By: Justin Felisko
February 17, 2016
PUEBLO, Colo. – A black cloud of doubt began to cross Shane Proctor’s mind on July 13, 2014, as he lay helpless with Dr. Tandy Freeman overlooking him in Dallas.
For the second time in six months, Freeman was about to cut open Proctor’s shoulder – this time his right shoulder instead of his previously repaired left – and undergo a procedure to repair torn ligaments, cartilage, a biceps tear, his rotator cuff and a broken shoulder cap.
The surgery would involve Freeman inserting eight anchors into Proctor’s right shoulder to hold it together after Proctor sustained the injuries at a July 1, 2014, rodeo in Ponoka, Alberta.
The eight anchors was the same amount Freeman had put in to Proctor’s left shoulder six months earlier on Jan. 13, 2014, after Proctor underwent reconstructive surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff injury that tore all the ligaments off the bone, tore the labrum all the way around and left him with a broken shoulder cap.
It was simply déjà vu all over again.
Proctor had only competed in eight summer non-PBR events before ripping his right shoulder to pieces.
Maybe this was a sign his days as a top bull rider were over?
“I didn’t have any doubts when I had my first one,” Proctor said. “When I had my second one on July 13 I started to have my doubts. I came back for eight events and I was right back on the operating table. You wonder about all of the hard work that you put in and all the time you spent and all the years learning and trying and doing this if you’re going to be at the top of your game. It is really tough.”
Coincidentally, Proctor celebrated his first Built Ford Tough Series victory one day after the 19-month anniversary of his second reconstructive shoulder injury on that summer day in Dallas.
A year after being one of the top comeback stories of the year in the PBR with Aaron Roy, Proctor has taken his latest step back into his return to what he hopes to be a run at the 2016 World Championship.
He went 4-for-4 this past weekend in St. Louis for his first victory since winning the 2013 Built Ford Tough Series event in Anaheim, California, on Feb. 10, 2013, and earned a season-best 755 points toward the world standings to skyrocket from 23rd in the world to No. 7.
Proctor now trails world leader Paulo Lima by 435.84 points heading into the Built Ford Tough Kansas City Clash, where he will face SweetPro’s Bruiser in the 15/15 Bucking Battle on Saturday night.
“Man, I am excited,” Proctor said. “He’s electric and wild. He’s one of those that gets you pumped up.”
The now-30-year-old had a career-year in 2013 when he finished ninth in the world standings.
Proctor believed he was ready to make the next step in his career and chase after that first PBR gold buckle in 2014.
“This sport is very humbling,” Proctor said. “I went from having quite a few years riding well and then I had two major surgeries. It can get you down, but you just have to stick your nose to the grind and keep focusing and it will all work out.”
Proctor did just that in his first full season back last year with 12 Top-10 finishes and a 20th-place finish in the world standings. He then really began to turn the corner at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in December with a third-place finish that pushed him to third in the final PRCA bull riding standings.
Still, last year was much more of a dipping his feet back into the water rather than a full-fledged push at winning the World Championship.
According to ProBullStats.com, Proctor nodded his head a career-high 162 times at various PBR and pro rodeo events.
It is why Proctor entered 2016 with higher aspirations knowing his body, especially his shoulders, could handle a full-out push at gold buckles in both the PBR and PRCA.
“It was one of those years where you need to go and see if you can still compete at this level,” Proctor said. “I have been at this a really long time. I was Derek Kolbaba since the first time I got on tour. I have seen a lot of bulls come and go. I have seen a lot of riders come and go. You see a lot of guys go with injuries and they just disappear. I didn’t want to be one of those. I wanted to work hard. I worked harder preparing from those surgeries than I ever worked in my life just to make sure everything was healed.
“When you go to get on those first bulls right after surgery you are just wondering is it going to hold up. You don’t want to doubt yourself, but you don’t feel like the same self you were before. You just have to go and test it.”
Kolbaba has been one of the most talked about rookies through the first six weeks of the season. The 19-year-old has spent his first season on the BFTS traveling and picking the brain of Proctor for advice.
The two are actually traveling across the country to three rodeos this week with Proctor’s father-in-law Tim Mauney, who is J.B. Mauney’s dad, as a guest before heading to Kansas City.
Kolbaba can tell that Proctor is beginning return to his form from previous years.
“Oh yeah. I think he is really firing now,” Kolbaba said. “I don’t think this will be the last you will hear from him. That is the thing about this sport, it can be really humbling, but he showed it this weekend.”
Kolbaba was also happy to see Proctor back in the spotlight for his riding instead of being just the hotshot rookie’s mentor.
“I mean it is kind of hard to forget (about Shane) unless you are somebody that doesn’t really think about it,” Kolbaba said. “Shoot, the guy is a (PRCA) world champion and he has finished in the Top 10 however many times. It is pretty hard to keep him out of the mix and he showed it this weekend.”
Proctor won the 2011 PRCA bull riding title the same year in which he posted the second-highest riding average of his BFTS career (45.33 percent). He has rocketed off to an 11-for-19 (57.89 percent) start on the BFTS this season and at that pace he will set new career-highs in qualified rides and riding percentage.
His two round wins on Sunday (89 points on Cooper Tires Brown Sugar and 88.75 points on Shoot Out The Lights) already give him more round wins this year than he had in all of 2015.
“Shane made a great ride,” said Brown Sugar’s owner Chad Berger. “That bull changed it up a little bit. He was real long around the right and Shane could not make one big mistake or he would have bucked him off. Shane rode him perfect and made a good ride.
“If he ever gets on a roll, look out for Shane Proctor.”
Proctor understands that to be in the world title conversation he needs to find a way to place higher in rounds this season.
“Last year I was in the Top 10 at the beginning of the season, but I wasn’t getting a lot of round points,” Proctor said. “I was getting a lot of average points, but I was never getting any round points. I nickeled- and-dimed the hell out of that 10 to 15th place. To get some round points this weekend really helps out.”
Proctor believes he may have evolved into a more complete bull rider because of his back-to-back reconstructive surgeries.
At the time of the injuries, Proctor had to alter his riding style a bit because he couldn’t get his free arm above his head as much as he would like or else his shoulder would come out of socket. Through that adjustment he learned he could ride with more control if he kept his free arm a bit lower than he used to ride.
“I mean it sucks I had to go through those injuries to figure out my style, but in the same sense it made me learn how to control my free arm,” Proctor said.
A full year on the injured list and a year of working his way back into prime condition may be starting to finally take the ultimate turn upward for Proctor.
“It can get you down, but you just have to stick your nose to the grind and keep focusing and it will all work out,” he said.
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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