PUEBLO, Colo. – It has been three weeks since Troy Wilkinson touched down in Jacksonville, Florida, following a 23-hour flight from Australia, to make his 2017 Built Ford Tough Series debut.
The 26-year-old Australian was no stranger to the BFTS after competing sparingly in the United States since 2013.
Nor was the bull rider from a village of 40 people in New South Wales, Australia, intimidated by the bright city lights or 2,000-pound bovine opponents welcoming him to the United States.
That has never been too much of a problem for him.
Instead, the biggest adjustment he has made is driving on the right side of the road, Wilkinson explains with a laugh.
“Driving on the other side of the road,” Wilkinson said. “Converting the miles and the kilometers. The Celsius thermometer.”
In regards to his bull riding, Wilkinson knew it was only a matter of time before he was converting at the BFTS level.
Wilkinson picked up his bull rope last Sunday and let out a victorious yell into the CBS Sports Network cameras following his 87.25-point ride on Chute Boss during Round 3 of the Ty Murray Invitational.
He couldn’t contain his adrenaline and excitement in Albuquerque, New Mexico, as he was well on his way to a career-best sixth-place finish.
“You have to make a score if you want to be known,” Wilkinson said. “I am getting there.”
The ride was the second of his Built Ford Tough Series career after beginning his career with 19 consecutive buckoffs dating back to 2013.
“I knew he was out around the right and I had seen videos of him,” Wilkinson said. “He started slow, but toward the end he got to bucking, and I had to kick loose with my outside foot and jerk me around there. He was powerful and lots of fun.”
It was dang sure frustrating for Wilkinson every time he heard his buckoff streak being talked about or advertised.
Wilkinson is a proven and proud winner from Australia and had recently won the 2015 Australian Pro Rodeo Association bull riding championship.
He is a career 54.89 percent rider at PBR Australia events with nine victories.
“I wasn’t really fighting my head too much,” Wilkinson said. “I was just annoyed that I was bucking off so much and it was being advertised. I guess I was expecting some praise on riding not too bad, but just bucking off before the whistle. But if you fall off, you fall off.”
He isn’t the first rider to go through a long buckoff streak (See: Proctor, Shane; Kolbaba, Derek; Davis, Cooper), and he won’t be the last.
Wilkinson went 0-for-2 in Jacksonville, but had shown glimpses of a rider with a good feel and movement despite his 7.76-second and 6.21-second buckoffs.
“That made it even more disappointing,” Wilkinson admitted. “I am trying my hardest and I am not letting go. I guess them bulls were just bucking me off.”
Wilkinson got things rolling in Albuquerque to stay above the BFTS cutline with two solid bull rides away from his hand.
He will arrive at the Gila River Arena this weekend for the Ak-Chin Invitational as the No. 32 bull rider in the world standings.
Wilkinson is 61.25 points ahead of No. 36 Robson Aragao.
He rode Roll of the Dice for 86.5 points in Round 1.
“Every bull I have been on over here seem to be pretty rank,” Wilkinson said. “I am feeling pretty good on them. I just need to finish them off. I was able to finish one tonight. It is bloody great.”
Nine-time World Champion Ty Murray was impressed with Wilkinson’s ride on Chute Boss in Round 3.
“This looks good,” Murray told Craig Hummer on CBS Sports Network. “Away from his hand. Look how he stays over his rope. He keeps his upper body over that bull’s hump the entire way. That is what is taking the power away from that bull and opening up with his outside leg.”
Wilkinson said when he first arrived in the United States for a few events the past couple of seasons, especially 2013, he was star-struck.
“I had a rough time when I was young and I was kind of trying to find my feet,” he admitted. “Riding against a lot of your idols is hard. You are young.”
These days he is no longer caught staring at champions such as J.B. Mauney or Guilherme Marchi.
He asks for their advice now. Mauney had offered Wilkinson some insight of the bulls in the Built Ford Tough Championship Round, while 2009 Rookie of the Year Cody Nance has taken Wilkinson under his wing on the road as well.
Wilkinson is from Upper Horton, New South Wales, which is a tiny village in southeast Australia.
Troy and his brother grew up riding calves at home on their farm, while their father would get on bulls every now and then at the local rodeo.
Troy got on his first calf at 8 years old and three years later he was nodding his head for his first steer.
The goal was always to one day compete in the United States.
“It is every kid’s dream back home in Australia that rides bulls,” Wilkinson said. “You want to be big time. As soon as I watched it on TV I knew.”
Wilkinson will continue to live his dream this weekend at the Ak-Chin Invitational in Glendale, Arizona, when he takes on Talking Tokyo (0-1, BFTS) in Round 1.
“I am 26,” Wilkinson said. “I am in my prime now. My riding has matured a lot. I am ready to make my first World Finals.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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