PUEBLO, Colo. – He admits he was a little leery three weeks ago when he climbed inside the bucking chutes at the Clearview Arena in Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan.
It had been more than 15 months since he was involved in a life-threatening bull riding wreck at the 2013 Calgary Stampede when Gretzky hipped himself leaving the bucking chute and eventually stepped on the defenseless bull rider, who had fallen awkwardly off the bull and onto the dirt.
There was a chance he would never walk again, not to mention ride a 2,000-pound bucking beast after doctors inserted two rods and eight screws into his back shortly following the injury.
Yet there he was a few weeks ago inside the empty arena preparing to nod his head on one of Kris Johnson’s (Rafter KO Bucking Bulls) young bulls with his wife, Hallie, and their 8-month old son, Axel, looking on.
The gate whipped open, the bull made his way out into the arena and Aaron Roy was twisting and turning with every motion the bovine athlete threw his way. He then pulled at his wrap, disembarked from the bull and jogged to the bucking chutes where Hallie broke the silence and called out to her husband, “Are you OK?”
Aaron didn’t even have to answer the question though; he was already smiling from ear to ear.
It was the first of five practice attempts by Roy – four times he made 8 seconds – in the past three weeks. Following his final ride on Tuesday night, the only three-time PBR Canada Champion, and former Built Ford Tough Series standout has decided to return to competition this weekend at the PBR Canadian Finals as a world invite in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, for the first time since that fateful wreck on July 11, 2013.
“It went good,” Roy said. “I got on a pretty good bull there last night (Smoke & Mirrors) and it didn’t seem to faze me, so I have decided to give it a whirl.”
Johnson admitted he was nervous when he first received the call from Roy three weeks ago asking if he would buck some bulls for him, but the Roys’ family friend wasn’t going to say no.
“I was a little apprehensive about him getting on just because of the fact that he has two rods in his back,” Johnson said. “It kind of floored me. He wanted to see if he could handle it for the Finals this weekend and the second time he got on he rode both of his bulls. The bulls turned back both ways and he rode them good.
“He’s ready to go, and he thinks he’s ready.”
Roy knows it’s going to be an emotional moment for his family and all of those in attendance at the SaskTel Centre when he nods his head in Round 1 on Friday night.
“It’s probably going to be pretty loud from the fans because I grew up just outside of Saskatoon,” Roy said. “It will be nerve-racking. It will definitely make me a little more nervous being in Saskatoon and everything.”
The Asquith, Saskatchewan, native grew up only 35 minutes west of Saskatoon.
Roy, who now resides in Yellow Grass, is the strongest rider to come out of Canada in the history of the PBR and has won the Glen Keeley award five times (2008-11, 2013). He also had competed in every PBR Canadian Finals since 2006 before getting hurt in 2013. He has averaged 85.67 points per ride during his seven-year BFTS career and finished a career-best 11th in the world standings in 2011.
Family friend and agent Jason Davidson received the official word from Roy around mid-morning on Wednesday that he would be competing this coming weekend.
Davidson still “remembers the incident (in Calgary) like it was yesterday.”
The two stayed in touch throughout the demanding recovery process, and Davidson could see the joy in Roy’s face every time he was around his newborn son. He also knew that at some point, once he was healthy, Roy would head back to the arena for at least one more nod of the head.
“Aaron is a professional athlete and like any professional they want to go out on their own terms,” Davidson said. “Adversity is a big challenge sometimes and I think the best athletes in their chosen sport find a way to deal with that and handle it better than others. That is why they become elite athletes in their industry. Aaron Roy is no different.”
It is Roy’s dedication to comeback that left Johnson so inspired over the past couple of weeks.
“This sport is all about pushing the limits on what a man can take – mentally and physically,” Johnson said. “You can get hurt and quit or you can show what you’re made of and prove everyone wrong. That is what Aaron is going to do, and that’s what makes you a champion no matter how many titles you win. He is a great champion and a great role model for up-and-coming kids.”
Roy recently finished his last day (Oct. 31) of his summer job working on horseback on Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration’s (PFRA) pastures. By being on horseback from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., Roy was able to build up his muscles in his back and regain some of the flexibility and stability he had lost from the injury.
The 27-year-old is noncommittal as to what his future may hold following this weekend – for now it is all about having fun. He says that everything is up in the air as to whether or not he will make a push to return to the BFTS or even ride again.
“I don’t feel like I am riding as good yet as I can as before, but I feel like I am ready to go to Canadian events and stuff,” he said. “I am definitely not ready to jump back in and go to Built Ford Toughs right now. I don’t know if I will make a full comeback or just go to a few here and there and see how it feels.”
Davidson would love to see Roy make the 8-second mark this weekend with a ride that will surely “turn the SaskTel Center upside down.”
“I really just want to see him stay on and get a whistle,” Davidson said. “When they announce him in the opening and prior to his ride, I guarantee there is going to be nobody running to the washroom for a break. They are going to want to see Aaron Roy succeed here.
“It is a happy ending to what could have been a tragic story.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko.
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