BIG SKY, Mont. – Matt Triplett had every intention of hitting the bull riding trail hard during the Built Ford Tough Series summer break until an injury to his riding hand altered his plans.
Triplett had just ridden Last Call for 85.5 points on June 13 during the Moline, Illinois, BlueDEF Velocity Tour event when he sustained a sprained riding hand.
Therefore, after rushing back from a torn left MCL during the Built Ford Tough Series first half, the No. 2 bull rider in the world decided to take every extra precaution and step away from the toughest sport on dirt for almost six weeks this summer.
“Man I sprained my wrist so bad,” Triplett admitted Tuesday to PBR.com. “Even Calgary (Stampede), I wanted to ride, but it was still so sore. Yesterday was the first real day it was 100 percent.”
Triplett met with a hand specialist that was recommended to him by Dr. Tandy Freeman and he was told he could return to bull riding.
The 24-year-old is competing for the first time since the injury Thursday at the Big Sky BlueDEF Velocity Tour event in Big Sky, Montana.
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Triplett has drawn Lil Earl in Round 1.
It will be one final tune-up before Triplett and the other Top 35 bull riders in the world kick off the stretch run to the 2015 Built Ford Tough World Finals (Oct. 21-25) with the Battle at the Beau in Biloxi, Mississippi, on Aug. 7.
“I haven’t gotten on any practice bulls because basically Big Sky is going to be my practice,” Triplett said. “Don’t get me wrong, I have been working out every single day and riding horses and getting after it. It is not like I totally sat on the couch and did nothing.”
Triplett added that he doesn’t think he will need to attempt many bulls before reaching his peak bull riding performance level.
“Well, it is kind of like it is something you don’t forget to do,” he said. “It is like riding a bike. I have kept the same training aspects. I have started doing a few new things that I feel are really going to help that I am going to keep to myself.”
The Columbia Falls, Montana, native’s father, mother and grandfather will all be in attendance in Big Sky, which is roughly six hours from the rider’s hometown.
Triplett explained that he is approaching the event with an attitude of unfinished business after letting himself down with an 0-for-4 showing at the Billings, Montana, BFTS event in April. It was his first event since sustaining the torn MCL four weeks earlier at the Ty Murray Invitational attempting to ride Coyote.
“I am super jacked that I can come back,” Triplett said. “I have some redemption to do in Montana since Billings. I am looking forward to getting on in Big Sky.”
Triplett’s 0-for-4 showing was part of an 0-for-7 run after he admittedly rushed back to competition following the MCL injury, which Triplett says won’t be an issue during the final three months of the season.
Joao Ricardo Vieira took over the world lead from Triplett a week after the injury.
Triplett is currently more than 1,000 points behind Vieira.
“I never have been in that position – No. 1 – before and I kind of let it all get to my head,” Triplett said. “You can’t do that. Even if you are in the No. 1 position, the bulls don’t care. They don’t care if you are No. 1 or No. 36. They are going to buck regardless. Being the No. 2 guy and not being No. 1, I think is going to help me a bunch. I kind of am an underdog-type kind of guy where if I need to ride in the moment I am going to do it.
“I am going to look at it as I am going to be the underdog and I have a lot of ground to make up, but I am going to take it one bull at a time and go after every round win I can.”
Triplett, who is tied for second on the BFTS with five round wins, is likely to surpass his career-high of 33 qualified rides in the second half – he had 25 before the summer break – and he has already set new a new high in Top-5 finishes (five) and needs just two more Top-10 finishes for another career-high in that category. He also won the first two events of his career (Anaheim, California, and Oklahoma City).
Triplett will arrive in Biloxi riding more than 49 percent of his bulls, which is almost 11 points better than his career average at the start of the season.
However, two-time World Champion Justin McBride said in May that he is still unsure if 2015 will be Triplett’s year. Before Triplett was injured, he also had a stretch of seven consecutive buckoffs.
“I still think he is in the process (of taking that next step),” McBride said. “He can ride. That is not an issue there, but you just can’t have those stretches where you buck off every bull at two or three events in a row. You just can’t have that. You have to be able to flip the switch quick.”
After ending the first half and beginning the summer injured mentally and physically, Triplett plans to flip the switch, so to say, and make sure he regains that No. 1 position.
“Yeah there at the end I did get bucked off seven in a row,” Triplett said. “I came back early, but that isn’t an excuse. I am going to be more focused than I have ever been. I have a goal that I wanted to reach since I was a little kid. I am not going to let that happen again. I am going to stay pretty dang focused throughout the rest of the year and try and reach that world title that I have shot for since I was 8 or 9 years old.”
Triplett said he’s thrilled to be back competing.
“I am just really pumped to be able to ride again. I haven’t had this much time off in my whole career and I crave it like I was in high school going to bull ridings,” he said. “I couldn’t be happier to be healthy again.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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