By: Neal Reid June 23, 2014@ 12:30:00 PM
PUEBLO, Colo. ― The months of June and July can’t end soon enough for a pair of bull riders on the mend.
For nine-year Built Ford Tough Series veteran Shane Proctor and third-year pro Nathan Schaper, their lengthy rehabilitations are nearly complete, and they are itching to run their ropes around some mighty buckers once again. Proctor, a Built Ford Tough World Finals qualifier last year, bit the bullet and underwent shoulder surgery on his left, free arm on Jan. 14 after riding hurt with a torn labrum and rotator cuff for more than eight months.
The Grand Coulee, Wash., native, who now lives in Mooresville, N.C., toughed it out in 2013, gritting his teeth and gutting it out through pain to finish ninth in the world standings and earn $221,02.
He then banked another $148,575 in Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association after qualifying for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. It was a prosperous season, but also a long and painful one for the 2011 PRCA champion.
“Getting through both of those (PBR and Wrangler National) Finals, that’s what I really wanted to do,” said Proctor, who earned a career-best $250,493 in 2011. “It doesn’t pay to whine about being hurt, so you do what you’ve got to do to get the job done. When both Finals were over, I knew it was probably time to get it fixed.
“I knew that, for my career, it was best to go ahead and get it fixed and get that portion of it over with so I could get back to riding. I was able to take the time and get it fixed, and I’ll hopefully come back riding better than ever.”
Proctor originally hurt his shoulder at a Built Ford Tough Series event in April of last year when he got hung up on Magnum’s Motion after an 81-point ride. After he tweaked the injury in early January, he knew it was time to go under the knife.
His injury was quite severe, so much so that the overall structure of his shoulder was broken down.
“I had torn the labrum all the way around and had a torn rotator cuff,” he said. “The bone that goes into the socket, I had dented it. So, once I got it to a certain point, it would roll out. The bone that sits in front of the socket was broken off.”
A bull rider’s free arm is crucial to their ability to cover a bull for the full eight seconds. Proctor believes it is nearly as important as his riding arm to his overall success.
“It’s really important, because it’s your balance point,” he said. “It’s what you drive and push forward to get back to the center of the bull. So, to equalize your riding, you use that as a balance point. It is really important, especially when you get lifted above your head.”
The road back has been tough and slow for Proctor, who recently earned an 86.5-point ride in a PRCA event in Reno, Nevada, this past weekend.
“I was in a sling for six weeks, and then I had to sleep with the sling on for another six weeks,” he said. “They had me in physical therapy and moving it within three days after surgery so I wouldn’t be losing mobility in it.”
Proctor plans to take it slow and not come back full time until he knows he’s 100 percent.
“Riding in the PBR is not something you can just jump into and be competitive, so I’m going to work my way into it and get to where I feel like I’m riding good again,” Proctor said. “The plan the whole time was August, so it really depends on the way everything’s going with my riding. I’m just going to try and play it by ear and make sure everything’s healed up.
“When I come back, I want to be riding to the best of my ability and like the guys in the PBR ride.”
The experience of being sidelined for so long has been difficult for Proctor, but he feels like it has also been a good thing for him.
“It’s the longest I’ve ever had to lay out,” he said. “Even when I shattered my arm, I was only out for eight weeks. It has its advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is I took the time off and it really makes you crave getting on bulls. Also it gave me some time to be home with my family and go with (wife) Jessi while she rodeoed.
“Bull riding is such a selfish sport, as much as we’re gone, it just really gave me a chance to just relax for a little bit and not worry about riding bulls. It does light a fire in you though.”
Schaper knows all about that fire. He’s been forced to watch from afar as well, after suffering a broken left tibia and fibula courtesy of none other than Bushwacker on Feb. 8 in Anaheim, California.
The two-time PBR World Champion Bull stepped on Schaper’s left leg after bucking him off at the 15/15 Bucking Battle, adding injury to insult in the process. Schaper underwent surgery on Feb. 9, and doctors inserted a 40-centimeter rod and four screws into his injured appendage to stabilize the broken bones.
The injury couldn’t have come at a worse time as Schaper was enjoying a breakout season in the PBR. He won the Built Ford Tough Series event in Oklahoma City for $34,120 two weeks before Bushwacker did his dirty deed and had banked $44,087 after covering 11 of his first 16 bulls.
“I was having a really good Spring,” said Schaper, who finished a career-best 25th in the world standings last year. “I was feeling really good, riding really good and feeling strong, and everything was going good. It just happened, and it’s part of it.
“It definitely does suck, but is something you’ve just got to deal with. It’s just one of those things you’ve got to come back from.”
Nathan Schaper hangs on for 79 points on Percolator and the event win in the championship round of the 2014 PBR BFTS Express Employment Professionals Invitational in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Schaper’s road back has included six weeks on crutches, and he has spent the rest of the year recuperating on his family’s Grassy Butte, North Dakota, ranch.
“We were calving, and I was doing calving with the walking boot on,” Shaper said. “After calving, we were doing a lot of branding. We go down to the river to do a little catfishing, and I’ve been doing a little team roping. I try to ride barebacks a lot to keep my legs and groin in shape.”
Schaper plans to climb back in the chutes in July after giving his leg another month to heal.
“It feels pretty good,” he said. “It’s pretty much healed, I think. I’m just giving it one more month to get fully healed and get a bit stronger before I’m back riding bulls. But for doing anything else, it feels good.”
Schaper’s early season success has given him added confidence, which he will draw upon when he makes his return.
“I still have the confidence to know I can come back to riding and can get back to the top, hopefully,” he said. “I was sixth or seventh (in the world) when I got hurt, and knowing you can be in that position when you come back is helpful. That’s what you strive for – not only that, but being able to come back even stronger.”
He plans to hit all of the remaining BFTS events in an attempt to qualify for the PBR World Finals.
“I’d like to win a couple of them,” Schaper said of the BFTS events. “My goal at the beginning of the season was to win an event as fast as I could, and I did that within the first six events. I think I can win a couple more this fall.”
Schaper even said he wouldn’t have any hangups about getting another crack at Bushwacker.
“It wouldn’t be tough mentally,” he said. “I had my first crack at him, and he felt about how I thought he would. I didn’t do things exactly how I planned from the get-go. But, if I get a chance at him and ride him how I know I need to, I know I can ride him.”
So when the BFTS begins again with the Express Employment Professionals Classic on Aug. 15-16 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Proctor and Schaper could be two names on the riders list that fans can keep an eye on. There’s no doubt those two bull riders will be thrilled to be there.
Follow Neal Reid on Twitter @NealReid21
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