By: Justin Felisko June 19, 2014@ 03:30:00 PM
PUEBLO, Colo. ― Matt Triplett and Jacob Narducci were simply small pawns staring up towards the skyscraping mountains jutting through the fog inside Montana’s Glacier National Park earlier this month.
For the first time in six months, Triplett didn’t have to worry about lasting 8 seconds on a 2,000-pound bull or the rigors of working his way into the Top 10 of the world standings for the first time in his career.
Finally, the Columbia Falls, Montana, native’s first full half season on the Built Ford Tough Series was complete and it was simply time to relax amidst nature after competing in 18 events, riding 19 bulls and posting eight Top-10 finishes.
Gone was his weekend wardrobe of a riding vest, shirt, chaps and cowboy boots. In its place was a pair of cargo shorts, a sweatshirt, sneakers and a backpack.
With the removal of his bull riding gear came a calmness and peacefulness that is attributed in part to two weeks of hiking, camping and fishing with Narducci and other buddies in the serene and picturesque nuggets throughout their home state.
Along with Glacier National Park, Triplett spent time fishing along the South Fork Flathead River and Island Lake.
“I loved it. I took two weeks off and it was probably one of the smartest things I have done all year,” Triplett said before his first event back from vacation last week. “It’s unbelievable. The break you get mentally helps you because traveling every single week does take a toll on a guy.”
As much as the physical break from the rigors of bull riding was also needed – Triplett was battling a sore wrist at the conclusion of the first half – the 22-year-old explained that mentally he simply needed a chance to recharge his fire and slow down.
Triplett was running low on energy despite placing in the Top 10 in five of the final nine BFTS events to soar to seventh in the world standings.
Of course he wanted ultimate success, but, like anyone, the body and mind can only handle so much before a break is needed.
“This is the hardest really he ever went because this was his first year actually being on tour on the Built Ford Tough,” believed Narducci. “I think he needed that break.”
Narducci, who recently suffered a back injury during a bull riding event, grew up with the 5-foot-7 rider and still remembers to this day the first time he rode alongside his buddy at a steer riding when he was 7 years old. He also was there when Triplett began riding horses for his father in his early teens, which Narducci believes has also been beneficial to the balance Triplett demonstrates as a bull rider.
Therefore, it is only natural that even on vacation the two spent countless hours talking about bull riding.
The 20-year-old explained he could sense his buddy needed a break away from the sport, yet he stressed to Triplett how the work and effort he put in over the first half of the season had put him in an ideal position to finish 2014 better than ever. Unlike last year, when Triplett had to scratch and crawl over the final three weeks to make it to the Built Ford Tough World Finals, this year he is in a very strong position to qualify for his second consecutive Finals.
“I don’t want to overwhelm him, but I want to build that fire in him that other people know he can go win a world title,” Narducci said. “I think he knows that.”
Yet, dealing with that pressure is something many young athletes have to deal with in all sports. They have to learn how to balance the mental wear and tear of putting expectations on themselves to succeed at the ultimate level.
Then there is the fact that riders are always chasing points or the chance to earn some extra money during the summer months.
While, yes, the BFTS is currently on a summer break, this isn’t necessarily an offseason for the majority of the riders. Many, including Mike Lee, who is fifth in the world standings, are entering or double-entering Touring Pro Division events to gain 25 percent of the points towards the world standings. However, others, such as world leader Guilherme Marchi, will take the majority of the summer off to recharge and heal.
Last year, eventual World Champion J.B. Mauney said the time off he took during the summer break did wonders for his body and mind.
It is finding that happy medium of what is best for each individual athlete.
“Taking a break when you have the opportunity to take a break is pretty beneficial for a guy to one, like I said, heal up and then two, it just does your mind wonders,” Triplett said. “I took two weeks off and I hadn’t craved it as much as I did since last year going into World Finals. There towards coming into the end (of the first half), I still craved it and loved it, but I didn’t have that full on 100 percent drive because I was so sore.”
Triplett did get on some practice bulls during his time away from competing, and he and Narducci continued to work out when they had time away from hiking.
He admits that he has learned plenty of lessons during his first full season on tour, including how he had to remind himself to continue training outside of the arena. It was a lesson he learned after failing to record a ride during the Dr Pepper Iron Cowboy V. He hadn’t trained as hard as he normally would of leading up to the marquee event and the evidence was apparent.
“A guy needs to push himself and work hard,” Triplett said. “Never take the lazy road and always take the road where you need to work your butt off.”
Refocused, Triplett committed himself to finishing the first half on a high note and he nearly won his first career BFTS event when he placed third in Billings, Mont., in mid-April after entering the championship round in the lead following an 89-point ride on Guns & Donuts. He was a perfect 3-for-3 before Shepherd Hills Stockman bucked him off in 1.52 seconds.
Matt Triplett puts up 90.5 points on Mr.Bull in the 15/15 Bucking Battle at the 2014 PBR BFTS Stanley Performance in Action in Billings, Mont.
Triplett’s drive is now back in full force, and he was back to his normal self with his headphones plugged into his ears and the adrenaline of climbing back aboard a bull was running through his veins prior to the start of the DCB Bull Riding Challenge last week in Bismarck, North Dakota.
After posting a ninth-place finish on Saturday, his focus turns towards competing at the two-day Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Bull Tour’s Lesschwab Tires Chute Out in Lewiston, Idaho, this weekend.
“It’s been three years since I finally got to the position I am at now,” Triplett said. “You have to work your butt off just to make it here. Once you get here it’s not an easy road as well, you still have to keep working your butt off.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko.
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