PUEBLO, Colo. – In the waning moments of the 2014 Built Ford Tough World Finals, Gage Gay experienced one of his greatest disappointments in his early bull riding career.
Gay wound up losing out on the 2014 Rookie of the Year title in one of the closest races in PBR history to J.W. Harris following a 1-for-5 performance.
The then 20-year-old was crushed by the defeat after sitting atop of the rookie standings for nearly the entire season.
Gay, who won two events and six rounds – which is tied for the second-most by a rookie in PBR history – left the Thomas & Mack without the buckle he worked so hard for that season.
To his surprise, Gay would still leave Las Vegas a happy man and low and behold that disappointing day turned out to a blessing in disguise.
Gay met his current girlfriend, Peyton, that same night after the Finals through Sadie Berger and the two have developed a strong, loving relationship ever since.
“It sucked because I didn’t get the rookie title, but it was good that I met Peyton,” Gay said Monday. “Sadie set us up there out in Vegas two years ago at the Finals together. The last night Sadie introduced us and the rest is history.”
Gay has long since moved on from his 2014 rookie year and has posted back-to-back Top-15 finishes in the world standings in his first two seasons.
The 21-year-old is currently ranked 17th in the world and is heading into this weekend’s 16th annual Dakota Community Bank & Trust BlueDEF Tour events on June 17-18.
The event will be streamed exclusively on PBR LIVE both nights beginning at 8:30 p.m. ET.
Gay (1-for-2) finished the Deadwood, South Dakota, Touring Pro Division event last weekend in 13th place.
The two Bismarck events are produced by reigning Stock Contractor of the Year Chad Berger, Sadie’s father, and Gay and Chad have become closer since Gay began dating Peyton, who is also a North Dakota native.
“My girlfriend and Sadie are best friends, and he has always looked at her like she is his daughter too,” Gay said. “So I just kind of got into the family when I started dating her. He has really warmed up to me since then.”
Gay rode Berger’s bull Cooper Tires Brown Sugar for 87.25 points during Round 2 of Last Cowboy Standing before Berger’s Beaver Creek Beau eliminated Gay in Round 3.
Gay tied a season-high with a fourth-place finish.
Gay’s 2-for-3 showing in Las Vegas, he also rode Whiskey Bent for 87.5 points, helped him decide to hold off on getting hip surgery this summer.
Gay was originally supposed to undergo hip surgery during the summer break to repair a bone spur that has developed during his young bull riding career, but he decided to forego surgery and wait until possibly the offseason.
“I am going to do it after the Finals, maybe,” Gay said. “It depends how bad it is. Douglas (Duncan) was telling me about some cortisone shots he gets in his hips, and he said once he does that his hips are solid for close to six months. I am thinking I can do that here soon and get me through the Finals. If it still feels good I may keep going with the cortisone shots for a while.”
The downside to putting surgery off is that instead of facing a potential five-to-six week recovery timetable he may need up to six months to recover.
“If I don’t get hip surgery I will go as hard as I can and try and win a world title,” Gay added. “If I do get hip surgery, I imagine I will be sitting out the first half of the season like Chase (Outlaw) did this year with his shoulder. I will come back right after Vegas and go hard during the summer and use my exemptions and try and get as many points as I can with them.”
Gay is only 1,400 points behind world No. 1 Kaique Pacheco thanks in part to 13 of his 15 qualified rides placing in the Top 5 of BFTS rounds.
He averages 86.4 points per ride.
That has been the running theme of Gay’s three-year career. When he makes 8 seconds, he has a beautiful style that leads to a strong score, but he just hasn’t been able to get consistent enough to crack the Top 10 of the world standings at season’s end.
“I know it isn’t a big of a gap from where I am at to be inside the Top 10,” Gay said. “I haven’t looked at it really good, but it can’t be too big of a gap, so I am hoping if I ride good enough I will be back inside the Top 10 before the Built Ford Toughs start back and then we will see after that. Maybe have a Top 5 finish.”
He is 567.17 points behind No. 10 Wallace de Oliveira.
When he looks at his first two seasons on tour, Gay makes a similar assessment that fellow Class of 2014 rookie Tanner Byrne made this year.
Gay said there indeed was an adjustment period of sitting across your idols, such as two-time World Champion J.B. Mauney, on a weekly basis.
“I don’t really know how to explain it,” Gay said about appearing more mature this season. “I just kind of calmed down and started acting like it was a smaller bull riding or the practice pen and that seems to help a lot. I am starting to look at all of the veteran guys like my friends and not like I am riding with all of the heroes I have always watched on TV. I see them more as my buddies and I can hang with them.”
Gay went 25-for-33 (33.33 percent) with two 90-point rides, including a 91.5-point effort on Percolator to win the 15/15 Bucking Battle in Billings, Montana, in his rookie season. Mauney was 19-for-44 (43.18 percent) with one 90-point ride.
However, Gay, who won his first career event in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that season, has yet to be atop the shark cage as a BFTS event winner since then.
He did win the 2015 BlueDEF Velocity Tour Finals in Louisville, Kentucky, and used that money to purchase about 17 acres of land a mile down the road from his parents in Staley, North Carolina.
“I paid the exact amount I won in Louisville last year for it,” Gay said. “I guess, I could say I used that money.”
Gay recently purchased a single-wide trailer that he is putting on the land until he can build a brand-new home.
To this day, Gay still lives by the same advice Mauney and other veterans gave him during his rookie year. It is the same advice he would recommend to this year’s rookie class.
“I asked J.B. and the older guys, ‘What do you do with all of your money, so you don’t blow it?’ Everybody told me buy land. Keep buying land because they don’t make any more of it and if you ever need to, you can always sell it. That is the plan. Every time I get a little bit of money, I am going to buy some land. If I need to, I will sell it.”
It isn’t just land that motivates him either these days, but also to provide a good life for Peyton and her son, Bently.
“Her and Bently are definitely keeping me wanted to win a lot of money,” Gay said. “I have always wanted to do that, but now I know I need to support them and give us a good life.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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