ST. LOUIS – The last time Nathan Schaper competed in a PBR 15/15 Bucking Battle, the Grassy Butte, North Dakota, bull rider was being stretchered out of the Honda Center in Anaheim, California, after the now three-time World Champion Bull Bushwacker snapped Schaper’s left leg in front of a national audience tuning in on CBS network television.
Just over a year later, and Schaper is set to appear on CBS once again this Sunday at noon ET when he takes on Gentleman Jim in the 15/15 Bucking Battle at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.
“It took about a year to get to feeling like I did before then,” Schaper said. “I do finally feel really good though. My leg feels great.”
Schaper, who first returned to competition last July, had said repeatedly that he was feeling good to go, but the results in the arena hadn’t agreed with Schaper’s opinion until recently.
The 24-year-old began to get back to his pre-broken leg form in Oklahoma City three weeks ago when he covered 3-of-4 bulls to finish in third place. It was his first event with three qualified rides since he won the 2014 Oklahoma City event two weeks before he tried to put an end to Bushwacker’s record buckoff streak.
Schaper said his success in Oklahoma City had more to do with his mental state than the health of his leg. He knew he no could longer sit back and wait for things to happen if he wanted to remain on the BFTS.
He had entered Oklahoma City 41st in the world standings and had only one more guaranteed event remaining on the BFTS after finishing 31st in the 2014 world standings.
“I think I just made it come together for me too because I had to,” Schaper said. “In Oklahoma City, I was getting pretty ways down in the standings, and I only had five events (to start the year), so I had to start doing something and get some kind of points.
“I got pretty aggressive all of a sudden, more focused and aggressive.”
That aggressiveness hasn’t gone away.
Schaper has ridden 10-of-18 on the BFTS and is now up to ninth in the world standings heading into this weekend’s Bass Pro Chute Out. He is coming off his second three-ride performance of the season in Anaheim last weekend, including 86 points on Classic Whoopin’ in Round 3, which gave him his first BFTS round victory.
It is also the first time Schaper is inside the Top 10 of the world standings since Bushwacker broke his leg.
Schaper, who already has more qualified rides through six BFTS events this year than he did in the final three months of 2014, admitted that he had some flashbacks to the injury in Anaheim last weekend.
“Never when you are in the bucking chute, but it crossed my mind every day,” he said. “Someone would bring it up or something like that. I will always remember, and you always will remember that place because it was pretty traumatic. You don’t forget where stuff happens like that, and just like you don’t forget where you won an event or did really well.”
Nine-time World Champion Ty Murray was part of the CBS Sports Network broadcast last weekend in Anaheim and will be in St. Louis calling the action once again.
Murray said it is only natural for bull riders and other athletes to think back to those kinds of moments in their careers.
However, it is their ability to then overcome it mentally and find success that really shows their fortitude to bounce back.
“That shows Nathan is pretty sound mentally,” Murray said. “I always look at a guy when he is coming back from an injury because that is a big test. It is like you stuck your hand in fire and it burned you and you stuck your hand in fire again and it burned you again and the third time you have to go up there and stick your hand in there like it is not going to burn you again. That is just one element of the brain control that you have to have to do this sport.”
Schaper takes on What Up Sucka? (3-5, BFTS) in Round 1 and Josey Wales (20-11, BFTS) in Round 2.
He is especially excited for his matchup with Gentleman Jim in the 15/15 on Saturday night.
Gentleman Jim (2-0, BFTS) arrives in St. Louis after bucking off Billy Robinson and Josh Faircloth in back-to-back outs in New York last month.
Schaper says he is happy with the draw after watching the bovine athlete in New York. Gentleman Jim was marked 44.25 points against Faircloth and 43.75 points against Robinson.
“I do like that bull a lot,” Schaper said. “Oh, he bucks. He is just up and down and really kicks. There is not much you can ask for.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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