PUEBLO, Colo. – There is no question that Friday afternoon will be a special moment in Aaron Roy’s life and bull riding career.
It has been nearly two years since Roy sustained a potentially career-ending and life-threatening injury at the 2013 Calgary Stampede when Gretzky hipped himself leaving the bucking chute, eventually stepping on Roy’s lower back after Roy had landed awkwardly on his head and shoulders.
The end result was a fractured lower back that led to emergency surgery later that night at Calgary’s Foothills Medical Centre where doctors inserted two rods and eight screws into his lower back. Roy also suffered two fractures to his jaw during the wreck.
There was the fear that Roy may never walk again and there was the fear that Roy would be unable to hold his future son, Axel, by the time he was born.
Quite frankly, bull riding was not on anyone’s immediate radar.
That is, except for Roy.
While there were obvious doubts along the way, Roy had his heart set on making a full recovery from the injury. He was committed to holding his son when he was born, and he was committed to making one more 8-second ride.
Six months later, Roy held his son after participating in an endless amount of tedious exercises and boring stretches so that he would be cleared to lift anywhere between 50-100 pounds.
Nine months after that, the now 28-year-old attempted his first practice bull with his wife, Hallie, and Axel in the silence of the Clearview Arena in Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan.
A few weeks after that, he won the PBR Canada National Finals with a 90-point ride on Trendon in his first event back.
Roy eventually returned to the Built Ford Tough Series almost four months later in Fresno, California, where he would ride Past Time for 86.25 points in another memorable moment in his recovery.
That recovery went full circle on Friday when Roy rode Shots Fired for 85 points in the first day of action at the Calgary Stampede.
“Just getting on here again is phenomenal,” Roy said to Cody Snyder during the television broadcast. “I never thought I would be back here again. Yeah, I was happy when the bull riding started when it did. It was starting to sink in a little bit, but now that the first one is done, it is just game on from now on.”
Roy finished second to Mike Lee, who rode Moe for 87 points to win Round 1 in Pool A.
Earlier in the day, Roy laughed when asked if he was getting tired of talking about his road to recovery.
“It is getting old, but I am not opposed to answering questions for people wanting to know,” Roy told PBR.com before laughing again.
TIMELINE: A look back at Aaron Roy’s Road to Recovery.
07/12/13: Roy fractures lower back at Stampede, undergoes surgery
07/17/13: Update: Roy ‘lucky’ to be walking
10/17/13: A letter from Aaron and Hallie Roy
11/22/13: Roy’s recovery continuing to go well
07/11/14: One year later: Roy continuing long road back
11/13/14: Roy to compete at Canadian Finals
11/16/14: Roy returns to action with victory at PBR Canada National Finals
03/04/15: Roy to return to BFTS for first time since 2013 Calgary Stampede Wreck
03/08/15: Roy notches first qualified ride on BFTS since May 2013
03/11/15: Hallie Roy talks about Aaron’s comeback
04/21/15: Roy earns important points to stay in BFTS contention
Quite frankly, Roy has made his comeback already. The Calgary Stampede is just the site of where the whole saga began.
Therefore, it is still a special moment even if Roy has risen to 29th in the world standings in his first season back on the BFTS since almost having his career end in Calgary.
“When they called me, I was dang sure excited,” Roy said. “I knew if I decided to keep riding for a few years, I honestly thought I would earn my way back to the Calgary Stampede then. I didn’t expect it to be this soon.”
Roy added that it is special to have his son in attendance with his wife this year after so many doubts were raised two years ago at the Stampede Fairgrounds.
“We had kind of just found out we were expecting him when I did get hurt there and it means a lot for him to be here now and kind of see the top of the game,” he said.
Hallie wrote on Instagram this week, “The past two years has been quite the ride! And tomorrow marks the day and I could not be more proud that my husband will bring this adventure full circle! When Aaron mentioned he got the call, I will admit I had chills run through my body, but he has worked hard to return to what he loves!!! Ride tough Hun, stay safe and have fun!”
As much as Roy would like to say that there will be no nerves in Calgary, he understands the reality of the situation.
He understands that there will still be a possible moment or two where he takes in the magnitude of the moment even with more than 40 outs and 15 qualified rides at all levels under him already.
“It is hard to say if there is going to be nerves or anything,” Roy said. “You are in Calgary. I would like to say no, but you never know until you sit down in those chutes where it all happened.”
One benefit that Roy has this year in Calgary compared to when he returned to the BFTS in March is that he is comfortable riding once again.
When he first returned in Fresno, California, there were moments where he let the fear of getting hurt again play into his mind, which ultimately affected his riding style.
“I did go through it there on those first few bulls after Fresno there,” Roy said. “I would get on something that bucks real hard and that puts you in a bad spot and it flashes in your mind, ‘Oh, I am going to get hurt if I do this,’ which would cause me to buck off.
“You just have to get that out of your mind and try and ride normal. Then it will all be behind you.”
What better way to leave a terrifying chapter of his life behind him for good than by winning the 2015 Calgary Stampede and $100,000?
“I am definitely here to win and do my job and stay on my bulls,” Roy said. “It just feels good to be back and I am taking it like I always have – one bull at a time and having fun.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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