Outlaw win his BlueDEF Tour event in Bismarck, North Dakota, and has watched Outlaw earn some serious cash on his bulls this summer at various events.
“Chase Outlaw has always rode pretty good, but I think he is riding better now than he ever has,” Berger said. “He has more confidence, he is a little more mature, he takes it a little more serious, but I really like the way Chase is riding now. If he can continue to not get hurt between now and the Finals, I think that kid can light them up at the PBR Finals.”
Outlaw simply replied with, “Yes sir,” when reminded about his summer of dominance.
The Hamburg, Arkansas, native isn’t looking to boast about his successful return, it was something he expected to do from the minute he first nodded his head in Uvalde, Texas.
Outlaw was amidst a career-year and was ranked ninth in the world standings way back in 2015 when his first shoulder injury occurred in Kansas City, Missouri.
Thoughts of a Top-10 return to the world standings as soon as this year may indeed be a possibility based on the last two months.
Remarkably, Outlaw has an opportunity to qualify for a fifth consecutive Built Ford Tough World Finals even though he has missed half of the last two seasons because of injuries.
“No. I am not surprised,” Outlaw said when asked about his speedy return to the Top 30. “This is what we are supposed to do. We are supposed to show up to expect to ride and expect to win. You have to fill your mind with positive thoughts and positive outcomes will come from those positive thoughts.”
Outlaw admitted that he did throw a brief pity party following his first shoulder injury in 2015. However, after being able to go through the rehab process one time already, he wasn’t going to waste time dwelling on what could have been when he learned he needed a second surgery in November.
“That is true,” Outlaw agreed. “Whenever it does happen, it does happen for a reason. You just have to become a stronger person and overcome whatever obstacle that comes in your way and when you do that you will realize how strong of a person you really are.”
Outlaw is set to make his 2016 BFTS season debut next week in Nashville at the Frontier Communications Music City Knockout, presented by Cooper Tires. Nashville, coincidentally, is where Outlaw first injured his left shoulder.
Outlaw was well on his way to a successful summer before he sat down with two-time World Champion J.B. Mauney at the 2016 Calgary Stampede. Outlaw had already picked up four of his seven victories and had decided to stop by the Stampede in hopes of maybe getting in as an alternate if a rider failed to show up.
Even though he wasn’t able to compete at the Stampede, Outlaw said he had a worthwhile conversation with Mauney, who reiterated his belief in his fellow Monster Energy bull riding teammate. The two talked about putting aside frustrations and being able to not let outside distractions get in the way of the 8 second job.
“Some of the stuff J.B. did say had a lot to do with it too,” Outlaw said. “Just sitting there talking with him has stuck with me. Mainly, really realizing nobody is going to do it for you. You have to do it all for yourself. Nobody out there is going to ride those bulls for you. It is all on you. If you do bad, you can’t blame nobody but yourself. When you do great, you reward yourself.”
Outlaw took care of business this summer all by himself.
He doesn’t even need the eight BFTS injury exemptions he had from the first half of the season, after asserting himself back into the thick of the Top 35. What began as a physical rehab, turned into a mental evolution and the rest of the PBR is seeing the effects of his dominant return.
“You have to stay positive 100 percent,” Outlaw concluded. “Like your mind is the most powerful tool with anything in life and when you fill it with positive thoughts your life will begin to change. Once you do that, it don’t matter what you do the day before or the day of.
“If you stay positive, your outcome will be positive.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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