BILOXI, Miss. – A small tear trickled down Valdiron de Oliveira’s right cheek on Saturday night as he stood inside the Mississippi Coast Coliseum holding the Battle at the Beau championship belt buckle tightly in his hand.
It had felt like forever to Oliveira since he was last able to stand in the center of the arena as a winner.
During his 4-for-36 slump over the past seven months, Oliveira would always be asked the same question by his 5-year-old daughter, Camilla:
“Daddy, you win? You win?”
The 35-year-old would then hold back his sadness when he explained to her that he wasn’t able to that weekend.
“I almost cry because she asked me every week,” Oliveira said. “Sometimes, my heart hurt.”
Now, Oliveira is once again a winner.
He finished the Battle at the Beau 3-for-3 to win his second event of the 2014 season after going through the worst slump of his Built Ford Tough Series career.
He entered the Built Ford Tough Championship Round in second place following his 85.75-point ride on Blackberry in Round 2 and his 84-point ride on Bottoms Up in Round 1. He selected Jack Daniel’s After Party, who he rode for 89.75 points, with the second pick of the bull draft. Oliveira then had to anxiously wait for the judges to award Claudio Crisostomo a score after the fellow-Brazilian ended the event with an 88.25-point ride onCrack the Whip.
Oliveira (259.50 points) edged Crisostomo (258.75) by less than one point for the win.
He is the first Brazilian-born bull rider to earn an event victory through seven second-half BFTS events.
Before arriving in Biloxi, Oliveira, who rode Plummer Butt last week in Oakland, California, for 85 points, told his wife, Andrea, that enough was enough. He was done worrying about his back, which he had career-threatening surgery on in 2012, and that it was simply time to turn things around.
“I said, ‘I am going to go to this event and I want to win,’” Oliveira said. “My focus is back because I don’t care about my back. I want to forget everything. I just want to loosen up a little bit and get my focus back.”
He admitted that his back had recently started hurting again every day and that last Monday he started doing Yoga and Pilates to try and ease the pain. He also began getting his back worked on every day by his friend Felipe, who is a physical therapist from Brazil, at his home in Decatur, Texas.
Oliveira isn’t exactly sure what Felipe did to his back, but the end result was fantastic.
“He knows what to do and does very good work,” Oliveira said. “He tried to loosen up my body. It feels good and loosened up. You saw me ride tonight. The bull changed direction and I shifted my weight and I felt flexible.”
After riding Bottoms Up on Friday night, Oliveira called Andrea with budding confidence in his voice. It was only the second time he rode a bull in the first round at a BFTS event since March.
“She told me, ‘I know! I know! You’re happy because you rode the first bull on the first night!’” Oliveira excitedly recalled.
Guilherme Marchi, currently fourth in the world standings, understands the pressure and the frustration that comes with being a veteran struggling on tour. Marchi had his own struggles in September trying to make the 8-second mark and he couldn’t be happier for Oliveira to finally break through.
“It is tough,” Marchi admitted. “In 2012, he had back surgery and it was completely hard for him to ride bulls. Doctors said he was not going to ride anymore because of the surgery. He is back on tour and doing well. He is 35 years old and showed how good he is this week.”
Before his struggles began, Oliveira had won his first BFTS event since the surgery when he went 4-for-4 in Anaheim, California, in February. He then rode nine of his next 14 bulls to rise to third in the world standings before the Ty Murray Invitational.
However, his cold streak began and he went on to only ride four bulls until this past weekend’s performance. He was never able to pinpoint what caused him to spiral downward over the past few months. Oliveira just knew that he had to ride two bulls in one event to regain his confidence.
The Aparecida De Goiania, Brazil, bull rider is now up to 12th in the world standings. If he can finish the season strong, he may conclude 2014 ranked inside the Top 10 for the sixth time in his eight-year BFTS career. His highest finish at World Finals came in 2009 when he placed third.
Finally, his 2014 struggles appear to be over.
“I am very excited,” Oliveira concluded. “I can go back home and hug my son (Paulo), my daughter and my family.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko.
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