By: Justin Felisko June 24, 2014@ 11:45:00 AM
PUEBLO, Colo. ― A broken foot and injured jaw may have slowed down Sean Willingham’s momentum during the first half of the Built Ford Tough Series this year, but it certainly didn’t derail the 33-year-old’s season.
Now, a month into the summer break and the 13-year veteran is slowly making up the ground he eventually lost in the world standings after breaking his right foot while dismounting TK500 following an 86-point showing at the PBR Passport Invitational in Tacoma, Washington, back in March.
At the time of the injury he was eighth in the world standings. Despite not missing an entire event due to the broken foot, he eventually finished the first half ranked 18th in the world.
A healthier Willingham is building momentum this summer and gearing up for the BFTS second half by consistently covering his bulls at Touring Pro Division events and, in the process, has moved up to 16th in the world standings.
“That goes to show you can definitely gain ground on some guys just by going,” Willingham said. “I haven’t won any yet, but I have had opportunities to win every one I have been to. It just hasn’t worked out yet.”
Willingham posted an 89-point ride to finish fourth at the Big Country PBR in Abilene, Texas, and in May he nearly earned TPD victories in Pala, California, and Uvalde, Texas, after going 2-for-3 in each event after bucking off in the championship rounds.
This weekend he will be competing in Newark, New Jersey, at the PBR BlueDEF Velocity Tour event, which can be seen exclusively on PBR LIVE.
“You can go hard or sit at home and not go hard, but I enjoy it, especially any chance you can have the opportunity to gather up some extra points for a world title,” Willingham said. “It is going to be good for you because you don’t want to come up a little short on the last day in Vegas and be like ‘Man if I went to that bull riding and got those 80 points I could have won this deal.’”
More important, Willingham was able to fight through his two injuries – he had injured his jaw at the Ty Murray Invitational in Albuquerque, New Mexico, just a week after breaking his foot – and still finished the first half with a 40 percent riding average. It is his highest riding percentage since 2009, when he finished a career-best 12th in the world standings by covering 44.09 percent of his bulls.
Part of his veteran resurgence stems from a dedication towards working out during the days leading up to an event. Even after he broke his foot in Tacoma, Willingham made sure to continue his circuit training regiment, similar to the one he used to help climb his way back onto the BFTS last year after being cut in 2012, by altering his workouts to accommodate the injury.
“Same routine,” Willingham said. “I hadn’t quit for anything. My foot was broke and I still was going to the gym working out, doing what I could. It motivates me. When you are at the gym putting yourself through it so hard and actually showing up at the bull riding and see it pay off, it keeps you going back.”
Eventually his dedication in the gym proved worthwhile as his foot began to heal and he broke out of a 0-for-6 slump following the injury by riding Grinder for 84 points in Round 1 of the STANLEY Performance in Action Invitational in Billings, Montana. Willingham then notched his first 90-point ride in nearly three years later that evening when he was able to last the full 8 seconds as the quick-spinning, agile Pound the Alarm turned into his hand out of the gate.
“He rides just the way I like them,” Willingham recalled. “He is really fast and to actually get him rode for 90 definitely pushed my confidence back up and let me know for myself that I was back pretty much as healthy as I needed to be to make great rides and have 90-point rides. That kind of boosted my confidence back up to where it was before I got injured.”
Willingham’s last 90-point ride came when he conquered Priceless for 90.75 points in April 2011.
The Summerville, Georgia, native, who won the Duluth Invitational and posted four Top-10 finishes in the first half, may be having one of his better years in recent memory. However, even despite calling it a Top-5 career year, Willingham was quick to point out that there is still much to improve upon before the season is all said and done. He is planning on attending multiple TPD events in July before the BFTs resumes in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Aug. 15.
As of Tuesday morning, he trailed 10th ranked J.B. Mauney by 460.25 points.
“I started off hot and was in the Top 10 (of the world standings) all year until I got hurt and had a little setback,” Willingham said. “I am fighting back up into the Top 10.”
“That is my goal over the summer, to be back in the Top 10 when we come back off of break.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko.
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